It’s summer. Baths feel mandatory. Your son literally rolled in mud for the entire morning. Your daughter spent the afternoon swimming laps in a lake that’s more sludge than water. But, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, letting your filthy kids skip a summer shower does not, in fact, make you a bad parent.
“Most children only need a bath a few times a week,” says dermatologist Robert Sidbury of the University of Washington School of Medicine, in a statement for the AAD. “For children, a few germs here and there are healthy, as this is how their bodies learn to fight off bacteria and build stronger immune systems.”
When it comes to hair washing, the AAD has your bath schedule on lockdown. Their website essentially provides a flowchart for parents who are weighing the pros and cons of trying to coax their child to embrace shampoo. It all depends on the child’s hair type, age, and activity level. For children between the ages of 8 and 12, AAD writes, it is seldom necessary to shampoo daily. Those with oily hair who play outdoors should consider shampooing every other day. Kids with dry, curly, or stereotypically African-American hair should only be shampooing once every 7 days.
The body washing guidelines are even more liberal. AAD recommends that kids bathe at least once or twice per week, and whenever they get sweaty or dirty. Pediatrician David Geller says that kids who hate the bathtub can get many of the same benefits by playing in a pool or a lake. So, maybe it is possible to get through the season without dunking an explorer.
For babies, it is even less clear that regular bathing is necessary. Babies are often bathed in their first few hours of life, despite the fact that the process removes vernix, a natural skin protectant that helps newborns with immunity. Because of this, doctors are increasingly recommending that parents wait at least 48 hours before bathing their newborns. Even after that, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off—which means that babies can, even ideally, spend their first two weeks more or less unwashed. Regular diaper changes and quick clean-ups after spitups does the job just fine.
Obviously, once children hit puberty they should probably be taught to shower daily just like everyone else—not necessarily because we need to, but because it’s good citizenship. And for the benefit of your coworkers and loved ones, it’s probably inconsiderate to make a point of showering less. But if after a long, hazy summer day, you don’t have the energy to wrestle your kids into the tub, take heart. They’re probably better off going to bed sweaty.
How to Know When to Wash Your Child
- Give a kid their first bath no sooner than 48 hours after birth.
- Follow a routine of bathing about twice a week (or whenever they are sweaty and dirty). According to studies, this will help them build a stronger immune system.