Dr. Alan Greene on Kids' Hygiene Habits

Check out this age-based guide to your child's hygiene.

Body Odor


When do children begin to sweat and have BO?


If you look at a classroom of fourth-grade children or eighth-grade children, you will quickly notice that children develop at very different rates. The differences depend partly on genetics and partly on the environment (obesity, for instance, sometimes triggers earlier puberty).

Girls typically begin to have underarm odor and perspiration anytime after their eighth birthday and boys anytime after they turn 9. If these changes happen earlier, or haven't happened by 13 in girls or 13 1/2 in boys, it's wise to check with their pediatrician to be sure that everything is on track.

Bathing Frequency


How often should children between the ages of 6 and 12 bathe? How much is too much?


How often children should bathe depends on their skin and hair type, and on how much their bodies have matured. Before perspiration, body odor, and oily skin begin, once or twice a week is usually fine. Brief, frequent baths without soap (and followed by a moisturizer) may be needed at this stage if the child has eczema or particularly dry skin.

Once oily skin or perspiration or body odor begins, more frequent bathing is best. Your senses can be your guide. Often daily is best at this point, but sometimes less often is still fine.

Gently washing the face twice a day is useful for those beginning to show signs of acne. Up to 30 percent of teens wash their faces five times a day! This is not helpful and can be damaging to the skin.

The overuse of soaps, cleansing agents, exfoliants, and scrubbing agents can irritate the skin and make it less healthy.

Bathing Alone


When should kids be allowed to bathe or shower alone?


The appearance (in whatever order) of body odor, underarm perspiration, acne, underarm hair, and pubic hair are all triggered by an event called adrenarche -- the adrenal glands beginning to pump out hormones of maturation. These hormones also stimulate a desire for and need for independence.

It's time for most kids to bathe alone when you notice one of the above signs, and/or the child begins to ask for privacy or act embarrassed about their own body or about your body.

Oily Skin and Hair


When do their oil glands begin to produce enough oil that oily skin and hair are an issue?


As with underarm odor and hair, oily skin and hair typically begins anytime after the eighth birthday in girls and the ninth in boys, though it is often not seen until much later. The age for this varies even more than other signs of growing up. Even though almost all teens will eventually develop at least a pimple or two, as many as 20 percent of kids will have dry skin and hair throughout puberty. The average age to develop acne is about 12 1/2 in girls and almost 14 in boys.

Boys vs. Girls


Do boys and girls develop at different rates and have different hygiene needs?


You might well know a boy who is developing faster than a girl of the same age, but on average girls do mature at a younger age than boys. There is some evidence that puberty may now be starting earlier in both girls and boys, but the huge amount of variability and overlap has made it difficult to be certain of this.

About equal numbers of boys and girls get acne, but boys are more likely to have acne that is constant, severe, or long lasting. Despite this, boys are less likely to get help from a dermatologist than are girls. (Going to a dermatologist must be like asking for directions!) Acne in girls is more likely to be intermittent, affected by their menstrual cycles and their cosmetics.

When it comes to hygiene, the critical message is to make choices not based on the sex of the child or on his or her age, but on that child's skin and hair type and the stage of maturation.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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