Adolescent body odor ripe for discussion

Contact Rebecca Mather, or (608) 262-1115

Have you ever walked into a youth locker room or a sporting event and thought you might be in danger of passing out from the smell? Or, while on car pool duty had one of the boys take his shoes off in the back seat only to immediately bring tears to your eyes?

If you live or work with teens, you have likely encountered the delicate problem of rampant body odor. Body odor is a frustrating and miserable problem for parents and teens alike.

Why is teens’ body odor so strong?

Teens just sweat more, according to Rebecca Mather, a member of a University of Wisconsin-Extension/UW-Madison team that shares research in parenting education and adolescent development.

“One consequence of puberty is an increase in new hormones,” reports Mather. “These hormones cause an increase in the amount of moisture teens’ sweat glands produce.”

Add to that the fact that teens sweat in more places on their bodies. During puberty, hormones cause a different type of gland—primarily under the arms and in the groin area—to produce oils in addition to sweat. Bacteria breaking down oily sweat under the arms and in the groin area that produce body odor.

Surprisingly, sweat alone doesn’t smell bad. It’s bacteria living on the skin and clothing, breaking down the oily sweat that actually produces body odor.

Smelly feet are caused by something different. While feet don’t have the glands that produce oily sweat, socks and shoes retain moisture allowing bacteria and yeast to grow on feet, causing a different type of bad smell.

Finally, new hormones produced during puberty cause teen sweat to contain chemicals that aren’t present in childhood. These chemicals produce stronger odors as they break down.

Managing teen body odor

–The obvious first line of defense is to wash. Parents should encourage youth to wash their armpits and groin area at least once a day and after exercising; washing removes bacteria as well as sweat and oils.

–Youth should shower or bathe regularly. Hair and skin also produce additional oils during adolescence and will not look or smell great without regular cleaning.

–Use antibacterial soap, deodorant and antiperspirant. Antibacterial soap kills bacteria that interact with sweat to cause body odor. Deodorant contains aluminum, which stops bacteria from growing. Antiperspirant blocks sweat ducts, producing less sweat, which also equals less bacteria.

–Dry feet thoroughly after washing. Young people with foot odor should use cotton socks to absorb moisture and avoid wearing shoes without socks. Another tip is to use deodorant or antiperspirant on the bottom of dry feet.

When nothing works

See a doctor for help. “There are prescription remedies than can address the problem,” says Mather. “Young teens should not face the potential embarrassment that can result from unchecked body odor. While increased body odor is a normal part of adolescence, being able to manage it is an important part of growing up.”

To learn more about issues affecting teens and preteens, consider joining the “Parenthetical” online community. “Parenthetical” features weekly articles about parenting topics based on research and the collected lessons and wisdom of parents. You can find this UW-Extension website for parents of tweens and teens at

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