Little kids get sticky, dirty and sometimes, really gross. It only takes a second for them to bury their heads in sandboxes or enhance their eyebrows with a permanent marker. And let’s not think about what happens when they eat popsicles (facepalm).
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So should you dunk your sticky sweethearts into the tub (or shower in the case of teens and tweens) the moment they get home from school or daycare? Or, do you throw your hands up and accept the grime?
Dermatologist Joan Tamburro, DO, gives us the dirt on how often you should bathe your kids or have them take a shower.
Bath time guidelines
Bathing recommendations depend on your child’s age, says Dr. Tamburro. She suggests these general guidelines:
- Babies, toddlers and little kids should spend some quality time in the tub two to three times per week. Their delicate skin doesn’t need daily cleansing, but it’s OK to get out the bath toys more often if your child gets dirty or has a messy diaper situation. Speaking of tub toys, make sure they’re nontoxic and don’t have the potential to harbor, mold, fungus and bacteria.
- Older kids ages 6-11 should hit the bath two or three times per week, at a minimum. More showers are in order when they get muddy, sweaty or stinky.
- Tweens and teens should shower daily. (Their newly stinky pits will probably clue you in when it’s time to step up their hygiene game.) They should also wash their face twice a day.
There’s wiggle room, of course. If your cranky toddler is too tired, skipping bath night won’t be the end of the world. And if your baby has an impeccably timed post-bath diaper blowout, by all means — draw another one.
Also, don’t think everyone’s off the hook after spending a day in the water. “It’s important to bathe or shower after swimming in a pool, lake or ocean,” Dr. Tamburro says. So, getting wet doesn’t equal getting clean.
Conventional wisdom suggests that bathing too often can be drying and irritating for sensitive skin. But the conventional wisdom could use some updating, Dr. Tamburro says.
It’s true that harsh antimicrobial soaps can make your skin dry and itchy. She recommends avoiding those products unless your doctor has recommended them for a skin condition. Gentle soaps, though, are safe for frequent bathing.
“Choose mild soaps that don’t lather up too much and don’t have added fragrance,” Dr. Tamburro says. “And don’t assume all baby soaps are mild.” If you’re unsure how gentle your pick is, ask your doctor for recommendations.
Moisturizing is also key, especially if your kiddos have dry skin or you live in a dry climate. The best time to moisturize is right after a bath or shower, to lock in all the moisture.
How baths can help soothe eczema
Many kids have eczema, which causes the skin to become dry, red and oh-so-itchy. You might think too-frequent bathing could irritate the condition. But in reality, Dr. Tamburro says, “research suggests people with eczema should bathe more often.”
The reason: “Moisturizers work better on damp skin, and our goal in treating eczema is to restore the skin’s moisture barrier.”
Of course, if your kiddo’s skin suddenly flares up with dry, flaky, red patches, it may not be eczema. It could be a rash or an allergic reaction, so talk to your pediatrician or a dermatologist.
Is it possible to bathe or shower too often?
Bathing too often isn’t as much of a concern as bathing too little, Dr. Tamburro says. That’s especially true for adolescents, whose bodies are changing and producing more oils — and more odors.
It can be hard to convince a stubborn teen to make time for a shower, Dr. Tamburro concedes. For leverage, parents can point out that not showering often enough can lead to dandruff and may increase acne. (After all, no kid is happy about pimples.)
And parents of younger kids should accept that regular baths are part of the package. “Kids should be outside playing and getting dirty,” says Dr. Tamburro. “When they do, it makes sense to hit the tub.”