Let’s think back to the days of middle school real quick. It’s a HOT September afternoon and your class just got back from playing kickball outside. Your teacher wrinkles her nose the second you and your classmates cross the classroom’s threshold. She whips out a can of air freshener and the entire room is filled with a fruity twist of lemon and raspberry. The scent is quite nice, but it stings your nose a bit–you’re pretty sure this could fall under chemical warfare, thus violating the Geneva Conventions, but you must soldier on until lunch.
Okay, back to the present. Dr. Mary Dickerson, a mother and a dermatologist with Baton Rouge General Medical Center, offers advice on how you can try to avoid this fate for your child at school this year.
Firstly, we tend to forget that there is a difference between deodorants and antiperspirants. Antiperspirants contain aluminum, which blocks the sweat glands to decrease sweating and stave off bacteria (which can be a source of the stink). Most deodorants available contain both deodorant and antiperspirant, so it’s like a two-for-one special. However, recently there have been some concerns being raised about antiperspirants.
“There is some question about aluminum causing issues like potentially contributing to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s later in life, but there is no clear evidence of that currently and no warnings from the FDA. I think parents should read about it and make a decision for their child,” says Dr. Dickerson.
With this in mind, let’s discuss what you should buy for whom. For prepubescent children to children in their early years of puberty, Dr. Dickerson recommends using an aluminum-free deodorant like Tom’s, Native, or Dove. For kids further into puberty, she notes that they need something to decrease sweat as well, so an antiperspirant and deodorant combo would work best.
It’s important to understand that everyone’s skin is different and has different needs. If your child suffers from sensitive skin or a skin condition like eczema, special care has to be taken when choosing a deodorant.
“Look for products labeled sensitive, fragrance-free, and paraben-free. Then, decide if you want a deodorant only (which can be aluminum free) or an antiperspirant/deodorant that will contain aluminum. Dove Sensitive, Secret Sensitive, and Vanicream are a few that are good to try,” advises Dr. Dickerson.
Speaking of skin conditions, there is one more thing to look out for in your older children and teens: excessive sweating. While it’s normal to sweat when playing or working outside in the heat, sweating an unusual amount when doing daily activities could point to your child or teen having a condition called axillary hyperhidrosis. The condition itself isn’t incredibly common and can be caused by genetic predisposition, hormones, stress or anxiety, and so on. Over-the-counter antiperspirants might help a little, but in the grand scheme of things, more action may be needed to help control the sweating and therefore the smell.
After axillary hyperhidrosis is diagnosed, treatment options vary based on age and severity.
Your dermatologist can discuss prescription-strength options including topicals, pills, and even Botox injections. Another option for teenagers and adults is a laser called the MiraDry that can decrease and even stop sweating and odor alltogether.
Of course, no discussion of deodorant comes without an honest heart-to-heart about proper hygiene and body care.
“It is very embarrassing for teens to smell and have sweat rings, so paying attention to the teen is important. Also, washing the underarms with soap and water daily is important as well as wearing clean, breathable clothing,” explains Dr. Dickerson. “Diet is important as well. Certain things like caffeine can increase sweating, and in some people, fragrant foods like onions can increase odor.”
For additional help beyond doing your own research, consult your dermatologist. Your dermatologist will be able to point you and your child in the right direction while tackling any other issues, like surprise skin conditions or allergies, that may crop up during this anti-stink journey.