The basics of Teen Hygiene
Different families will have different preferences or rules in terms of what constitutes proper hygiene. In some households, a daily bath and freshly combed hair are expected, while others may opt for less stringent requirements. Follow your instincts on what is needed for your child based on their particular needs.
Typical Hygiene Guidelines
Every teen should:
- Brush teeth twice a day and, preferably, floss daily.
- Shower or bathe as needed, which often means every day or every other day.
- Trim nails, as needed.
- Use deodorant or antiperspirant, as needed.
- Wash hair regularly.
- Wear clean socks and underwear every day.
Bathing and Deodorant
If your teen has oily skin or hair and/or participates in regular sports activities, a daily shower might be necessary. Make sure they are using a body wash or soap that actively cleans away bacteria, which causes BO. If their skin is dry, then bathing every few days is acceptable (too much bathing strips away the skin's natural protective oils). Different hair types will require different frequencies of shampooing, between every day to weekly.
Deodorant or antiperspirant is a personal choice in various ways. If your teen has an issue with sweating, an antiperspirant may be in order. If they aren’t too sweaty, then a deodorant might be best to help stop body odour.
Brushing your teeth removes some of the common bacteria that can cause bad breath. Removing this bacteria also helps reduce the risk of various diseases and conditions, including gingivitis (infection of the gums) and 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, as well as to tooth decay and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).
Research has shown that daily flossing might even increase 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.
Around puberty (or sometimes earlier), teens may decide to start shaving their legs, armpits, pubic areas, and faces. Instruct your child on proper techniques for safely using razors or electric razors. Being sure to use a clean razor and enough soap (or shaving cream) and water will reduce the likelihood of irritation. Whether or not to shave is a personal choice and not a reflection on cleanliness.
There are lots of choices for teens to make around grooming. Some of these are optional, but others are more about health. You may need to talk to your teen about hairstyling, plucking eyebrows, trimming (or painting) nails, face-washing, acne treatment, and wearing makeup.
Teach them the basics of whichever grooming habits are applicable to them. Changing their clothes daily (or when dirty, sweaty, or stained) and doing laundry also plays into healthy hygiene. Keeping their room tidy and their bed made (and sheets clean) are good habits to get into as well.
For menstruating teens, be sure to instruct them on the proper use of hygiene products such as tampons, sanitary pads, or menstrual cups. Learning to track their periods can also help them know when to expect their period—and avoid being unprepared for bleeding. Period panties are another option that can help them stay dry and clean, particularly if their cycles are sporadic.
Other Hygiene Issues
Contact lens care, keeping glasses clean, and any hygiene steps required for those with braces or retainers are also important areas to discuss with your child, as needed.
Another hygiene issue some teens have is nail-biting. Help your teen understand why this habit is unhealthy, including the hazard of ingesting germs from the fingers and potential damage to the nails and nail beds (which can get infected). Brainstorm strategies for helping them break the habit, such as using special flavoured nail polish that tastes bad or using a code word to remind them to stop.
Signs of a Mental Health Concern
It's important to consider if a teen's lack of interest in hygiene is related to larger mental health issues. When behaviours like excessive nail biting, skin picking, hair pulling, and refusing to shower become habitual and/or are causing physical or emotional harm your teen may need treatment for an underlying condition like depression, anxiety, a pathological grooming disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If you notice pervasive hygiene issues that cause you concern, contact your teen's doctor or therapist to evaluate if something else is going on. Be sure to talk to your teen, too. Offer them non-judgmental support so that they can feel more comfortable talking about what's going on and get the help they need.