During puberty, your child’s body is changing at a faster rate than any other time in life other than infancy. This happens when their body produces new hormones that tell them to grow into an adult. These changes create a need for new hygiene habits during puberty. We’ll review what personal hygiene practices are necessary during puberty and provide some background and context to make it easier to educate your kids.
Your child will not know how to care for their new body unless you teach them. Start these lessons early, around age 10, to be sure they have formed personal hygiene habits that will help them be ready for all the changes ahead. First, let’s do a brief review of both puberty and hygiene.
What is puberty?
Puberty (pyoo-ber-tee) is the time when children grow into adults. It lasts about two to five years. usually from ages 9-14 for girls and 11-16 for boys. However, each child is unique, so puberty may start earlier or later. Puberty is triggered by hormones, the chemical messengers in the body.
What is hygiene?
- Hygiene (hi-jeen) is the practice of keeping things clean and healthy.
- Personal hygiene is the practice of keeping your body clean and healthy.
Personal Hygiene Habits to Teach
Skin Care Habits
Skin is the largest organ in the human body, and it has many jobs! Skin protects the body from infection by keeping germs out. It makes oil and keeps water inside and so we don’t dry out. Skin regulates our body temperature by sweating.
Skin has oil glands that keep our skin and hair from drying out. During puberty, hormones tell the oil glands to make more oil called sebum. Sebum can clog the pores in the skin and cause acne, requiring new personal hygiene habits. Acne is one of the more noticeable issues during puberty; it is also called pimples, zits, blackheads, or blemishes. This usually happens on the skin of the face, neck, back, upper chest, and shoulders.
Here are some ways to care for oily skin:
- Wash the area two times a day. Use a soft washcloth, warm water, and gentle soap or cleanser. Do not scrub.
- Use only oil-free makeup, sunscreen, and moisturizers. Remove makeup every night.
- Avoid picking, popping, or squeezing pimples. This can lead to scars and infection.
- Use special soaps and creams that are made to treat acne.
- Change your pillowcase every few days so your face rests on a clean, oil-free pillow each night.
- Keep oily hair off the face.
- See a healthcare provider if acne gets worse.
Sweat is made by sweat glands in our skin. Sweat doesn’t smell bad until it mixes with bacteria. Then… look out!
Our body has two kinds of sweat glands:
- Eccrine sweat glands are all over the body. They regulate body temperature. When we get hot, they release water. When that water evaporates, it cools us down.
- Apocrine sweat glands are in the underarms and genitals. They become active during puberty. When sweat from these glands combines with bacteria, it causes body odor.
Before puberty, bodies don’t smell bad, but once the body begins puberty that changes. In fact, body odor is an early sign that someone is beginning puberty. Your child will need some new hygiene habits, or no one will want to be around them. Here are some habits that help:
- Shower or bathe every day. With dry skin, wash every other day. Use soap and a washcloth. Start at the top and work down. Wash the cleanest parts before the germiest parts (the bottom and feet). After soaping up, rinse off with warm water.
- Dry the body by patting or gently rubbing. Be sure to dry between the toes to prevent stinky feet.
- Use anti-perspirant to reduce sweating armpits. It works best to apply it to clean, dry armpits before going to bed every night.
- Use deodorant to reduce armpit odors. Apply it every day to clean, dry armpits.
- Wear clean clothes every day. Change socks and underwear daily. If clothes smell bad, we smell bad.
- Wash and dry feet carefully. Wear clean, dry, cotton socks. Wear dry shoes made of natural materials.
Skin color is part of what makes each person unique. Skin has pigment that gives each person their skin color. The main pigment is called melanin. The more melanin in the skin, the darker a person’s skin color. Skin pigment protects us from the sun. But we need to protect our skin even more.
Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn, cancer, and aging skin. Read the labels. Look for three things when selecting a sunscreen:
- Broad Spectrum: Sunlight has two kinds of rays that can cause skin cancer, skin aging, and sunburn, UVA and UVB. Select a sunscreen that says it is Broad Spectrum to block both.
- Sun Protection Factor: Sunscreen filters out the sun’s harmful rays and is measured in Sun Protection Factor or SPF. The more it protects from the sun, the higher the SPF number. Use a sunscreen that says SPF 30 or more.
- Water Resistant: Sunscreens that claim to be water resistant must say if they last 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. No sunscreen is waterproof, so it must be reapplied at least every two hours… or more often if we get wet.
Here are some habits that help:
- Wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses that block UV light.
- Avoid the sun when its rays are strongest, between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. They damage the skin and can cause skin cancer.
Hair Care Habits
Hair grows all the time. A hair will live for two to seven years; then, it falls out and a new one grows in. With good hygiene habits, we can take good care of our hair, so it is healthy all those years.
The skin on top of the head is called the scalp. It grows hair and has oil glands. Another thing that happens to the body during puberty is that these oil glands can produce more oil and make hair oily. Here are some tips for scalp and hair care:
- Know the hair type. Straight hair tends to be more oily; curly hair tends to be drier.
- Wash hair each one to seven days, depending on how dry or oily it is.
- Use a mild shampoo to gently wash hair. Rinse all the shampoo out when finished.
- Avoid using harsh chemicals on the hair. They can dry out the hair and make it brittle. Dry hair breaks off more easily.
- Ask a trusted adult for help if the scalp itches or flakes, or to ask questions.
During puberty, hair begins to grow thicker and in new places. First, your child will notice fine hair growing around the genitals. These are called pubic hairs. Over time, these hairs get coarser and darker. Later, hair grows in the armpits, on the arms and legs, on the face, and the chest. Only two places don’t grow hair: the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The amount of body hair varies widely from person to person. Here are some tips for body hair care:
- People can leave their body hair natural, or they can decide to trim or remove it. This is a personal choice since it is not healthier either way.
- Ask a parent or other trusted adult for advice.
- Shaving is one way to remove unwanted hair. It is done with a razor or electric shaver. A trusted adult can show how to shave before the child tries it.
- Hair can also be removed by plucking, waxing, or applying depilatories (a cream that dissolves hair).
Nail Care Habits
Fingernails and toenails protect the ends of our fingers and toes. Fingernails also help us pick up small objects. Our nails grow all the time. That means we will need hygiene habits to take care of them throughout life.
Here are tips for caring for fingernails:
- Keep hands and fingernails clean. Wash hands before and after eating, after using the bathroom, after sneezing or coughing into the hand, and whenever dirty.
- Trim nails every week or two. Cut them straight across. Then, round them in a small curve. Use manicure scissors, clippers, and/or nail file.
- Trim hangnails with clippers or small scissors. Do not bite or pull them. Hangnails are small pieces of skin next to the fingernail.
- Use hand lotion and rub it into the fingernails, too.
- Avoid biting fingernails. Avoid picking or pulling on hangnails.
- Limit use of nail polish remover; it dries the fingernail.
Here are tips for caring for toenails:
- Keep feet and toenails clean. Wash them daily, especially between the toes. Dry the feet, especially between the toes.
- Put lotion on the feet, especially the heels. Do not put lotion on or between the toes. This can cause fungus.
- Trim the toenails every two weeks or as needed. Cut them straight across. Do not round them. Do not cut them too short. This can cause ingrown toenails.
- It is easiest to trim toenails right after a shower or bath, while they are soft.
- Keep the feet dry by wearing dry, cotton socks and dry shoes.
- Avoid cutting toenails too short or in a curve. Avoid sharing shoes. Avoid wearing tight shoes.
- Talk to a trusted adult if the feet itch, or the toenails look thick or turn a different color.
Mouth Care Habits
The mouth is the entry point for food, drink, and germs. Keeping the mouth clean and healthy is important to lifelong health. Here are tips for caring for the mouth:
- Brush the teeth for two minutes, two times a day, in the morning and right before bed. Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Clean between the teeth once a day. Interdental cleaning reaches places missed by the toothbrush. This can be done with dental floss, interdental brushes, oral irrigators, and woodsticks.
- Eat a healthy diet that limits sugary foods and drinks.
- Visit the dentist regularly.
Personal Care Habits
Once your child reaches puberty, they will begin to menstruate or have nocturnal emissions. You can help your child manage these rites of passage by talking about them before they happen. Here are tips for personal care:
- Explain menstruation (periods) to your child. Provide menstrual products and explain how to use them. Discuss how often to change them, how to dispose of them, and how to clean the vulva from front to back to avoid infection.
- Explain nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) to your child. Teach them how to wash up and change damp bedsheets. Assure your child that this is a typical part of puberty and is different than bed-wetting.
- Discuss pleasure and masturbation with your child. Explain that self-touching is an activity that is done in private.
- Expect your child to want more privacy and time in the bathroom. Discuss family rules about sharing the bathroom and the importance of asking for consent before entering a private space, such as a bathroom or bedroom.
As a parent, caregiver, or another trusted adult, you are encouraged to teach your child about their personal hygiene. After all, you know them better than anyone else.
Personal hygiene habits are a way your child can develop responsibility. Consider creating a personal hygiene chart to help your child remember what to do. Reward their success as they show they are responsible.
Remember: You only get one body, so treat it well!
Your body belongs to you.
Everyone is unique, AND we are all alike.
We all end up as adults in our own time.
No one looks at you as closely as you do; no one else will notice the little things that you see in the mirror.
Being clean feels good.
When you know how to take care of yourself, you feel good about yourself!
You can always talk to me or another trusted adult.
Find more helpful Parent Resources here.
- American Academy of Dermatology
- American Cancer Society
- American Dental Association
- Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU
- Mayo Clinic
- Medical News Today