Eczema, despite being relatively common among the general population, is still pretty annoying to deal with. Though it isn’t dangerous, the red rash can be intensely itchy, and dry skin can easily crack. There is no cure for the condition, so patients must make themselves content with managing it. When an infant comes down with it, parents can have trouble knowing how exactly to treat the rash — after all, babies can’t tell you if they feel uncomfortably itchy at the moment. Many parents of children with eczema wonder how often they should bathe them, and doctors often provide inconsistent advice. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has answers, though.

Knowing when to bathe a baby normally isn’t a complicated problem, but water can be both good and bad for the skin, and eczema must be handled with care to prevent further irritation. Bathing followed by evaporation can lead to overdry skin, so many experts propose that eczema patients follow baths with lots of moisturizing. This is referred to as the “soak and smear” technique. How often these baths should occur, however, is frequently debated by experts.

In a new study, researchers note that “frequent bathing is often combined with the overuse of detergents (i.e., soaps) which can contribute to skin barrier breakdown.” High water temperature and excess towel drying can also make baths an irritating experience. For these reasons, many clinicians support more infrequent bathing for those with eczema. On the flip side, some experts recommend frequent bathing to rehydrate the skin, but with the use of special soap, drying techniques, and moisturizer.

Parents feel this debate at the clinical level: 75 percent who had seen multiple providers for their child’s eczema reported significant confusion about appropriate bathing frequency. So which side has it right? According to the study, the daily bathing approach is okay, as long as patients pay special attention to the moisturizing part.

“The smear part is really the most important element, because unless another moisturizer is applied immediately, then the skin is likely to dry out even more,” said Dr. Neal Jain, a fellow of the college and co-author of the paper, in a statement. “The weight of the evidence in the literature we reviewed and our experience caring for these patients suggests daily bathing with ‘soak and smear’ is more effective for soothing dry skin from eczema.”

Source: Cardona I, Stillman L, Jain N. does Bathing Frequency Matter in Pediatric Atopic Dermatitis? Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2016.