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.

A study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases suggested that OTC topical antibiotics have contributed to the rise of Mmethicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (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.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. Heal CF, Banks JL, Lepper PD, Kontopantelis E, van Driel ML. Topical antibiotics for preventing surgical site infection in wounds healing by primary intentionCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;11(11):CD011426. Published 2016 Nov 7. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011426.pub2

  2. Jones RN, Li Q, Kohut B, Biedenbach DJ, Bell J, Turnidge JD. Contemporary antimicrobial activity of triple antibiotic ointment: a multiphased study of recent clinical isolates in the United States and Australia. Diagn Microbiol Infect Dis. 2006;54(1):63-71. doi:10.1016/j.diagmicrobio.2005.08.009

  3. Tong QJ, Hammer KD, Johnson EM, Zegarra M, Goto M, Lo TS. A systematic review and meta-analysis on the use of prophylactic topical antibiotics for the prevention of uncomplicated wound infectionsInfect Drug Resist. 2018;11:417–425. Published 2018 Mar 16. doi:10.2147/IDR.S151293

  4. Shahbazian JH, Hartzell TL, Pandey AK, Azari KK. Allergic dermatitis due to topical antibioticsWest J Emerg Med. 2012;13(4):380–382. doi:10.5811/westjem.2011.9.6851

  5. Moore NA, Czyz CN, Carter TD, Foster JA, Cahill KV. Neomycin, polymyxin B, and dexamethasone allergic reactions following periocular surgeryJ Ophthalmic Inflamm Infect. 2017;7(1):15. doi:10.1186/s12348-017-0133-4

  6. Chokshi A, Sifri Z, Cennimo D, Horng H. Global Contributors to Antibiotic Resistance [published correction appears in J Glob Infect Dis. 2019 Jul-Sep;11(3):131]. J Glob Infect Dis. 2019;11(1):36–42. doi:10.4103/jgid.jgid_110_18

  7. Suzuki M, Yamada K, Nagao M, et al. Antimicrobial ointments and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus USA300Emerg Infect Dis. 2011;17(10):1917–1920. doi:10.3201/eid1710.101365

  8. Williamson DA, Carter GP, Howden BP. Current and Emerging Topical Antibacterials and Antiseptics: Agents, Action, and Resistance PatternsClin Microbiol Rev. 2017;30(3):827–860. doi:10.1128/CMR.00112-16

  9. Smack DP, Harrington AC, Dunn C, et al. Infection and allergy incidence in ambulatory surgery patients using white petrolatum vs bacitracin ointment. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1996;276(12):972-7. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540120050033

  10. Guo S, Dipietro LA. Factors affecting wound healingJ Dent Res. 2010;89(3):219–229. doi:10.1177/0022034509359125

  11. Drexler M; Institute of Medicine (US). What You Need to Know About Infectious Disease. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. I, How Infection Works. 

  12. Negut I, Grumezescu V, Grumezescu AM. Treatment Strategies for Infected WoundsMolecules. 2018;23(9):2392. Published 2018 Sep 18. doi:10.3390/molecules23092392

  13. Sood A, Granick MS, Tomaselli NL. Wound Dressings and Comparative Effectiveness DataAdv Wound Care (New Rochelle). 2014;3(8):511–529. doi:10.1089/wound.2012.0401

  14. Dhivya S, Padma VV, Santhini E. Wound dressings - a reviewBiomedicine (Taipei). 2015;5(4):22. doi:10.7603/s40681-015-0022-9

Additional Reading