Children begin to start producing body odor around the same time that they begin puberty. Age of puberty onset varies, and may be from 8 to 14 in girls and about 9 to 15 in boys. These are broad averages, and body odor production does not necessarily begin at the very first signs of puberty. In the first few years of puberty, body odor may not be prominent, and if a child showers daily, deodorant may not be needed.
Body odor tends to increase with increased activity or with a raised body temperature, however, so one may note the need for deodorant for children who participate in sports, or for kids in warmer weather. Children may also produce body odor without noticeable sweating. Although antiperspirants are considered safe, a child who does not have noticeable sweat marks can easily get away with wearing a deodorant instead.
A lot depends upon a child’s comfort level and also the reaction of peers to body odor. If a child notices a body odor smell, or if peers notice this, it can cause unnecessary isolation, and children can be introduced to several deodorants that might be appealing. Children who have sensitivities to strong fragrances may prefer an unscented or very lightly scented products.
There are also a number of products marketed for teenagers with smells that may be more appealing to the teen. The packages are generally designed for teens as well, so they may be more visually appealing. A child who should use deodorant and is reluctant to do so may prefer a more kid-friendly product.
As body odor increases with age, older teens may find that kid-oriented products are not strong enough, and may need to switch to ones marketed toward adults. Usually at this stage, teenagers wish to be identified as adults, so choosing an adult deodorant is often appealing.
If children are using deodorant, and not antiperspirant, it may need to be applied after activities like physical education. A child should have access to deodorant at school so it can be applied after gym class. Most middle and high schools have lockers where a child can keep items for such a purpose. Scents chosen should be light so they do not affect more sensitive kids who will be changing in close proximity.
Skin sensitivity can affect choice of deodorant. Some children do much better with products with natural ingredients. Some are particularly sensitive to propylene glycol, and parents can usually find a few choices without propylene glycol in natural foods or health food stores. Otherwise, they can choose products that are marketed for use on sensitive skin.
Girls have the additional problem of needing to shave the underarms, in many cases. Applying deodorant directly after shaving can cause irritation, but there are a few products on the market that can be used after shaving. These products tend to work well directly after shaving and may prevent itching and irritation.
When a child begins puberty, discussions about personal hygiene are important. Not only is cleanliness good for the health, but it also promotes healthy attitudes about peers. Children are likely to feel badly if other kids consider them “smelly,” so a discussion of hygiene can also be an opening for discussion into peer relationships during the puberty years.