Topical Antibiotics are great to help speed healing and prevent or treat skin infections, especially after minor skin injuries. And in many DermTV episodes, I’ve mentioned other situations where they literally work magic. But they don’t all work the same so if you want to know how to pick the right one for you, stay tuned!
Scratches, abrasions, burns and cuts are all part of the minor injuries we get from time to time. They’re just part of life. But when they occur, besides the obvious pain and bleeding, more importantly, the barrier function that your skin provides is broken. One of the most important functions of the top layer of your skin, the epidermis, is to be a barrier that keeps your inside world in, such as blood, and keeps the outside world out… like germs including hundreds of different types of bacteria. Through the same break in the skin that allows your blood to seep out, through that same cut, bacteria can get into your skin and cause an infection.
So topical antibiotics are used to both help prevent those infections as well as to treat them if in fact your skin gets infected.
Many topical antibiotics are available without a prescription and come in different forms, including creams, ointments and powders. For most minor injuries, I prefer the ointment form because it helps the skin heal faster by keeping it moist. But which antibiotic ointment should you use? There are lots to choose from including Bacitracin, Polysporin, Neomycin, Neosporin, Triple antibiotic ointment, and so on.
Confusing? Of course! Nothing’s easy!
The antibacterial ingredients in all of these products fight different types of bacteria, and none treat them all, so many topical antibiotic products contain combinations of these antibiotics to make them effective against a broader range of bacteria.
But I’m going to make it easy for you by telling you what I use for myself: it’s Bacitracin or Polysporin.
Bacitracin is effective against the most common bacteria that cause skin infections.
Polysporin contains Bacitracin and a second antibiotic ingredient, Polymyxin B, which fights additional bacteria that Bacitracin doesn’t.
Neosporin and most Triple antibiotic products contain Bacitracin, Polymyxin B and Neomycin, which also treats a wide variety of bacteria. So Neosporin and most Triple antibiotic products really contain the same two ingredients that are in Polysporin and also contains Neomycin. But the reason I don’t use or recommend Neosporin or Triple antibiotic products is because the Neomycin in them often causes an allergic reaction called allergic contact dermatitis… a little bit like the rash you get from poison ivy.
So the next time you get a minor skin injury, I usually suggest using either Bacitracin or Polysporin ointment.
I hope that helps and un-confuses you!