For many families of young children, a nightly bath is part of the routine, with many children hopping into the tub before heading off to sleep for the night. However, doctors are telling parents that a nightly bath is unnecessary, and for some children, it may even be detrimental to their skin health. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggest bathing children just a couple of times a week depending on the age group and level of activity. In fact, the AAP recommends only bathing an infant (a child less than one year of age) three times or less per week to preserve skin health. Likewise, the AAD reports that children between the ages 6 to 11 only need one to two baths a week under normal circumstances. So is bathing your child just one or two times a week really healthy? Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind the doctor recommendations.
The Washington Post reports that many families are opting to bathe their children daily simply because they feel pressure from other families to do so. The societal norm today is to make bath time part of your nightly routine. However, this routine has resulted in some unfortunate skin problems for children of all ages. While it may seem counter-intuitive, over-bathing your child can lead to problems with the skin as the natural oils are stripped away by the soap and warm water. Additionally, many doctors believe that over-bathing babies and young children can also lead to immune problems, as the child is not exposed to bacteria and microbes that help create a healthy immune response.
The American Academy of Dermatology notes that children between the ages 6 to 11 only need baths one to two times per week. Unless the child tromps through the mud, goes swimming, or gets sweaty, the AAD says there is no reason to bathe the child. In fact, it is noted that proper handwashing is all that is needed on a daily basis, and bathing can be reserved to a once-a-week affair. You can also choose to use a wet cloth to wash areas of the body that may have been exposed to dirt without opting for a full bath. If you aren’t quite ready for the weekly bath schedule, try giving a couple baths during the week with just water and no soap. However, if the child enters puberty early or begins getting body odor, the AAD says it is time to switch to a daily bath routine.
According to Children’s National, the reason to lower your child’s bathing frequency is due to the fact that the child’s skin barrier is still immature and needs the natural oils to function properly. When we bathe a child with soap and hot water, it strips the oils from their skin and can cause the area to become overly dry. This can lead to increases in eczema.
“Many problems with sensitive, irritated skin are made worse by bathing habits that unintentionally dry out the skin too much. 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.”
Margaret Cox, the chief executive of the National Eczema Society, spoke with the Daily Mail and pointed out that as the amount of water we use to clean ourselves has increased, so has the incidence of eczema.
“People don’t realise bathing in just simple water can dry out the skin and I don’t think many people appreciate how damaging soap can be. We should take bathing back to cleaning rather than seeing it as some great experience, as I don’t think we are doing our skin any good. Very small babies do not get very dirty other than around their mouths and in the nappy area, so top and tailing with a cloth and warm water every day plus a couple of baths a week should be adequate. Older children should be bathed when they are dirty.”
Additionally, Rob Dunn, a professor of biology, claims that bathing children too much can actually harm their immune system. While the concern is only mild, parents should consider if a bath is really worth it in the long run when a child’s immune system is trying to prepare itself for life on this planet by taking in good gut bacteria and building immunity to other microbes in the environment. Dunn says that our “overly clean living can be bad for our immune systems, which need certain microbes and gut bacteria to function properly and to keep us healthy from the more dangerous pathogens.” Dunn says our modern-day “germophobia” is not entirely unwarranted, as it came from fears that resulted after women in maternity wards began dying from fevers and other illnesses. However, Dunn says that simple handwashing could have prevented these deaths, as doctors did not routinely wash hands before switching patients and may have performed an autopsy in one room and then came over to deliver a baby without ever washing his hands or putting on gloves.
Dunn says that while a sterile environment is a necessity in hospitals and doctor’s offices, it is not necessary for everyday living. Sterile environments can cause the immune system to remain immature in children, and it has even been linked to increases in allergies. So while hand washing should be encouraged, parents obsession with hand sanitizer, antibacterial gels, and bathing daily should be thrown to the wind.
“We have become accustomed to antibacterial wipes and gels; parents carry around mini bottles of hand sanitizers and are encouraged to douse their children’s hands in the liquid during every public outing. Take a trip to the grocery store and you’ll find disposable antibacterial cloths meant for you to wipe down your grocery cart should the filthy person who touched it before you carry some horrible pathogen. But recent research as shown that those ‘healthy’ antibacterial cleaning wipes contain some pretty scary stuff, including pesticides that are not only dangerous to bacteria, but also dangerous to us, including an array of chemicals that are considered ‘asthmagens,’ substances that can cause asthma in otherwise healthy people.”
What do you think about the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Dermatology’s suggestions to only bathe your children a couple times per week? Are you ready to forgo the daily bathing routine for a more economical and healthy “weekly” schedule?
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