Bactroban (Mupirocin) for Skin Infection: How to Apply

An Antibiotic Prescribed for Impetigo, Staph, and Other Infections

Bactroban (mupirocin) is a topical antibiotic used to treat superficial skin infections such as impetigo and staph. This type of antibiotic does not work on fungal or viral skin infections. It comes in the form of an ointment and cream. While Bactroban is one of the most common brand names of mupirocin, this ointment also may be labeled Centany or Centany AT.

This article discusses Bactroban treatment for bacterial skin infections. It also explains how to apply Bactroban and proper storage.

Woman applying ointment on her arm
Eric Audras / Getty Images

Uses

Bactroban is FDA-approved for use on the skin to treat bacterial skin infections. It functions by killing bacteria present on the skin and preventing future bacterial growth. One of the most common uses for Bactroban is to treat a skin infection called impetigo.

Bactroban is also used to treat any open wound which has become infected or exposed to bacteria. In some cases, it is used to prevent the development of bacteria on the skin.

Many healthcare providers opt for the use of this topical antibiotic ointment as opposed to orally administered antibiotics. This is due to the low cost, ease of use, and absence of severe side effects associated with Bactroban.

Off-Label Uses

Bactroban has an evolving off-label use for the treatment of nasal bacterial infections. This treatment is called a Bactroban irrigation and involves dissolving the ointment in a saline solution before dousing each nostril with the mixture.

Bactroban irrigation has proven more effective than standard saline sprays for nasal infections. This irrigation is also reportedly safer than using oral antibiotics due to the low probability of the body developing antibiotic resistance.

Before Taking

A healthcare provider will often evaluate your likelihood of having success with this antibiotic by completing a thorough evaluation and review of your current medications.

Laboratory tests may be completed to positively identify the bacterial infection. You will then be assessed for your ability to remain compliant with the proper use of a topical antibiotic. If you are found to be in generally good health and are able to cope with the possibility of minor side effects, your healthcare provider may prescribe Bactroban.

The use of Bactroban is often the first-line treatment since it is a safer alternative to oral antibiotic treatment for a bacterial infection.

If a full course of Bactroban is completed and symptoms are still present and/or laboratory tests are still positive for bacterial infection, a healthcare provider will recommend oral antibiotics as a second-line treatment. There are no notable differences between the generic and brand name Bactroban.

Precautions and Contraindications

Since it is important for your healthcare provider to complete a full medication review before prescribing Bactroban, you should tell your healthcare provider all prescription and non-prescription medications you are taking.

You should also notify your healthcare provider if you have an allergy to Bactroban or any other drugs, so your healthcare provider is able to use this information to inform his decision to prescribe Bactroban.

Bactroban should not be applied to any area of the skin that is not infected. Bactroban should also not be used directly on areas of the skin which have been burned unless your healthcare provider directs you to do so.

Other Topical Antibiotics

  • Avar LS Cleanser
  • Ovace Plus
  • Sulfacleanse
  • Rosula
  • Silvadene
  • Rosac
  • Sumadan
  • Emcin Clear
  • Garamycin
  • Neosporin
  • Polysporin
  • Bacitraicin

Dosage

Bactroban is typically applied to the skin three times per day for one to two weeks. Bactroban cream is often recommended to be applied three times per day for 10 days on infected traumatic skin conditions.

Bactroban ointment is the most common form used to treat impetigo. When used for this purpose, Bactroban is usually applied three times per day.

All listed dosages are according to the drug manufacturer. Check your prescription and talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you are taking the right dose for you. 

Modifications

The only potential modification to the use of Bactroban is the combination of the ointment within a saline solution as per the off-label use for nasal irrigation.

There are no noted changes to dosages when Bactroban is used in pediatric or geriatric populations. However, the use of Bactroban has not been studied in children younger than 3 months of age.

How to Take and Store

Bactroban is to be applied to the affected area of skin after it has been thoroughly washed with soap and water. You will apply a thin film of Bactroban to the area, which may then be covered with a sterile dressing.

If you miss a dose of Bactroban, it is safe to apply the missed dose as soon as possible. However, if you are nearing the time when the next dose should be applied, skip the missed dose and resume your typical application schedule.

Store Bactroban at room temperature and keep it away from excess heat and moisture. It's best not to store it in the bathroom as that is likely to be too moist of an environment. Be sure to keep it out of reach of children.

Side Effects

Common side effects of Bactroban include experiencing diarrhea along with burning, stinging, and pain local to the application site. Individuals may experience severe diarrhea as a result of using Bactroban. If you typically experience diarrhea, be aware that Bactroban may worsen this symptom.

Diarrhea may occur several months after the use of Bactroban is discontinued, so be sure to consult your healthcare provider regarding the best line of treatment.

Less common side effects include skin changes to the application site. These skin changes may be blistering, irritation, reddening, cracking, and dryness of the skin. Additional less common side effects are swelling, tenderness, and warmth to the skin along with sores and ulcers in or around the mouth.

Warnings and Interactions

The only interaction to be aware of is the use of Bactroban along with Chloromycetin, or chloramphenicol. Chloromycetin is another topical antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections.

However, Chloromycetin is a much stronger antibiotic and should not be used in conjunction with Bactroban or any other topical antibiotic for the safety of the individual.

As Bactroban is an antibiotic, it is important to finish the entire course of the drug as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Even if your symptoms have resolved, finishing the entire course of antibiotics will ensure your skin is entirely free of the infection and prevent the recurrence of the infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Bactroban cream used for?

    Bactroban cream is used to treat bacterial skin infections including impetigo and staph infections. It is not helpful for fungal infections.

  • Is Bactroban the same as Neosporin?

    No. Bactroban and Neosporin are both topical antibiotic ointments but contain different medications. Neosporin is available over the counter, while Bactroban requires a prescription. Bactroban is effective against a broader spectrum of bacteria than Neosporin.

  • Can you put Bactroban on an open wound?

    No. Bactroban can be used on small sores but should not be put in an open wound. Your doctor may prescribe Bactroban to use on the skin around the edge of a wound, but it should not be put on an open wound.


  • How quickly does Bactroban work?

    Bactroban can start working in as little as the first 24 hours of treatment. However, it may take a full 10 days to fully heal. Be sure to follow your doctor's directions and continue the full course of treatment.

Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Brittany Ferri
Brittany Ferri, MS, OTR-L, CCTP, is an occupational therapist, consultant, and author specializing in psychosocial rehab.