Hansa D. Bhargava, MD, FAAP
On the way to manhood, your body is going to do a lot of things that you really, really wish it wouldn’t. Pimples will pop up everywhere, and so will hair. You’ll drip sweat and you will stink. You’ll get erections when you least expect – or want – them.
Sound bad? Sure. But remember these four things:
Believe it or not, some boys just starting puberty actually want to smell bad.
“They are upset that they don’t have secretions that stink. It’s a sign of manhood,” says pediatrician Lawrence D’Angelo, MD, MPH, chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
They won’t have to wait long. Those secretions – from glands in your armpits – start early on in puberty.
Once they do, even those once eager for B.O. will likely want to grab an antiperspirant and/or deodorant. (The first stops sweat, the second blocks the smell – they are often combined).
Just don’t overdo it, says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Jennifer Lucas. Using an antiperspirant too often can cause a rash. If it does, switch to a deodorant for a few days.
For the unfortunate few, no over-the-counter antiperspirant will stop the flow of sweat. If that describes you, don’t worry. There are stronger antiperspirants that only your doctor can prescribe. And, there is Botox. Usually used for a condition called hyperhydrosis (in which a person sweats a lot more than normal), injections of Botox by a doctor can stop sweating for up to six months at a time.
The only way to avoid acne, Lucas says, is to fast forward past the teenage years. Since that is not going to happen, it’s best to learn how to deal with it before it becomes a real problem.
Not all boys get that message. “When it’s mild, they tend to ignore it,” Lucas says. “But if it gets severe, it can cause scarring. And scars will be permanent.”
Lucas recommends getting an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide-based wash and using it once or twice a day. That will help keep your pores from getting clogged, which causes acne. Cleaning up after sweating is especially important, so wash yourself and any equipment you wear after game time.
Even if you are really careful, your acne might still go beyond mild and into severe territory. “It’s not because they are not taking care of it,” Lucas says. “It’s just bad luck.”
If that happens to you, don’t panic. Make an appointment with a dermatologist. They have lots of options to help keep your pimples under control.
A lot of guys are eager to get ripped – or at least develop some muscle definition – and are embarrassed when they can’t.
The most important message for you to hear is ‘be patient.’ Muscles need to be ready to grow. That doesn’t happen until later in puberty, when the body starts to produce sufficient amounts of the hormone testosterone.
In the meantime, lifting weights will help you build strength; it just won’t help you build muscle before your body is ready.
“You may get stronger but not any more defined if you are not at the point at which you will develop,” D’Angelo says.
If you do work out with weights, be careful and focus on doing lots of repetitions of lighter weights rather than trying to lift the heaviest amount possible, D’Angelo says. Otherwise, you risk overlifting, which can damage your growth plates.
Growth plates are areas of tissue at the end of your long bones – which include your leg and arm bones – that determine the final length and shape of your bones. They are the weakest part of your growing skeleton, and injuries to them can sometimes have a permanent – and bad – impact on your growth.
Get some guidance from a trainer or coach to make sure your technique is correct. No sense doing all that lifting the wrong way.
During puberty, some guys experience breast growth. This, too, is normal! It’s called gynecomastia, and it happens when the body converts of some of the male hormone testosterone into the female hormone estrogen.
Usually, it amounts to no more than half an inch of growth around the nipples, but in some boys it might be more pronounced.
D’Angelo says that most boys will have to live with it for a year or two before things settle down to normal size. That may sound like a long time, but the important thing to know is that nothing is wrong with you.
Is there anything more embarrassing than getting caught with your penis standing at attention when walking down a crowded school hallway? Sure, getting caught in gym class. Rest assured that all your guy friends are also getting involuntary erections at awkward moments, no matter how much they're pointing and laughing when it happens to you.
Erections can happen anywhere and anytime and for any or no reason. It is an unfortunate but completely normal part of puberty.
And for guys worrying about what a sudden erection in the locker room might mean, the answer is: It means nothing. “It has nothing to do with erotic thoughts,” D’Angelo says.
When puberty kicks in, hair begins to sprout up in all sorts of places. Facial hair announces to the world that you’re that much closer to manhood, and guys often take pride in the fact that they now have to shave.
Few guys, however, feel the same sort of pride about the hair that’s growing on other parts of their body, like their shoulders and their back.
“Different people have different amounts of hair growth,” says Lucas, “and they often get it in places that they don’t like.”
Leaving it alone is one option. But for guys who want to get rid of embarrassing body hair, there are options.
The most obvious one is shaving it off. However, there are creams available that do a good job of cleaning up trouble spots. You can use these sometimes. But read the directions and be careful when using them. “Otherwise, they may end up with a chemical burn," Lucas says. Ouch.
Whether you are breezing through your body changes or having a difficult time with them, it’s important to see your doctor and let him or her know how things are going. The changes you are experiencing are complicated, and it takes a doctor’s trained eye to be certain all is as it should be.
So make an appointment for a check-up at least once a year, says D’Angelo. That, too, should be normal.
SOURCES:Lawrence D’Angelo, MD, MPH, chief, division of adolescent and young adult medicine, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.Jennifer Lucas, MD, dermatologist, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio.National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Growth Plate Injuries.” Healthychildren.org: “Physical Development in Boys: What to Expect.”
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