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Child & Teen Health
Does your child need to bathe every day?
- By Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
The daily bath or shower is a routine for many of us — and for our children, too. But is it really necessary?
The short answer is no.
Obviously, there are days when washing up makes good sense — like if your child is grimy from a day in the dirt; covered in sweat, paint, or other visible dirt; or had an explosive poop. It’s also a good idea to wash up if your child has spent the day in a pool (the chlorine may be irritating to the skin), a body of water (there could be things in the water that are irritating or unhealthy), or well-covered in bug spray to ward off ticks and mosquitoes. And certainly, it’s best for everyone in the vicinity when a stinky teenager takes a soapy shower.
Sometimes a doctor may recommend daily bathing for certain skin conditions. And we all need to wash our hands regularly to prevent infection. But full-body washing just for the sake of washing? Not so much.
Why not bathe a child daily?
Lots of bathing can lead to dry, irritated skin. But also, the skin has natural protective oils, and natural bacteria, that help to keep us healthy and safe — and that can get washed away with daily bathing.
If your baby or preteen looks pretty clean, isn’t stinky, isn’t covered in bug spray, and hasn’t been in a pool or other body of water, it’s fine to skip the bath or shower. Really, bathing two or three times a week is fine. In fact, for many kids, even just once or twice a week is fine. You can always do a quick wipe with a wet washcloth to the face, groin area, and any dirty spots.
Stinky teenagers might need more bathing or showering, depending on activity level and deodorant use. But even they may be able to get away with washing their face and using a soapy washcloth on their groin and underarms.
Tips for healthy bathing
When you do bathe children, here are some tips for healthy bathing.
- Don’t use hot water — use warm water instead.
- Keep it short — preferably just enough time to get the washing done.
- Avoid antibacterial soaps and bubble baths. Use mild, unscented soap and shampoo.
- Make sure bathing is supervised for all babies and young children.
- Pat dry rather than rubbing dry. If your child tends to have dry skin, using a mild, unscented greasy moisturizer after the bath can be helpful.
If your child has eczema or any other skin condition, check with your doctor to get tailored advice for bathing your child.
Follow me on Twitter @drClaire
About the Author
Claire McCarthy, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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