Body Odor Blues

How To Tell If A Child’s Body Odor Is Cause For Concern

Kids are naturally stinky, but there are some cases where an early funk might be a cause for parental concern.

by Andy Kryza
Originally Published: 
Collage of a stinky child holding their nose, with the letters "how to."
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

Parents who regularly notice their young child’s body odor and can’t point to an obvious cause might have reason to be concerned. Children’s body odor is normal starting with early puberty, which is when kids generally develop stinky armpits and start using deodorant. But the presence of body odor in children and toddlers who aren’t yet at the typical age for puberty — 8 to 13 for girls and 9 to 14 for boys, typically — could signal that it’s time to talk to a pediatrician.

What Causes Body Odor in Children

Generally, kids’ body odor begins emerging when apocrine sweat glands — the ones found in the armpit — become activated. Unlike eccrine glands, which are active throughout the body from birth, apocrine-produced sweat contains substances like fat, which skin-dwelling bacteria then digest. Which is to say, stinky armpits are caused by bacterial poop, more or less.

“The abnormal stuff parents should worry about is a less-than-puberty-age child starting to develop stinky sweat, especially if it’s associated with early puberty,” says Howard Reinstein, M.D., a spokesman for the American Association of Pediatricians who serves as clinical faculty at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the UCLA Medical Center. “Being an early bloomer is okay. If you get a little bit of hair when you’re 9, 10, 11, that’s one thing. If you’re 5 or 6, that shouldn’t happen. The concern is that something’s wrong.”

Medical Conditions That Cause Children’s Body Odor

There are also genetic metabolic diseases that can cause body odor in children, such as trimethylaminuria, also known as fish odor syndrome, which smells exactly how it sounds. But the chances that your kid’s body odor is caused by a rare disease is…exceedingly rare. That sounds like a lot of hullabaloo over a little funkiness under the arms, but knowing this can help parents and pediatricians identify broader problems.

How Hygiene Affects Children’s Body Odor

More often than not, body odor in children is just a case of poor hygiene that can be mitigated with more regular bathing and maybe some preventative measures for kids who are naturally a bit more sweaty. Parents can also monitor the child’s diet, limiting pungent foods like garlic. Some studies also indicate that organic milk devoid of hormones can reduce odor. And if all else fails, deodorant for kids can be a powerful weapon.

“Even young kids who are excessive sweaters, we may use an antiperspirant they can tolerate,” says Reinstein, adding that parents should monitor the underarms for irritation. “Even with good hygiene, some kids continue to have a smell to their sweat. Some people, not just kids, have hyperhidrosis — they have sweaty hands and feet, and they’re always sweaty even when they’re not exercising and it’s not hot. People who have that kind of sweat can develop some odor also.”

That said, the majority of the time, a kid’s odor can be traced to the fact that kids are generally prone to touching stinky stuff and carrying their odors around with them.

Children’s Body Odor: The Basics

  • Body odor in children mostly occurs as a result of poor hygiene but there are cases where kids with good hygiene have a smell to their sweat.
  • It could also be a result of their interaction with their environment or signify deeper biological issues but it
  • Body odor is normal in kids starting early puberty.
  • Some genetic metabolic diseases, like trimethylaminuria (Fish Odor Syndrome), could also cause body odor in children.
  • Limiting pungent foods like garlic and organic milk devoid of hormones can reduce body odor.

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