Should You Use Neosporin on a Cut?

When faced with a minor cut, burn, or scrape, many people will automatically reach for a tube of the antibiotic ointment Neosporin. While Neosporin can help prevent infection, it is not always necessary or even appropriate to use.

When to Use Neosporin

Neosporin is an over-the-counter (OTC) triple-antibiotic ointment containing three separate antibacterial agents: neomycin, bacitracin, and polymyxin. Triple-antibiotic ointments are commonly used on minor cuts and abrasions to prevent infection and encourage healing. While some people are big believers in triple antibiotic ointments, others feel they are less than necessary.

Using a triple-antibiotic ointment can help some abrasions heal quicker and with less pain at first. With that being said, you can often achieve the same results by keeping the dressing fresh and moist.

Side Effects and Considerations

It is important to note that Neosporin can sometimes cause contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction characterized by redness, itching, and burning of the skin. When this happens, some people will mistake the inflammation for an infection and put even on more Neosporin, making the condition worse rather than better.

It most cases, neomycin is the cause of the allergic reaction. In such a case, the double-antibiotic ointment Polymycin (bacitracin and polymyxin) can be used.

Another major concern about Neosporin is that overuse may lead to the development of antibiotic resistance.

study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases suggested that OTC topical antibiotics have contributed to the rise of MRSA infections and may reduce the efficacy of antibiotics, both topical and oral if a MRSA infection were to occur.

While the occasional use of Neosporin is unlikely to cause any harm, the ongoing use of the ointment for every cut, bite, or scrape should be avoided.

Moreover, you should never use Neosporin on large areas of skin. If you get a large cut or burn, it is better to have it treated by a doctor or an urgent care facility.

Petroleum Jelly vs. Neosporin

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared antibiotic ointment with plain white petroleum jelly (the medium in which the antibiotics are contained). There was no statistical difference between using petroleum jelly with antibiotic and without.

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.

How to Dress a Wound

How to dress a wound
Verywell/Brianna Gilmartin

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. 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.

Soap can help if the wound is really grimy, but you have to make sure that any grit or dirt is completely rinsed away. You won't want to use alcohol, iodine, peroxide, or anything harsh that can damage the tissues, delaying healing.

After cleansing, you can decide whether to apply a thin layer of Neosporin or simply a little petroleum jelly to keep the skin moist.

You can then dress the wound either with an adhesive bandage or a sterile dressing. Change the dressing every day, more often if the bandage gets dirty. If the cut gets dirty or excessively wet, you should change it.

Once the wound has healed enough that there is no more exposed tissue, you can remove the bandage. Do not pick the scab, but rather let it fall off.

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Article Sources

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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.

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