Smelly Teen? Let's Talk Teen Hygiene

Teen girl brushing her teeth
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What exactly is good teen hygiene? And how can parents promote good hygiene? Sometimes what seems like a simple question can be a fairly complex issue.

Who Makes the Hygiene Rules?

Hygiene is essentially how we keep our bodies clean and “sanitary.” The cleanliness aspect serves two functions. First, being clean is necessary to function socially. Other people, adults, in particular, expect that the people they are interacting with will be clean. No person is an island, so being able to deal with other people is an essential skill for teens and adults alike. Secondly, being clean allows us to be sanitary—maybe not completely free of germs, but mostly free of the germs that are harmful. Good hygiene then allows us to interact with other people and reduces our risk of catching a disease.

Where did we learn about our hygiene? In many cases, our children learn how to behave by watching our example. Hygiene is no different. If you have a reasonable routine for keeping yourself clean, your teen will see this as normal behavior. Peers also shape how teens behave. If your son's best friend is always especially clean and loads up on cologne, don't be surprised when your son comes home with new body wash and a bottle of something that has a “manly” smell.

Teen Hygiene Basics

But what does good teen hygiene look like?

Every teen should:

  • Shower or bathe every day or every other day.
  • Wash hair daily or every other day.
  • Use deodorant or antiperspirant as needed.
  • Brush teeth twice a day and, preferably, floss daily.
  • Wear clean socks and underwear every day.

Hygiene rules are a guide and need to be tailored to your son or daughter. If your teen has oily skin or hair, a daily shower might be necessary. If his skin is dry, then bathing every other day is acceptable and even preferred because too much bathing strips away the skin's natural protective oils.

Deodorant or antiperspirant is a personal choice in various ways. If your teen has an issue with sweating, an antiperspirant may be in order. Be careful of antiperspirants though as they can block the sweat glands underneath the arms, leading to painful lumps that should be examined by your pediatrician. If your teen showers daily and doesn't feel that deodorant is necessary, and you agree (just give them the sniff test!), then it can be safely omitted.

Good dental hygiene will help prevent a variety of ills. Brushing your teeth removes some of the common bacteria that can cause bad breath. This removal of bacteria is also helpful in reducing the risk of various diseases from gingivitis (infection of the gums) to cavities. Flossing removes the bacteria and dirt that are trapped between the teeth. Those bacteria, if not removed, can get into the bloodstream and can even lead to heart disease. News has shown that daily flossing might even increase your life expectancy because it removes these dangerous bacteria. Your teen may not be thinking about living longer but this research is a great reason for everyone to floss.

My Teen Won't Bathe!

Although it is seen more commonly in the preteen years, sometimes teens will refuse to shower or bathe. First, it's important to understand whether or not the reduced bathing is a problem for your teen or a problem for you. If you feel your teen should shower daily, but she thinks that every other day is fine and she is reasonably clean, perhaps agreeing to disagree would be a reasonable path. If he is not showering and is visibly dirty, smells bad, or is not getting along at school because of the situation, then it is a problem.

There are a few ways to deal with a teen who won't bathe or keep up basic hygiene. One way is to purchase personal care items geared for teens. Deodorant, soap, body spray, or even acne face wash that are left in the bathroom might magically disappear in a few weeks. Don't buy what you would buy, but look for products geared towards teens.

Another way is to have a basic hygiene discussion with your child. Sometimes when you are driving (and they are a captive audience), you can get a short message in about what is expected, hygiene-wise.

If the problem is severe enough and is impacting how your child interacts with other teens, professional help may be in order. Make an appointment with your pediatrician or family healthcare provider, and discuss the issue with the provider ahead of time.

Sometimes your teen will listen to another adult, but not you, so use someone your teen trusts. If this does not seem like it is enough, an appointment with a counselor might be in order.

A Word From Verywell

Hygiene is not frequently an issue, but when it is, it can be a big issue. With a little information and guidance, your teen will be on the path to good personal care.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. What to do about dry skin in winter. 2011.

  2. MedlinePlus. Armpit lump. Updated May 7, 2020.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. Gum disease and the connection to heart disease. 2018.