Should You Use Neosporin on a Cut?

When faced with a minor cut, burn, or scrape, many people will instantly 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.

This article explains what Neosporin is, what side effects it can cause, and how essential Neosporin is for treating minor wounds. It also offers tips on how to properly care for minor cuts, scrapes, or burns.

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 more quickly and with less pain at first.

With that being said, you can often achieve the same results by bandaging the cut, keeping it moist, and changing the dressing often.

Neosporin vs. Petroleum Jelly

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared antibiotic ointment with plain petroleum jelly. (An antibiotic ointment is petroleum jelly with antibiotics added.) The researchers found no statistical difference between using petroleum jelly with an 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 healthcare provider about the best way for you to handle minor cuts and scratches.

Recap

Neosporin is a triple-antibiotic ointment that may help heal minor cuts and abrasions faster. With that said, proper wound care may work just as well without the need for a topical antibiotic.

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 on even more Neosporin, making the condition worse rather than better.

Usually, 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.

A study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases suggested that OTC topical antibiotics have contributed to the rise of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. That resistance may reduce the efficacy of other antibiotics, both topical and oral, if a person were to get a MRSA infection.

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 healthcare provider or an urgent care facility.

Recap

Neosporin is generally safe if used as directed, although it may cause contact dermatitis in some people. The overuse of Neosporin can potentially lead to antibiotic resistance.

How to Dress a Wound

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.

How to dress a wound

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Soap can help if the wound is really grimy, but you have to make sure that any grit or dirt is completely rinsed away. Don't use alcohol, iodine, peroxide, or anything harsh that can damage the tissues and delay 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 or wet.

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 on its own.

Recap

The main goal of wound care is to keep the wound clean. For minor cuts and scrapes, this may only involve washing the wound with water and dressing it with a sterile bandage. Neosporin may be used but is not essential.

Summary

Neosporin is a triple antibiotic ointment available over the counter that can help treat minor cuts, abrasions, and burns. The ointment may help speed healing and ease pain, but proper wound care may do the same without the need for a topical antibiotic.

Neosporin is generally safe for use but can potentially lead to antibiotic resistance if overused.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Neosporin good for treating burns?

    Neosporin may help treat a minor burn, but it should never be used on a large area of skin, especially if you have a preexisting skin condition. Serious burns should be treated by a medical professional.

  • What ointment is usually recommend for minor cuts?

    Petroleum jelly is usually the best ointment for minor cuts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Be sure to apply it continuously to keep the wound moist until it heals. Also, try using petroleum jelly from a tube rather than a jar to limit the spread of germs.

  • What is bacitracin?

    Bacitracin is one of three antibacterial agents contained in Neosporin. The other two are neomycin and polymyxin.

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