Neosporin is a common topical antibiotic that can found in many first aid kits and medicine cabinets. It contains the antibiotics neomycin, polymyxin, and bacitracin and it is available over the counter without a prescription. It comes in the form of ointments, creams, foams, and sprays. It is used to prevent infection in minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. But should you actually use it on burns? The Neosporin + Pain Relief Cream is marketed as a product which “soothes painful cuts, scrapes, and burns”. However, there is some disagreement among the medical community on whether the product should indeed be used for burns.
The skin, of course, plays a major role in keeping infections away. When you get a wound like a burn, the barrier is opened and harmful bacteria can slip in. Naturally, you would want to kill these bacteria. Therefore, antibiotic gels and creams are among the first things people apply after cleaning a wound.
Some experts suggest that minor first-degree burns can be safely treated with Neosporin since it may help provide relief and prevent infection. It is widely accepted that second- and third-degree burns may require more advanced and you should see a doctor. He or she may prescribe antibiotics.
Why not everyone recommends Neosporin for burns
Unfortunately, antibiotics may not give you the protection you desire and they can even make things worse. Some medical professionals suggest that topical antibiotics should not be used on minor burns like sunburn or superficial burns which leave the skin intact. Instead, these should be covered with a bismuth-petroleum gauze like Xeroform. Other small burns which break the skin can be treated with Polysporin if an antibiotic is required.
You see, the neomycin in Neosporin triggers an allergic reaction in many people and it is a frequent cause of contact dermatitis. Polysporin is, therefore, a good alternative. In contact dermatitis, the outer layers of the skin become inflamed, red, dry and scaly. Such allergic reactions to ointments are more common in older people and neomycin allergy is more common in people with poor circulation. Allergic reactions can prevent wounds from properly healing. It, therefore, makes sense to avoid treatments that can cause allergic reactions.
There is also the growing issue of antibiotic resistance. It is believed that the widespread use of Neosporin and other over-the-counter anti-bacterial ointments to treat wounds may be contributing to the antibiotic resistance of certain strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
There’s another note of caution concerning Neosporin for burns. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should talk to their healthcare providers before using Neosporin for burns since no evidence exists regarding its impact on unborn babies and infants.
Why Polysporin Can Be A Better Option
Polysporin is made up of the antibiotics bacitracin and polymyxin B and is available over-the-counter from most pharmacies. It is easy to use and causes few side effects. In order to kill bacteria, it weakens their protective covering and prevents them from recreating it.
It is true that he bacitracin in Polysporin can also trigger allergies but the likelihood is significantly lower than that associated with Neomycin.
The Bottom Line
If you have a burn, it may be best to contact your doctor. He or she will be able to advise you on whether you need antibiotics or whether cleaning with soap and water and dressing the wound would be more appropriate. If prescription antibiotics are needed, your doctor may recommend Mupirocin. It is available under the brand names Centany and Bactroban as well as a generic formulation. Mupirocin prevents infection and promotes healing. It is only available by prescription and can kill more bacteria than many over-the-counter antibiotics.