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Once your daughter reaches puberty, you can kiss goodbye those easy days of her childhood when all you had to do to bathe her was occasionally dip her in the tub and quickly shampoo her hair. Much to your dismay in social settings, once puberty strikes you will likely notice that your daughter frequently develops body odor that can be quite strong. (And interestingly, you also may discover that she is quite oblivious to the smell.)

What can be done to reduce body odor?

The source of your daughter's body odor is her skin glands, especially under her arms. Beginning around the time they're 8 years old, girls produce more sweat in this area. Initially, human sweat is odorless. (Honest!) But when it becomes mixed with the bacteria that are normally present on a person's skin, and then you add in some body heat, watch out. The funky odor begins.

Once this biological process begins for your daughter, she may need to begin bathing daily in order to reduce the amount of bacteria on her skin. This doesn't need to be an elaborate process of soaking in bubble bath and scrubbing her skin raw. (In fact, both of these steps would do more harm than good to her body.) Rather, a quick rinse in the shower with a mild soap on a regular basis should do the trick.

Another step you can take to help your daughter in this embarrassing situation is to buy her loose-fitting clothing made of natural fibers. These types of clothes allow air to circulate around your daughter's body and let her sweat evaporate. And needless to say, she shouldn't wear sweaty clothes two days in a row.

If regular showering and the appropriate clothing don't fully address the problem, you may want to consider having your daughter use antibacterial[1] soap. Also, you should take a look at her diet. As we all know as adults, people can take a shower every day and wear only freshly laundered clothes, but if they eat food with lots of garlic, onions, and spices, they're undoubtedly going to produce a noticeable body odor. (And, undoubtedly, they'll end up standing right next to you on a crowded elevator.)

Should my adolescent daughter use antiperspirants or deodorants?

What if all these measures still don't affect that lingering, ripe cloud that hovers over your daughter? What next? Should you turn to antiperspirants and deodorants? Perhaps you've heard rumors about the potential link between the use of deodorants and antiperspirants and the incidence of breast cancer in women. Is this true? Would you be harming your daughter by exposing her to hazardous chemicals for a trivial reason?

First, let's start with some definitions. Deodorants[2] are substances that are applied under a person's arms for the purpose of reducing body odor by killing bacteria that would otherwise interact with the person's sweat. Deodorants are often alcohol-based because it's very effective at killing bacteria.

Antiperspirants[3] are a little different than deodorants. These substances are designed to reduce or stop a person from sweating in the first place. Antiperspirants typically work by plugging the sweat glands with an aluminum-based complex.

In the 1990s, concerns arose that perhaps the aluminum in antiperspirants and the preservatives (called parabens[4])

Further, one large study conducted in 2003 and involving 800 women specifically found no link between the use of antiperspirants or deodorants and an increased incidence of breast cancer.

in deodorants caused breast cancer. The prevailing theory behind this concern was that these substances could cause cancer by preventing people from sweating out the toxins in their bodies. These toxins, the theory went, would then spread via the lymph nodes[5] and cause cancer.

To date, this theory regarding the use of antiperspirants and deodorants has not been supported by solid evidence. In fact, the National Cancer Institute has officially stated that these claims are "largely unsubstantiated by scientific research." Further, one large study conducted in 2003 and involving 800 women specifically found no link between the use of antiperspirants or deodorants and an increased incidence of breast cancer.

Nevertheless, research continues in this area. One hypothesis is that aluminum and parabens could have a mild estrogen-like effect when they work their way into a woman's body. Scientists are studying whether this is true, and if so, whether it would pose a cancer risk.

If you want to be cautious, you may want to have your daughter try a natural deodorant. These products are readily available and do not contain aluminum or parabens. However, they also may not be as effective for your daughter. If that's the case, then your daughter may want to try a judicious amount of a standard deodorant or antiperspirant. (Or, you simply may want to ensure that she always stands downwind from you.)

  • [1] The ability to fight off or destroy bacteria.
  • [2] Products sold over-the-counter that are used to decrease body odor arising from sweat under a person's arms. Deodorants contain substances such as alcohol that kill odor-producing skin bacteria. They may be combined with antiperspirants that decrease sweat production.
  • [3] Chemicals typically used to block secretion of sweat from sweat glands under a person's arms.
  • [4] Chemical preservatives found in many cosmetic products and deodorants.
  • [5] Small bean-like structures that contain white blood cells and help fight infection. They are scattered throughout the body.
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