Should You Use Neosporin on Your Cut?

How to Properly Treat a Minor Laceration

CHICAGO - JUNE 26: Pfizer's Neosporin is displayed on a shelf at a Walgreens store June 26, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois.
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When you get a minor cut, how important is it to use an antibiotic ointment? While you see that step listed in first aid recommendations, Neosporin or triple antibiotic ointment is not necessary for a minor wound to heal correctly. It is used to help prevent an infection and to keep the surface moist. However, neomycin, one of the three antibiotics in the ointment, causes allergic reactions in some people.

Cleaning Your Wound With Water

Treating a minor cut or scratch is mostly about keeping it clean, but the only thing you really need to clean it with is water. There's plenty of evidence that regular tap water works just fine for doctors in the emergency department. It will work for you, too. You need to make sure all dirt and particles are removed from the wound, as those can be the sources of germs that lead to infection. Cleaning the wound is the most important step in preventing a wound infection.

Dress the Wound

If you have a cut and you aren't sure what to do with it, first figure out if you need stitches, then dress the wound. You'll first need to clean it and that should be done with plain tap water. You don't want to use alcohol, iodine, or peroxide as those are harsh and can damage the tissues, delaying healing. After cleansing, the typical advice is to apply a thin layer of triple antibiotic cream.

To protect your cut so it doesn't get dirty and stays moist, cover it with an adhesive bandage (Band-Aid or some other brand). Change the adhesive bandage every day – more often if the bandage gets dirty. If the cut gets dirt or grime in it, rinse it with more tap water. Soap can help if it's really grimy, but you have to make sure it is completely rinsed away. Soap has a tendency to dry the skin out too much. You want to encourage healing by allowing the wound to stay moist. That's one of the actions of the antibiotic cream.

Is Neosporin Necessary?

Neosporin, also known as triple antibiotic ointment, is a cream containing three antibiotics: neomycin, bacitracin, and polymyxin. Triple antibiotic ointment is used on minor cuts and abrasions to prevent infection and encourage healing. Some folks are big believers in triple antibiotic ointments while others feel they are unnecessary. So, you ask, what's the deal?

Using triple antibiotic ointment could help some abrasions (scratches) heal a little quicker and probably with less pain at first, but keeping the dressing fresh and moist is more work than the average scratch is worth. Putting triple antibiotic ointment on a wound could also lead to redness, itching, and burning—what doctors call allergic contact dermatitis—which looks a lot like an infection.

Walk through this. You get a cut and clean it appropriately, then cover it with triple antibiotic ointment. After a day or so, the wound and the surrounding skin get painful and red. Thinking your cut is infected you put more triple antibiotic ointment on it, which makes dermatitis worse. A minor wound just isn't worth the headache.

Petroleum Jelly

An article published in JAMA compared antibiotic ointment with plain white petroleum jelly (the medium in which the antibiotics are contained). There was no statistical difference between using the petroleum jelly with antibiotic and without. Unfortunately, that particular article did not include a group without any jelly at all. It would have been useful to see a third group with nothing at all.

You may decide to trust your body to heal the way it's supposed to without using the ointment. However, if you have a medical condition such as diabetes that keeps your body from healing correctly, then talk to your doctor about the best way for you to handle minor cuts and scratches.

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  • Smack DP, Harrington AC, Dunn C, Howard RS, Szkutnik AJ, Krivda SJ, Caldwell JB, James WD. Infection and allergy incidence in ambulatory surgery patients using white petrolatum vs bacitracin ointment. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1996 Sep 25;276(12):972-7.