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Children's skincare - everything you need to know

Boy with sun cream on his nose smiling at the camera
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Whether you’re one or 100, it’s important to take care of your skin. Keeping your skin clean, moisturised and protected from UV rays helps prevent rashes, infections and cancer.

Good skincare is just as important for children as it is for adults. However, while young skin is smooth, soft and full of moisture, it’s much more sensitive than an adult’s. That’s why your children’s skincare routine needs to look a little different to your own, especially during their first few weeks.

What does my children’s skin need to stay healthy?

Unless your child has a specific skin condition, their skincare routine can be pretty simple.

For new babies, the NHS recommends only bathing them with water in the first month. This is because their skin takes time to build up a protective barrier. Find out more by reading our baby skincare blog

For older babies and children, you can still keep it simple. Bathe them with products suitable for young, sensitive skin, and help them get dry afterwards. If they have dry skin, you can use moisturisers.

Other than that, the most important thing is to apply a good sunscreen if your child is going to be outside when it’s sunny.

How often should I bathe my child?

You don’t have to bathe your child every day. In fact, over-washing can dry the skin and cause problems like eczema.

The NHS doesn’t provide specific guidance on how often to wash your child, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology, children between six and 11 should bathe at least once or twice a week. They should also bathe after they’ve been swimming, or whenever they get dirty or smelly.

If your child enjoys bathing every night, there’s no problem in doing that. But if you find it a bit of a struggle or you don’t always have time, it’s also fine for them to wash less regularly. Bathing only once or twice a week might leave them a little dirty, but it’s generally better for their skin than washing too much.

For older children who are going through puberty, the guidance is a little different. The AAD recommends that they bathe once a day, and wash their face twice daily.

What are the best children’s skincare products?

When it comes to choosing skincare products for your kids, bear in mind that their skin is more sensitive than yours. Choose products that won’t irritate or dry the skin like perfumes and bar soaps. Usually, a sensitive, fragrance-free and alcohol-free product will be the best option.

Some products to try include:

Remember that children’s skin is naturally soft, smooth and full of moisture. Fancy products for adult skin like exfoliators and serums aren’t suitable or necessary for children.

What sort of sunscreen does my child need?

Protecting your child’s skin from the sun is really important, especially when they’re very young.

If your child is under six months, you should never put them in strong, direct sunlight. Keep them in the shade, or use covering clothing and hats. Older children can be in the sun, but just make sure you follow these rules between March and October:

  • Put sunscreen on their skin – the British Skin Foundation recommends an SPF of at least 50
  • Cover them with clothing suited to the weather e.g. a long-sleeved top and a hat
  • Sit them in the shade especially during the middle of the day (11am-3pm)

Sunscreen should be applied to any areas of skin not covered by clothing e.g. the face and ears, tops of the feet, and backs of the hands.

If your child is going to be out in the sun for a long time, apply sunscreen twice before you leave the house: 30 minutes before leaving, and then again right before you leave. Remember to reapply it if your child gets wet or sweats a lot. Generally, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours if your child is staying out in the sun.

If you worry you might “miss a spot” when applying the sunscreen, buy a coloured one as this will be visible on your child’s skin.

What should I do if my child has itchy skin or a rash?

Having itchy skin or a rash can sometimes be a sign of an allergic reaction or a skin condition.

If your child has itchy skin or a rash, and they’re also feeling unwell (e.g. they have a high temperature) it’s a good idea to talk to your GP. Skin complaints in children are common and they aren’t usually cause for concern, but occasionally they can point to something serious.

Your child might have a temporary condition like slapped cheek syndrome (which causes a red rash on the cheeks), or something long-term but manageable like eczema. To find out more, consult this page from the NHS.