Neosporin vs Polysporin: What’s the Difference?

The Key Facts

  • Polysporin is made up of the antibiotics bacitracin and polymyxin B and is available over-the-counter from most pharmacies. It can also be found as a generic drug.
  • It helps prevent skin infections when applied small cuts, scrapes, or burns. It should not be used, for large, deep or serious injuries.
  • In order to kill bacteria, it weakens their protective covering and prevents them from recreating it.
  • Polysporin is easy to use and causes few side effects.
  • Neosporin contains three first aid antibiotics in neomycin,  polymyxin and bacitracin. Like Polysporin, it is also available over the counter without a prescription.
  • Neosporin comes in the form of ointments, creams, foams and sprays. Some preparations can also alleviate the pain, itching and scarring that can often be caused by minor skin wounds.
  • Unfortunately, the neomycin in Neosporin triggers an allergic reaction in many people and it is a frequent cause of contact dermatitis.

If you still want to know more about these two popular topical antibiotics, read on.

Neosporin vs Polysporin in detail

Antibiotics or anti-bacterials are a key aspect of treatment for a range of conditions and illnesses. They are a type of antimicrobial drug used in the treatment and prevention of bacterial infections. They are therefore used when it is likely that bacteria can cause infection in some part of the body. One such instance is the occurrence of cuts, scrapes and other minor wounds. Antibiotic gels and creams are among the first things to be applied after cleaning the wound. Of course, there are many options to choose from and it can be difficult to know which ones to pick.


Two of the most popular topical antibiotics are Neosporin and Polysporin. Both are effective in speeding up the healing process but there are some differences in their ingredients and chemical compositions. These are important to note since you want to avoid causing complications or making a minor injury become something more serious. Here is a comparison between Neosporin and Polysporin in relation to their antibacterial activity, pain relieving properties and potential side effects.

Neosporin’s effectiveness comes from neomycin sulfate, polymyxin B, and bacitracin zinc. which work together to destroy bacteria.  Polysporin contains the same antibiotic agents except for neomycin sulfate. Instead, it contains gramicidin which is also effective against bacteria.

Neosporin Allergy

Despite Neosporin’s bacteria-fighting capabilities, many people are allergic to the neomycin it contains. Neomycin frequently causes contact dermatitis. The outer layers of the skin become inflamed, red, dry and scaly. The bacitracin in Polysporin can also trigger allergies but the likelihood is significantly lower than that associated with Neomycin. People who are allergic to Neosporin may, therefore, be prescribed Polysporin. In fact, Polysporin is often the first choice and Neosporin is only used if other options do not work.


Both antibiotic preparations contain pain relieving agents. Neosporin contains the pain-relieving agent pramoxine which helps to reduce the pain that usually comes with cuts, scrapes, and burns. It offers temporary relief from discomfort. Polysporin, on the other hand, contains Lidocaine hydrochloride which delivers rapid pain relief.

Neosporin should not be used for more than a week. If your wound does not get better within seven days, you should stop using the product and speak to your doctor since you may be need a stronger medication.


The effectiveness of antibiotic treatments for wounds is well established and both Neosporin and Polysporin show similar levels of success for minor injuries. The only reason Polysporin may have the edge over Neosporin is that more people are allergic to Neomycin. Neither preparation is particularly suited to large or deep cuts and should only be used in the case of minor injuries.