A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Let your kids soak up the suds

After a long day of playing outside, especially when it’s warm, rounding up your kids for bath time is an easy call.

But when sweat and body odor from physical activity isn’t a trigger, how often do kids need to bathe? It may be surprising to know it’s not always about how often kids should bathe, but how they’re bathing.

How often should they take a bath?

Child taking a bath - How often should kids take a bath?

Dermatologists recommend focusing on not how often children bathe, but how they bathe.

Dr. Thomas McIntee, pediatric dermatologist, Marshfield Center, says there isn’t a consensus among health care providers on how often kids should bathe.

“Parents have a lot of beliefs about how often their children should have a bath,” said Dr. McIntee.

He says some parents feel their child should be bathed every day, especially infants or small children. And yet, some parents say frequent bathing dries their child’s skin and bathing should be no more frequent than every other day.

“We really want kids to be bathed to the extent they need to because of their hygiene, whether they smell or they’re dirty,” he said. “It’s fine to bathe your baby every day, as long as you seal their skin with a bland moisturizer after the bath.”

When it comes to children, the level of physical activity is the main factor for how often they should be bathed.

“If kids aren’t dirty in the sense of playing outdoors all the time and it’s the middle of the school week, you can get by without a bath,” Dr. McIntee said. “Just moisturize the skin. But if it’s a kid who is playing sports and getting dirty outside all day, you need to put them in the tub.”

The right way your child should bathe

Dermatologists recommend focusing on not how often children bathe, but how.

“We really want kids to be bathed in a tub safe for the child’s age, especially during infancy,” Dr. McIntee said. “Immediately after they’re bathed, we want them to be moisturized.

Most dermatologists advise warm, not hot baths, lasting around 10 minutes, Dr. McIntee said.

“They should be moisturized within one to two minutes after they get out of the tub,” he said.  “Parents should dab off the big water drops so the child’s skin is still damp. Usually, we say ‘soak and smear.’”

Avoid using harsh soaps on your child. Use bland, non-detergent soaps that are gentle skin cleansers and no anti-bacterial soaps. Use moisturizers that don’t contain perfumes, dyes or other unnecessary additives.

Dermatologists usually recommend moisturizers that are bland, white, thick creams or contain white petrolatum.

“I tell my parents to not put anything on your child’s skin that ‘looks pretty or smells good,’” Dr. McIntee said.

If your child has eczema or psoriasis, do not give long, hot showers or baths because they can make your child’s skin itch more.  Ten-minute warm baths are recommended for eczema and psoriasis patients.

If you decide to not bathe your child every day, you should still moisturize their skin every day to lock in moisture.

Young children should never be left unattended in the bath, and test the water temperature before putting children in the bath.

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