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How Safe are Antiperspirants for Children?

Remember your child’s sweet baby smell? All that seems to change when they begin to start puberty. Whew! Like a thief in the night, they go from smelling like baby powder and roses to onions and vinegar.

Body odor (B.O.), is one of the first signs of puberty. While your 9 or 10-year-old may not show the external signs of puberty yet, such as underarm hair, they could begin to come home smelling a little less than fresh.

You may have already had a frank discussion about good hygiene, but if B.O. is still an issue, here are a few tips before you walk them down a new aisle at the local grocer.

Deodorant vs. antiperspirant

When it comes time to address their B.O., your child will literally have floor-to-ceiling options. From every scent imaginable to aerosol to roll-on, you may wonder which is better: antiperspirant or deodorant.

“It really comes down to the effect you want,” said Bryan Kuhn, a pharmacist and poison education specialist at Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix. “If you want to minimize your child’s odor, then a deodorant might suffice. If you want to minimize wetness, then an antiperspirant can help with both odor and wetness.”

Although antiperspirants are effective at reducing perspiration, and those embarrassing pit stains, you may worry about all the hype out there about harmful side effects.

Do antiperspirants cause cancer?

Most fears about antiperspirants stem from an active ingredient, aluminum, which some believe is a potential link to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. The concern is that aluminum will dissolve and get absorbed and trapped in the body, which may then interact with our DNA and lead to changes in our cells. While there are many studies out there, many of them were flawed and do not hold up to scrutiny.

“While everything is potentially toxic over a threshold, there is no scientific evidence that daily use of antiperspirants causes tumors in humans,” Dr. Kuhn said. “The cases where this is possible are in workers with prolonged inhalation exposures to high concentrations of aluminum—not the general public who use these products.”

Another ingredient, parabens, which is used to prevent things like bacteria, fungi, and yeast from growing, has also come under scrutiny. Although parabens have estrogen-like qualities, they are much weaker than the natural estrogens in our bodies. Studies haven’t shown that daily use can cause an increased risk of any disease.

The best defense: Good hygiene

There are many ways to help control your child’s body odor beyond just deodorant and antiperspirants. If you haven’t already had the personal hygiene convo with your child, here are some basics you can discuss with them:

  • Shower every day with soap and water, focusing on all areas of the body, including those prone to smell—feet, neck, armpits, and genitals.
  • Although we all want to conserve water, make sure their showers are more than a minute. If they come out smelling like they did going in, chances are they didn’t get a good lather.
  • Change clothes and shower after sweaty activities.
  • Wear clean underwear, socks, and clothes.

Bottom line

“There is no proven harm in your child using deodorant and antiperspirants,” Dr. Kuhn said. “It just comes down to your personal preference.” But, if you are still concerned about things like aluminum and parabens or have an allergy or health condition that could be affected by certain ingredients, there are some good “natural” alternatives out there you can try.

So, your baby isn’t a baby anymore and that’s OK. They are entering a monumental phase in their life that’s worth celebrating—even if it means they won’t smell as baby fresh anymore.

If your child’s body odor and sweating isn’t resolved with good hygiene practices and deodorant/antiperspirant use, check-in with your child’s doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions.

To find a doctor in your area or a Banner Health specialist, visit BannerHealth.com.

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