Bacitracin on face

Bacitracin on face DEFAULT

Bacitracin vs. Neosporin: What's the difference?

Neosporin is a brand of triple-antibiotic ointment. It contains bacitracin zinc, neomycin sulfate, and polymyxin B sulfate. Bacitracin ointment is also available, and it does not include the other two antibiotics.

While both types of cream can help treat minor scratches, cuts, and burns, many people are allergic to bacitracin.

Antibiotic ointments can help reduce the risk of infection, which is particularly important for people with weak immune systems. However, a found that these creams were barely more effective at preventing infection than a placebo.

In this article, learn more about the differences between Neosporin and bacitracin-only ointments and whether they are necessary.

Bacitracin vs. Neosporin

Bacitracin and Neosporin are both topical antibiotics — medicated creams that a person can use directly on their skin.

Doctors sometimes call Neosporin “neo-bac-polym” because of the combination of antibiotics that it contains.

Some pharmacies also sell triple antibiotic ointments that are generic versions of Neosporin. The formulations in these vary among manufacturers — they may contain slightly different ingredients from Neosporin or different proportions of each ingredient.

Bacitracin ointment only contains one antibiotic. This means that Neosporin offers broader antibiotic coverage that may fight more types of bacteria.

However, no recent research has directly compared Neosporin to bacitracin-only ointment, so it is unclear whether one is safer or more effective than the other.


Doctors have used bacitracin and ointments containing it since the 1940s, when researchers discovered this antibiotic.

Bacitracin and Neosporin ointments have similar uses, including:

  • keeping the wound moist to limit the chances of scarring
  • reducing the risk of infection
  • keeping the wound clean
  • easing pain

Both ointments are for mild and uncomplicated injuries, such as minor burns, scrapes, and cuts. Neither preparation is strong enough to treat a serious skin infection or any systemic infection.

Deep wounds may require additional treatment, including stitches, oral antibiotics, or vaccinations against diseases such as tetanus.

Do not consume either ointment or use it as a substitute for medical care.

Pros and cons

Because both types of ointment contain bacitracin, the benefits and risks are similar.

The benefits of using Neosporin or bacitracin-only ointment include:

  • Reduced scarring. Both products help keep the wound moist, which
  • Reduced risk of infection. A found that using antibiotic ointment could slightly reduce the risk of infection. However, the researchers noted that the effects were minimal, compared with those of a placebo.

The risks of using any product that contains bacitracin include:

  • Allergic reactions. In 2003, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named bacitracin Allergen of the Year because of the high risk of skin allergies. Rarely, an allergic reaction can be life threatening.
  • Poor healing. An allergic reaction to bacitracin can cause a wound to heal slowly and increase the risk of dangerous skin infections, such as cellulitis.
  • These may result from an allergy or occur independently from a skin reaction.
  • Toxicity. Too much bacitracin can be poisonous, especially when a person uses it on an open wound and the body absorbs the drug into the bloodstream. Taking bacitracin orally may damage the kidneys and is otherwise unsafe. Do not use it on the mouth or the breasts when breastfeeding.
  • Antibiotic resistance. There is that over-the-counter antibiotic creams may be contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

No large studies have assessed whether bacitracin ointment or Neosporin is safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.


Petroleum jelly products, such as Vaseline, can be good alternatives to bacitracin or Neosporin. The jelly keeps wounds from drying out, which can prevent or ease itching and other unpleasant symptoms.

Petroleum jelly also carries of allergic reactions and may help keep wounds clean and reduce the risk of scarring.

Lanolin-based lotions or those containing vitamin E may also help. However, some people are allergic to lanolin. It is crucial to check ingredients lists and do a patch skin test before widely using any cream or lotion.

Beyond creams and ointments, it is important to keep wounds clean. If a person is not interested in using a cream, they should rinse the wound several times a day with mild soap and warm water.

Avoid picking at a wound. Keep it covered if it is frequently exposed to allergens or dirt, particularly if the wound is on a hand or the face.

People with itchy wounds or localized allergic reactions may find relief by using hydrocortisone cream.


Antibiotic ointments such as bacitracin and Neosporin may slightly reduce the risk of wound infection and scarring.

However, other options may work as well and present fewer risks. Most people do not need to use special ointments on minor injuries as long as they keep their wounds clean.

As with any injury, see a doctor about any signs of infection, such as swelling, intense pain, streaks of color that spread from the wound, or pus that oozes from the wound. Do not try to treat infections with ointments at home.


Bacitracin Topical

pronounced as (bass i tray' sin)

Bacitracin is used to help prevent minor skin injuries such as cuts, scrapes, and burns from becoming infected. Bacitracin is in a class of medications called antibiotics. Bacitracin works by stopping the growth of bacteria.

Bacitracin comes as an ointment to apply to the skin. It is usually used one to three times a day. Bacitracin ointment is available without a prescription. However, your doctor may give you special directions on the use of this medication for your medical problem. Follow the directions on the package or those given to you by your doctor carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Use bacitracin exactly as directed. Do not use more or less of it or use it more often than prescribed by your doctor or written on the package.

This medication is for use only on the skin. Do not let bacitracin get into your eyes, nose, or mouth and do not swallow it.

You may use bacitracin to treat minor skin injuries. However, you should not use this medication to treat deep cuts, puncture wounds, animal bites, serious burns, or any injuries that affect large areas of your body. You should call your doctor or get emergency medical help if you have these types of injuries. A different treatment may be needed. You should also stop using this medication and call your doctor if you use this medication to treat a minor skin injury and your symptoms do not go away within 1 week.

Do not apply this medication to a child's diaper area, especially if the skin surface is broken or raw, unless told to do so by a doctor. If you are told to apply it to a child's diaper area, do not use tightly fitting diapers or plastic pants.

To use the ointment, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands well with soap and water. Wash the injured area with soap and water and pat dry thoroughly with a clean towel.
  2. Apply a small amount of the ointment (an amount equal to the size of your finger tip) to the injured skin. A thin layer is all that is needed. Do not touch the tip of the tube to your skin, hands, or anything else.
  3. Replace and tighten the cap right away.
  4. You may cover the affected area with a sterile bandage.
  5. Wash your hands again.

This medication may be prescribed for other uses; ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.

Before using bacitracin,

  • tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to bacitracin, zinc, any other medications, or any of the ingredients in bacitracin ointment.
  • tell your doctor and pharmacist what prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking. Your doctor may need to change the doses of your medications or monitor you carefully for side effects.
  • tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. If you become pregnant while using bacitracin, call your doctor.

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, continue your normal diet.

Apply the missed dose as soon as you remember it. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not apply a double dose to make up for a missed one.

Keep this medication in the container it came in, tightly closed, and out of reach of children. Store it at room temperature and away from excess heat and moisture (not in the bathroom).

Unneeded medications should be disposed of in special ways to ensure that pets, children, and other people cannot consume them. However, you should not flush this medication down the toilet. Instead, the best way to dispose of your medication is through a medicine take-back program. Talk to your pharmacist or contact your local garbage/recycling department to learn about take-back programs in your community. See the FDA's Safe Disposal of Medicines website ( for more information if you do not have access to a take-back program.

It is important to keep all medication out of sight and reach of children as many containers (such as weekly pill minders and those for eye drops, creams, patches, and inhalers) are not child-resistant and young children can open them easily. To protect young children from poisoning, always lock safety caps and immediately place the medication in a safe location – one that is up and away and out of their sight and reach.

If your doctor has told you to use this medication, keep all appointments with your doctor. Call your doctor if you still have symptoms of infection after you finish using this medication as directed.

Ask your pharmacist any questions you have about bacitracin ointment.

It is important for you to keep a written list of all of the prescription and nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines you are taking, as well as any products such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements. You should bring this list with you each time you visit a doctor or if you are admitted to a hospital. It is also important information to carry with you in case of emergencies.

Last Revised - 03/15/2017

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Bacitracin (On the skin)

Learn More

Brand Name(s)

Antibiotic Ointment, Baciguent, Bacitraycin Plus, GRx Bacitracin Zinc, Quality Choice Bacitracin

There may be other brand names for this medicine.

Drugs and Foods to Avoid

Ask your doctor or pharmacist before using any other medicine, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products.

How to Use This Medicine


  • Your doctor will tell you how much medicine to use. Do not use more than directed.
  • Follow the instructions on the medicine label if you are using this medicine without a prescription.
  • Clean your wound before you apply this medicine. Apply a small amount to the wound 1 to 3 times each day. You may cover the wound with a clean bandage after you apply the medicine.
  • Do not use this medicine in your eyes or over large areas of your body. Do not use it for longer than 7 days in a row.
  • Missed dose: Take a dose as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, wait until then and take a regular dose. Do not take extra medicine to make up for a missed dose.
  • Store the medicine in a closed container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light.

If you notice other side effects that you think are caused by this medicine, tell your doctor

Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088


Bacitracin (bas-i-TRAY-sin)

Prevents infection of minor cuts, burns, or scrapes.

Possible Side Effects While Using This Medicine

Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these side effects:

  • Allergic reaction: Itching or hives, swelling in your face or hands, swelling or tingling in your mouth or throat, chest tightness, trouble breathing

If you notice these less serious side effects, talk with your doctor:

  • Mild itching or skin rash

Warnings While Using This Medicine

  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • This medicine is for use only on minor cuts or burns. Do not use it on an animal bite or other puncture wound, a serious burn (with blistering), or a deep cut or skin injury unless directed by your doctor.
  • Call your doctor if you see signs of infection near your wound, such as swelling, warmth, redness, or pus.
  • Keep all medicine out of the reach of children. Never share your medicine with anyone.

When This Medicine Should Not Be Used

This medicine is not right for everyone. Do not use it if you had an allergic reaction to bacitracin.

What can Neosporin be used for

Bacitracin and Boo-Boos: Becoming a No-No

After almost 70 years, however, bacitracin’s harmless reputation is changing. Numerous reports have found an association between allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and bacitracin, with the number continuously increasing. Bacitracin ranked as the ninth-most common allergen between 1998 and 2002.7,8 In 2003, the American Contact Dermatitis Association (ACDA) named bacitracin its Allergen of the Year based on increasing reports of allergy and anaphylaxis. By 2010, bacitracin ranked number 3 on the North American Contact Dermatitis Group Patch Test Results, which tests more than 4000 patients across the United States; 9.2% of the patients had a reaction to bacitracin.9 A similar study in Ontario, Canada, in 2010 (n = 102) found that 44% of patients who had previously developed ACD due to any topical agent tested positive to bacitracin; neomycin caused reactions in a comparatively low 29%, mainly because Canadians use very little neomycin.10 The ACDA recommends limiting the use of bacitracin.11

Still a Medicine Cabinet Staple

Despite its high potential to cause allergic reactions, bacitracin is still widely used. Advertisements promote its use as a healing agent directly to consumers, and it’s a fairly routine aftercare item in our tattoo and piercing-obsessed society. Use of an antibacterial ointment by tattoo parlors is required or suggested by some state boards of health (ie, those of Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah).12 Tattoo artists discourage their customers from using plain petrolatum because petroleum-based products tend to drain the color from tattoos. They also advise against using Neosporin because it is known to cause allergic reactions that cause tattoo “spotting.” Instead, tattoo artists tend to recommend bacitracin, although they warn tattoo recipients about “weeping tattoo” (fluid leakage from a tattoo during the first several days of healing).13

Bacitracin’s use also continues because no topical emollient is universally recommended for wound care. Despite the fact that dermatologists and public awareness groups have tried to publicize potential problems with bacitracin, 8% to 10% of dermatologic surgeons still use bacitracin postoperatively. Almost half of dermatologic surgeons actively advise patients not to use it because it is unnecessary, which is wise because mass marketing of bacitracin products would have patients believe otherwise.14 The Table lists bacitracin-containing OTC topical products, many of which are also available with a corticosteroid.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis and MoreWhen bacitracin causes cell-mediated ACD (ie, a local delayed hypersensitivity phenomenon10), reactions may include urticaria, swelling, redness, cellulitis, and poor healing. Patients often confuse these with normal or abnormal healing, and so do clinicians. One subtle hint indicates that ACD is more likely than poor healing: ACD is more likely to cause itching, while poor healing is more likely to cause pain or discomfort.11 ACD is confined to the application site initially, but with time or repeated exposure, the reaction may spread to distant sites (auto-eczematization).10Bacitracin can also cause IgE-mediated events (ie, systemic phenomena), including generalized urticaria, sweating, dyspnea, hypotension, and subsequent collapse and potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock. ACD may precede these dramatic reactions.15 Serious cases have been associated with topical bacitracin on an open wound, intra-operative wound irrigation, breast augmentation, and application on a skin graft in previously sensitized patients.16-23 In most cases of severe systemic reaction, patients remembered prior sensitization or allergic reaction when questioned.What’s the Alternative?In many, if not most, situations in which bacitracin has been used in the past, white petrolatum is a safe, effective alternative.24 Smack et al enrolled 922 patients in a randomized, double-blind, prospective trial; among the patients, 1249 wounds were monitored. The researchers compared white petrolatum with bacitracin ointment and recorded wound infection incidence, ACD incidence, and healing characteristics. White petrolatum was found to be safe and effective and caused no ACD. Among patients treated with bacitracin, 0.9% developed ACD.15 (This study was conducted in 1996; since then, the incidence of bacitracin-induced ACD has increased. If this study were redone today, the rate of ACD would be significantly higher.8,9) In both groups, wound infections and compromised healing occurred at the same rates.15If lubrication is desired, plain white petrolatum is preferable to bacitracin ointment. Most dermatologic surgeons use petrolatum, Aquaphor (which contains lanolin, an allergen for roughly 2.5% of patients), or vitamin E emolient.14 Using any of these agents as wound dressings for clean surgical procedures reduces the chance of adverse reactions, including ACD and life-threatening contact urticaria and anaphylaxis. Clinicians should avoid using bacitracin ointment for routine care or for cleaning surgical wounds. Health care providers should ask about bacitracin allergy before using bacitracin on patients.End NotePharmacists can help educate patients— and health care providers—about topical antimicrobial agents and wound healing. To start, pharmacists can tell patients that wound infection rates are typically very low and that they should use antibiotic ointments only if infection develops.6 Talking about unnecessary use of antibiotics and the high potential for allergic reaction are also timely.As always, recommending an alternative (petrolatum or an allergen-free moisturizer) can help patients make better choices.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, where she teaches classes addressing the societal concerns about drugs.


  • Kinne DW. Aortic surgery: then and now. John Jones Surgical Society Newsletter. 2004;7:1-8.
  • Johnson BA, Anker H, Meleney FL. A new antibiotic produced by a member of the B. subtilis group. Science. 1945;102:376-377.
  • Sood A, Taylor JS. Bacitracin: allergen of the year. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14:3-4.
  • National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1992. Emergency Department Summary Series 13, No. 125 [online database]. Atlanta, GA: United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Meleney FL, Johnson BA. Bacitracin. Am J Med. 1949;7:794-806.
  • James WD. Use of antibiotic-containing ointment versus plain petrolatum during and after clean cutaneous surgery. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;55:915-916.
  • Pratt MD, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 2001-2002 study period. Dermatitis. 2004;15:176-183.
  • Marks JG Jr, Belsito DV, DeLeo VA, et al; North American Contact Dermatitis Group. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch-test results, 1998 to 2000. Am J Contact Dermat. 2003;14:59-62.
  • Warshaw EM, Belsito DV, Taylor JS, et al. North American Contact Dermatitis Group patch test results: 2009 to 2010. Dermatitis. 2013;24:50-59.
  • Spring S, Pratt M, Chaplin A. Contact dermatitis to topical medicaments: a retrospective chart review from the Ottawa Hospital Patch Test Clinic. Dermatitis. 2012;23:210-213.
  • Schalock PC, Zug KA. Bacitracin. Cutis. 2005;76:105-107.
  • United States tattoo laws. website. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Hudson K. Tattoo aftercare: how to take care of your new tattoo. website. Accessed February 7, 2014.
  • Nijhawan RI, Smith LA, Mariwalla K. Mohs surgeons’ use of topical emollients in postoperative wound care. Dermatol Surg. 2013;39:1260-1263.
  • 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;276:972-1028.
  • Cheng CE, Kroshinsky D. Iatrogenic skin injury in hospitalized patients. Clin Dermatol. 2011;29(6):622-632.
  • Elsner P, Pevny I, Burg G. Anaphylaxis induced by topically applied bacitracin. Am J Contact Dermatitis. 1990;1:162-164.
  • Eedy DJ, McMillan JC, Bingham EA. Anaphylactic reactions to topical antibiotic combinations. Postgrad Med J. 1990;66:858-859.
  • Sprung J, Schedewie HK, Kampine JP. Intraoperative anaphylactic shock after bacitracin irrigation. Anesth Analg. 1990;71:430-433.
  • Farley M, Pak H, Carregal V, Engler R, James W. Anaphylaxis to topically applied bacitracin. Am J Contact Dermatitis. 1995;6:28.
  • Sarayan JA, Dammin TC, Bouras AE. Anaphylaxis to topical bacitracin-zinc ointment. Am J Emerg Med. 1998;16:512-513.
  • Gall R, Blakely B, Warrington R. Intraoperative anaphylactic shock from bacitracin nasal packing after septorhinoplasty. Anesthesiology. 1999;91:1545-1547.
  • Blas M, Briesacher KS, Lobato EB. Bacitracin irrigation: a cause of anaphylaxis in the operating room. Anesth Analg. 2000;91:1027-1028.
  • Mertz PM, Davis SC, Cazzaniga AL, et al. Barrier and antibacterial properties of 2-octylcyanoacrylate-derived wound treatment films. J Cutan Med Surg. 2003;7:1-6.

On face bacitracin

Bacitracin Topical

Continuing Education Activity

Bacitracin is a topical antibiotic ointment widely used by both medical professionals and the general public to treat minor skin injuries including cuts, scrapes, and burns. Bacitracin can be used as a single agent ointment or in combination as a triple therapy ointment, with neomycin and polymyxin B. The latter can be found over the counter (OTC) at local pharmacies. This activity outlines the indications, mechanism of action, safe administration, adverse effects, and contraindications when using bacitracin.


  • Identify the indications for bacitracin topical.

  • Describe the antimicrobial mechanism of action of bacitracin

  • Review the side effects, contraindications, and interactions of bacitracin topical.

  • Review interprofessional team strategies for improving care coordination and communication to enhance patient outcomes when using bacitracin topical.

Access free multiple choice questions on this topic.


Bacitracin is a topical antibiotic ointment widely used by both medical professionals and the general public to treat minor skin injuries including cuts, scrapes, and burns.

Bacitracin was discovered in 1945 from a leg injury of a seven-year-old American girl named Margaret Tracey. The collected debris from her wound grew isolates of several related cyclic polypeptides produced by a member of the Bacillus subtilis group. This discovery gave rise to the unique name, bacitracin.[1] 

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of bacitracin in 1948 for the short-term prevention and treatment of both acute and chronic localized skin infections. Less frequently, bacitracin can also be given as a parental medication via intramuscular (IM) injection for the systemic treatment of infantile streptococcal pneumonia and empyema. To date, there are no record of any non-FDA approved uses of topical bacitracin.

Bacitracin can be used as a single agent ointment or in combination as a triple therapy ointment, with neomycin and polymyxin B. The latter can be found over the counter (OTC) at local pharmacies.[2] 

Mechanism of Action

Bacitracin is a mixture of several closely related cyclic polypeptide antibiotics that has both bacteriostatic and bactericidal properties depending on the concentration of the drug and the susceptibility of the microorganism. 

Many gram-positive bacteria including Staphylococcus spp., Streptococcus spp., Corynebacterium spp., Clostridium spp., and Actinomyces spp. are susceptible to bacitracin. Some gram-negative organisms, such as Neisseria spp. also exhibit susceptibility; however, most gram-negative organisms are resistant.[3]

Bacitracin readily absorbs through denuded, burned, or granulated skin and works to prevent the transfer of mucopeptides into the cell wall of various microorganisms. This subsequently inhibits bacterial cell wall synthesis and ultimately, bacterial replication. Bacitracin also acts as an inhibitor of proteases and other enzymes involved in altering bacterial cell membrane function. Bacitracin inhibits bacterial cell wall synthesis by preventing the dephosphorylation of P-P-phospholipid carrier that attaches the cell wall peptidoglycan precursor units to the cell membrane, and this leads to bacterial cell lysis.[4]


Bacitracin is available in three different routes of administration in the USA: topical, ophthalmic, parenteral via IM injection. 

Its most common use is as a topical agent that is administered directly onto the wound or infected area. It can also be administered as a topical ophthalmic ointment to treat superficial ocular infections involving the conjunctiva and cornea.[5] 

Before topical application, the skin should be cleansed gently with mild soap and water. Enough ointment should then be applied to cover the affected area(s), and a sterile dressing can be used to cover the wound. This helps to assist in wound healing and prevent further contamination of the wound site. 

Adverse Effects

When used topically as a single agent ointment or part of a triple therapy ointment, bacitracin, and its drug formulation components may cause allergic contact dermatitis which could lead to an anaphylactoid reaction or anaphylaxis.[6]

Common and mild side effects of the topical use of bacitracin include[2][7]

  • Fever

  • Hives

  • Itching

  • Swelling of lips and face

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting


  • Bacitracin is a pregnancy risk category C.

  • No large studies have been conducted with the use of topical bacitracin during pregnancy or lactation.

  • To date, there is no evidence to suggest that there is an increased risk of adverse fetal development with the use of topical bacitracin. 


  • Topical and ophthalmic forms of bacitracin typically result in minimal absorption through the skin and are considered a low risk to the feeding infant.

  • Only water-soluble creams or gel products should be applied to the breast tissue to prevent infant exposure to mineral paraffin from licking.


Topical bacitracin is contraindicated in anyone with hypersensitivity to bacitracin and/or any of its drug formulation components. Patients with known hypersensitivity to neomycin may also be sensitive to bacitracin.

Bacitracin application on an infection or wound that is caused by a viral or fungal infection may increase the risk for the development of drug-resistant bacteria.  

Topical bacitracin use is recommended only for minor skin injuries and should not be used over larger areas of the body.

Physician consultation is recommended before using topical bacitracin for serious injuries such as burns, deep wounds, puncture wounds, or animal bites.[10][11]


Secondary infections may develop; therefore, topical bacitracin should not be used for more than seven days unless directed by a physician. The area of application should undergo monitoring for improvement. Bacitracin use should be stopped immediately if symptoms worsen and a physician should be contacted regarding further management.

Allergy patch testing may be warranted if an adverse reaction occurs after the use of bacitracin as a single agent ointment or part of a triple therapy ointment. There have been multiple reports of anaphylactoid reactions and anaphylaxis due to bacitracin use.[6][12][13]


There is no mention of toxicity with the topical use of bacitracin as a single agent ointment or part of a triple therapy ointment.

However, the IM route has been shown to cause nephrotoxicity and renal failure due to tubular and glomerular necrosis. Consequently, careful monitoring is in order with the IM use of bacitracin. Renal function should be determined before, during, and after IM administration. Patients' daily optimal fluid intake and urinary output should be followed closely to avoid kidney injury. 

Concurrent use of streptomycin, kanamycin, polymyxin E, and neomycin should be avoided as these drugs are also known to be nephrotoxic.[14][15]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Topical bacitracin has been easily accessible and considered a safe OTC topical antibiotic for the past seven decades. Despite its effectiveness, increases in use and adverse effects led to it earning, in 2003, the undesirable designation “contact allergen of the year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. In 2005-2006, it was also ranked the sixth most prevalent allergen in patch tests.[2][16][17][18]

As a result, all healthcare professionals should be aware of the potential risks of an anaphylactoid reaction or anaphylaxis secondary to bacitracin use. Anyone with confirmed contact dermatitis should avoid products containing bacitracin. Providers should encourage their patients to read the labels for bacitracin in ointments, creams, and other wound care products.

Providers should make a habit of inquiring about bacitracin use when encountering a patient with a possible contact allergy or unremitting dermatitis or non-healing wound as bacitracin allergy may present as cellulitis or simple wound infection. One clinical clue to decipher an allergic reaction from an infectious process is the presence of itching instead of worsening pain, respectively. (Level III)

Bacitracin should be used cautiously in patients with pre-existing renal impairment or renal failure. To ensure patient safety, physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, et al.. should work as a team to monitor patients' intake, urinary output, and renal function. Due to the significant risk of nephrotoxicity, pharmacists should provide alternative medication options when available. 

Bacitracin is also present in some veterinary products, and pet owners should also be highly cautious when applying topical bacitracin medications.



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Schalock PC, Zug KA. Bacitracin. Cutis. 2005 Aug;76(2):105-7. [PubMed: 16209155]


Johnson BA, Anker H, Meleney FL. BACITRACIN: A NEW ANTIBIOTIC PRODUCED BY A MEMBER OF THE B. SUBTILIS GROUP. Science. 1945 Oct 12;102(2650):376-7. [PubMed: 17770204]


Stone KJ, Strominger JL. Mechanism of action of bacitracin: complexation with metal ion and C 55 -isoprenyl pyrophosphate. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1971 Dec;68(12):3223-7. [PMC free article: PMC389626] [PubMed: 4332017]


Gigliotti F, Hendley JO, Morgan J, Michaels R, Dickens M, Lohr J. Efficacy of topical antibiotic therapy in acute conjunctivitis in children. J Pediatr. 1984 Apr;104(4):623-6. [PubMed: 6323667]


Cronin H, Mowad C. Anaphylactic reaction to bacitracin ointment. Cutis. 2009 Mar;83(3):127-9. [PubMed: 19363904]


Sheth VM, Weitzul S. Postoperative topical antimicrobial use. Dermatitis. 2008 Jul-Aug;19(4):181-9. [PubMed: 18674453]


Leachman SA, Reed BR. The use of dermatologic drugs in pregnancy and lactation. Dermatol Clin. 2006 Apr;24(2):167-97, vi. [PubMed: 16677965]


Murase JE, Heller MM, Butler DC. Safety of dermatologic medications in pregnancy and lactation: Part I. Pregnancy. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Mar;70(3):401.e1-14; quiz 415. [PubMed: 24528911]


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 Jan;54(1):63-71. [PubMed: 16368476]


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Moist Wound Healing

Does Neosporin Treat Pimples and Acne Scars?


Acne is a common disease that shows up in the form of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or other inflamed skin spots. When it gets severe, it can cause scars. Although acne most often occurs in preteens and teenagers, people of every age are affected. Acne can show up anywhere on the body.

Your sebaceous glands manufacture oil to keep your skin moisturized. Acne arises when these glands produce too much of that oil, which then creates a clog in your pores, the tiny openings on your skin’s surface. Acne can occur because of internal or external irritants, though most cases are caused by bacteria and can be triggered by hormonal changes.

Knowing that bacteria play a key role in the appearance of pimples and other lesions, you might be tempted to try an over-the-counter antibiotic, such as Neosporin, to treat acne. In practice, that strategy might actually make matters worse.

Efficacy of Neosporin for acne

Neosporin is one of many triple antibiotic ointments or gels that contain polymyxin, bacitracin, and neomycin to fight infections. It seems logical to assume it could kill the bacteria that causes acne as well, but this will not usually be the case.

At any given moment, there’s a small possibility that a pimple might have been caused by a type of bacteria that Neosporin is designed to kill. In those rare cases, Neosporin would fight the cause and likely heal the acne. However, the vast majority of the time acne is caused by Propionibacterium acnes, a particular type of bacteria that Neosporin does not tackle.

Efficacy of Neosporin for pimples, cystic acne, and acne scars

Neosporin does not kill the most common acne-causing bacteria, so it won’t typically be effective at fighting pimples or cystic acne. Because it has many moisturizing, skin-healing oils in its ingredients, Neosporin may temporarily tame irritation and also heal areas of damaged, broken skin. This might give the impression that it is treating the acne, when in fact it’s simply healing some of the damage done by that acne.

The skin-soothing moisturizers in Neosporin, including cocoa butter, cottonseed oil, olive oil, and vitamin E, might very well soften acne scars too, but there are far more effective ways to accomplish all of these skin goals without using an antibacterial. You will almost certainly be able to find these ingredients in products that are less expensive and less potentially harmful than Neosporin could be.

There is one scenario where Neosporin should be applied to breakouts, including pimples or cystic acne, and that is when the acne becomes infected. This can happen when you pop a pimple or it ulcerates and bleeds, then comes in contact with bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus. Healthy skin usually fights off these bacteria, but an open wound provides the perfect opportunity for entry into your body.

Neosporin also contains petroleum jelly, which creates a healing environment and protective barrier, warding off additional bacteria.

Infection is most likely the only reason to use Neosporin for acne.

Side effects of using Neosporin for acne

Incorrect or excessive use of antibacterials is not harmless. When people use these medications too often, bacteria to them, and they become less effective, even against bacteria that they used to kill quickly and easily.

Using Neosporin for acne when it isn’t necessary could increase the risk and severity of future skin infections.

When it is used long-term, Neosporin and other antibacterial ointments can also wear away at the skin’s protective layers, making it more likely to develop other problems.

Finally, the petroleum jelly in Neosporin does not allow the skin to breathe, making clogged pores and acne even more likely.

Other, much less common side effects are usually related to an allergic reaction, and include:

  • itching
  • rash
  • hives
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing

Alternate treatments

Although Neosporin is not a good treatment for acne, there are other topical treatments, either sold over the counter or prescribed by your doctor, that work very well, including a number of . Other options include:

Oral and injectable prescriptions are also available:

When to see a doctor

If your acne is severe and over-the-counter treatments have not been successful, your doctor can help you decide what next steps to take. This may include prescription medications or other treatments.

If you believe you have an infection or you’re having serious side effects, do not hesitate to seek medical attention.


Although acne is often caused by bacteria, Neosporin does not target the bacteria most often responsible for breakouts, and overuse could cause resistance. It’s preferable to use treatments that are specifically designed to treat acne. If you need help with making the best choice for your skin, your dermatologist can provide a lot of insight and direction.


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