Scott A. Norton, MD, MPH, MSc, Chief of Dermatology at Children’s National Health System, discusses how often you should bathe your child and best practices for bath time.
For many kids, bath time is part of a daily routine. It’s a time to wind down from the day, get clean, and ready for bed. But is an evening bath necessary for all children?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary. So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?
There is no scientific or biological answer to how often you should bathe your child. During pre-modern times, parents hardly ever bathed their children. The modern era made it a societal norm to bathe your child daily. Many babies and toddlers, especially those who aren’t walking yet, don’t need to be washed with soap every day. If a child has dry, sensitive skin, I recommend parents wash their child with a mild soap once a week. On other nights, the child may simply soak or rinse off in a lukewarm, plain water bath if they are staying fairly clean. Additionally, parents can soak their children in a water bath without soap most nights or as needed as part of a routine.
Causes of Skin Sensitivity
Many problems with sensitive, irritated skin are made worse by bathing habits that unintentionally dry out the skin too much. Soaking in a hot bath for long periods of time and scrubbing will lead to dry skin. Additionally, many existing skin conditions will worsen if you over-scrub your child or use drying, perfumed soaps. Some skin conditions, like childhood eczema (atopic dermatitis), are not caused by dirt or lack of hygiene. Therefore, parents do not need to scrub the inflamed areas. Scrubbing will cause dry, sensitive skin to become even more dry.
Tips for Bath Time
Here are some best practices I recommend for bath time for kids who have dry, itchy, sensitive skin or eczema.
- The proper temperature for a bath is lukewarm
- Baths should be brief (5-10 minutes long)
- To avoid drying out your child’s skin, use mild, fragrance-free soaps (or non-soap cleansers)
- Use small amounts of soap and wash the child with your hands, rather than scrubbing with a soapy washcloth.
- Do not let your child sit and play in the tub or basin if the water is all soapy.
- Use the soap at the end of the bath, not the beginning.
- When finishing the bath, rinse your child with warm fresh water to remove the soap from their body. Let the child “dance” or “wiggle” for a few seconds to shake off some of the water, and then apply moisturizing ointments, creams, or lotions while their skin is still wet.
- Simple store-brand petroleum jelly is a wonderful moisturizer, especially if applied right when the child leaves the tub while the skin is still wet.
- Avoid creams with fragrances, coloring agents, preservatives, and other chemicals. Simple, white, or colorless products are often better for children’s skin.
- Do not use alcohol-based products