As your child enters puberty, personal hygiene takes on added dimensions of social acceptability beyond the basic concerns for cleanliness to prevent the spread of illness and disease-causing germs. His changing hormones bring issues such as body odor, bad breath, acne and oily hair to the forefront of your teen's daily health concerns, not to mention gender-specific hygiene issues such as menstrual cleanliness for girls and shaving for boys. Hygiene activities for teens should focus on equipping them with the knowledge, skills and resources to independently look after their own hygiene.
During puberty, your teen will develop sweat glands in his armpits and genitals which can be fertile ground for germs and cause body odor. With all the changes that your teen's body is throwing at him, demands about how he deals with his body odor can add to the sense of being out of control. On the other hand, when you give your teenager choices about how to deal with his hygiene issues, he is more likely to feel in control and cooperate with hygiene measures that make it more pleasant to hang around him. Take him to the store and let him choose a scent and type of deodorant that will work for him. Ask him to choose a regular time each day to shower with soap and water and dry off thoroughly. Teach him how to wash his clothes, particularly his underwear, and encourage him to wear clean clothes every day.
Your teen may develop a resistance to brushing her teeth as well or as often as she should. This leaves bits of food in her mouth and between her teeth, which breeds bacteria and releases sulfur that gives her bad breath. Certain pungent foods such as garlic and onion can also contribute to bad breath. Breath mints and many mouthwashes only mask the odor for a short time. If halitosis is an ongoing problem for your teen, have her go to the store and make a list of which mouthwashes contain antiseptics that kill bad breath, reduce plaque and carry a seal from the American Dental Association (ADA). Let her try different brands and flavors to find the one she likes best and works best for her. Regular flossing will also help remove the food particles where the bacteria grows so show her the flossing options -- different flavors of traditional dental floss and floss picks -- and let her choose which one to use. Likewise, let her choose an ADA-approved plaque reducing toothpaste and have her set a schedule for brushing for at least two minutes twice a day.
Skin and Hair
Your teen's increasing capacity for sweat affects more than just his underarms and genitals. Many parts of the body can sweat which can clog up pores and result in acne. When oil from the hair follicles mixes with sweat and dirt, it leaves his hair looking oily and greasy. The best solution for oily hair is to wash the hair daily with a shampoo made for oily hair, massage the scalp and rinse with water. Scholastic advises that an added benefit to clean hair is that it lessens breakouts caused by oil and greasy hair products. Encourage your teen to make skin care a regular part of his daily routine by gently washing with a non-oiled soap and a face cloth twice a day, avoiding moisturizers and using over-the-counter medications that contain benzoyl peroxide. St. Louis Children's Hospital warns against picking at blackheads and pimples to prevent permanent scarring.
Gender-Based Hygiene Issues
Teens can benefit from a "boys only" or "girls only" hygiene training from a trusted parent, mentor or adult friend. Girls need training in keeping the genital area clean during the menstrual cycle and boys in preventing jock itch. Girls may have questions about shaving their legs while boys want to know about shaving their face. Boys may need to address issues like wet dreams while girls need instruction on not sharing makeup or hairbrushes to halt the spread of germs and tracking their monthly cycles. If you are uncomfortable answering these types of questions, your primary care doctor or pediatrician can help answer your teen's questions and reassure her that what she is experiencing is a normal part of adolescence.