Bath time is so much fun when you’re little. The bubbles, the toys—splashing water everywhere. But for the parents watching and bathing them, a question that often comes to mind is “How often does my child really need this much fun?”
To bathe or not to bathe … ‘tis a very good question
While a daily shower is thought to be healthier (helping scuff off bacteria, dirt, chemicals and irritants), for many, it’s more about habit and for aesthetic purposes—to look so fresh and so clean, clean (thank you, Outkast!).
But when it comes to kids, let’s be honest: They can get pretty messy and smelly from time to time. Is this the sign it’s time to send your child straight to the shower, or do you turn a blind eye (and nose) for a day or two more?
Here’s the not-so-dirty truth on how often your child should bathe or take a shower.
How often should my child bathe or shower?
From Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher to Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, some couples say they don’t believe in washing their children every day. While we shouldn’t take advice from Hollywood elite, health care experts tend to agree with them.
“You shouldn’t bathe your children as much as you think,” said Brienna Miller, MD, a pediatrician with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO. “Over-bathing can actually strip your child of their natural oils and protective skin cell barrier leading to dry, irritated skin.”
When it comes to frequency, however, Dr. Miller said it depends on the age of your child.
Bathing advice for children under the age 11
Newborns, babies, toddlers and young children only need to be bathed two to three times per week. “Of course, there are always exceptions, such as if your toddler gets dirty playing the mud,” Dr. Miller said. “You can always add in an additional bath.”
When you do bathe young children, here are some tips for healthy bathing:
- Use a safe, sturdy tub with parts securely attached and working well. Be aware of any edges, bumps or slings. Look for tubs with smooth edges and no slings. Avoid foldable and inflatable tubs. Check the tub for rust and mold. Drain and clean the tub after each use.
- Never leave your child alone in the bathtub. Children can drown in as little as one to two inches of water.
- Keep the water heater lower than 120 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid burns.
When your child starts learning to bathe themselves, supervision remains extremely important. Let your child apply the soap and then direct them to wash their hair, face, arms, legs, feet, midsection, genitalia and bottom. “As they get older, you can check hard to reach or see places such as their back, ears, feet and bottom and do a final rinse, if needed,” Dr. Miller said.
Bathing advice for children over the age of 11 (or when puberty starts)
Once puberty hits, daily showering is essential due to new hormones flowing through the body bringing along unwanted body odor and acne. Your child should also wash their face twice a day with a gentle noncomedogenic face wash.
Also, don’t think they can skip a shower after a dip in the pool, lake or ocean. Getting wet doesn’t equal getting clean. Like with showering post-workout, a shower after swimming in a pool or natural body of water will help reduce their risk for infections and rashes.
Not all soaps are created equal
Look for mild soaps and cleansers that are either unscented or without much scent and unscented shampoos with a neutral pH, so they won’t damage hair or irritate the scalp and eyes. “Don’t assume all baby soaps are mild,” Dr. Miller cautioned. “Read the label and check with your child’s health care provider if you’re unsure.”
As your child enters puberty, an antibacterial soap may be beneficial if they are struggling with acne.
Moisturizing is key
Whether you live in a dry climate or your child tends to have dry skin or eczema, applying a moisturizer just after their bath is important as it locks in moisture the skin absorbed while bathing.
“The school of thought used to be that bathing too much could irritate eczema, but in reality, research suggests that people with eczema should bathe more often,” Dr. Miller said. “That’s because moisturizers work better on damp skin and help those with eczema restore moisture back to the skin.”
Bath time is lots of fun, but it doesn’t have to be every day. There may be days when washing up makes good sense – like if your child has an explosive diaper or reeks of onions – but really bathing two to three times a week is just fine.
If your child has a skin condition like eczema or has suddenly developed a rash or patchy red skin, check with their provider to get tailored advice.