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Children's Health

Underarm odor

08/18/2009

Question:

My child is six and we noticed he has underarm odor. Is that normal? Should we use deoderant?

Answer:

That's a great question. Underarm odor is the first sign of the pubertal changes soon to begin in our children. It is the product of the adrenal glands beginning to increase their production of androgenic hormones in both boys and girls. They also behind the onset of facial acne. The typical age for adrenarche varies among racial and ethnic groups as well as among boys and girls, with girls usually showing signs of adrenarche a year or two before boys.

If you are thinking 6 years of age is early for this to begin happening in your son, you are correct. The most important thing to do is to take him to see his pediatrician so that your son can be checked for any health problems that may be the cause of the early adrenarche. His doctor may refer him to an endocrinologist for an evaluation. This usually involves an X-ray of the left hand and wrist to check for changes in the growth centers indicating the true onset of early puberty and various blood tests. It may also involve ultrasound scans of the abdomen or other imaging. Thankfully, other than the pain of a blood draw, the other tests are pain-free. There may be no problem at all. If you or his father was an "early bloomer," he may simply be reflecting an inherited tendency toward early puberty.

In the meantime, in order to protect him from any negative remarks from classmates about body odor, he needs to bathe daily, if he does not already, and begin using a deodorant, as you have suggested. Many prepubertal children are allergic to the aluminum hydroxide or similar compounds that are the antiperspirant part of a deodorant-antiperspirant, so I would look for products that are purely deodorants.

I hope this is helpful information.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University