During math, Sam leaned over to whisper something funny to his best friend. “Whoa, did something die in your mouth?” exclaimed his friend, holding his nose.
Sean sat down to watch TV and kicked off his sneakers. Within seconds, his brother slid down to the other end of the couch and his sister started gagging.
It’s no secret that your body goes through some heavy-duty changes during puberty. One of those changes is that your sweat glands–3 million of them, in fact–suddenly go into overdrive. You sweat when you’re active, of course (that’s your body’s way of cooling you down), but you also start to sweat when you’re nervous or excited. The glands responsible for all this extra sweat are called the apocrine glands, and they’re located mostly under your arms, on your feet, and in your genital area.
The good news: The sweat these glands produce has no odor. The bad news: When the sweat mixes with the bacteria on your skin, it starts to smell funky. Unfortunately, bacteria tend to flourish in places that are warm, dark, and moist–such as your underarms, genitals, and feet.
Wash It Away
So what can you do about it? Most of the time, the solution is as simple as a daily shower or bath. Using soap is a must to wash away bacteria and sweat, though you don’t need a deodorant soap or one with a lot of perfumes in it. In fact, perfumey soaps and shower gels can often irritate people with sensitive skin. Because your scalp produces more sweat and oil after puberty, you’ll need to shampoo more often too. When you get out of the shower, dry off thoroughly before putting on your clothes.
A word about deodorants: Once you hit puberty, underarm deodorants can be very helpful in keeping you feeling drier and fresher. Products called “deodorants” mask the smell produced when bacteria mix with your sweat. Products called “antiperspirants” actually block your sweat glands so that you stay drier. Some products contain ingredients of both deodorants and antiperspirants. You can choose a spray, roll-on, or “stick” formula.
Just remember to read the label when you try a new product. Some deodorants work best if you put them on at night, for example, while others are recommended several minutes after you shower.
Are Your Clothes Clean?
Now that you’re clean and deodorized, make sure you put on clean clothes. Wearing the same shirt two days in a row may have been OK when you were little, but you can forget about that now. The dried sweat, dead skin cells, and bacteria on yesterday’s shirt and socks would leave you smelling less than your best.
Cotton and other natural fabrics are best–they let your skin “breathe” by allowing sweat to evaporate. Loose-fitting clothes also allow sweat to evaporate. On the other hand, tight-fitting clothes and those made out of nylon tend to trap moisture and make sweating worse.
If you are very self-conscious about having wet underarm stains, try wearing dress shields under your clothes. These cotton pads will absorb excess moisture. Just remember that sweating is perfectly normal now that you’re older. And excess sweating will calm down as your body adjusts to your new state.
The Facts on Feet
Got stinky feet? You’re not alone. Keeping your tootsies enclosed in socks and shoes all day, then putting them to work walking, running, or riding your bike is a guaranteed way to get them sweaty enough to start smelling. To keep foot odor at bay, wash daily with soap and water. After you dry your feet, dust them with baby powder or cornstarch to help absorb moisture.
As for footgear, your best bets are socks and shoes made out of natural fabric–again, that’s to let moisture evaporate. Cotton socks and shoes made from leather or canvas are good choices. Nylon socks and plastic or rubber shoes will add to the problem. If you can, alternate the shoes you wear so each pair has a day to air out. And if your workout sneakers are so bad that even the family dog won’t go near them, do your family a favor and buy some charcoal inserts to slip inside when you’re not wearing them. They’ll absorb odor and leave your sneakers smelling sweeter.
The cause of bad breath should be no mystery to you by now–it’s bacteria, of course. And the way to get rid of it is to brush your teeth and floss every day. Flossing is very important because it gets rid of the bits of food and bacteria between your teeth. While you’re at it, brush your tongue, because bacteria are lurking there as well.
The problem is, most kids brush their teeth for an average of 30 seconds. To do a thorough job of getting rid of odor-causing bacteria, you should brush for at least two minutes. Mouthwash isn’t necessary, but you can use one if it makes you feel more confident that your breath is sweet. Look for those that fight plaque (which can cause cavities) or kill germs.
Since a dry mouth is likely to be a smelly one, drink plenty of water during the day to keep it moist. Drinking tea might be helpful, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Green and black teas contain antioxidants that can slow the growth of bacteria. Snacking on fruits and vegetables is a wise idea, because many have a high water content. And if you smoke, quit. Besides the obvious health problems smoking causes, it gives your breath a bitter, acrid smell.
Certain foods, such as garlic and onions, contain oils that will last through brushings. You might want to chew sugarless gum or mints the day after chowing down on chicken with garlic or a burger with raw onions. And you know that little sprig of parsley that comes on the side of your plate when you order a sandwich? Chew it. It’s a natural breath sweetener.
If you keep your teeth and mouth sparkling clean and you still feel you have bad breath, talk to your dentist. It’s possible that you might have sinusitis or the gum disease called gingivitis. These conditions can cause bad breath and need to be treated by a doctor or dentist.