Neosporin is the go-to for scrapes, cuts, and so much more. Hangnail? Use Neosporin. Burn? Dab Neosporin. Busted pimple? Smear Neosporin. It’s the trusted ointment found in any well-equipped first-aid kit, and it’s touted by its manufacturer Johnson & Johnson as the “#1 Dr. Recommended Brand.”

The over-the-counter antibiotic ointment kind of reminds me of the Windex reference in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In the flick, the father of the bride jokes that the window cleaner is a cure-all used on anything and everything from “psoriasis to poison ivy,” and repeatedly demonstrates its supposed versatility.

Clearly, Windex – albeit a household name – is pretty toxic. And in the face of the current epidemic of antibiotic resistance, Neosporin ingredients may hurt more than they heal.

“The general consensus among patients I see in the office is that the use of this medicine ‘prevents infection,’ ‘helps wounds heal faster,’ and ‘helps prevent scarring.’ Essentially none of this is true,” writes doctor and author William Rawlings in an online essay titled Pet Peeves of a Private Practitioner—Part II: Neosporin. Dr. Rawlings adds that there is scant evidence that Neosporin does much of anything. Moreover, there are excellent reasons not to use it.

The Dangers of Neosporin

Neosporin and other antibacterial ointments may be one of the factors behind the spread of an especially lethal strain of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), called USA300, according to a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

MRSA bacteria spread through skin-to-skin contact and often strike people who are prone to cuts and scrapes, like children and athletes. (Though its name indicates its resistance to methicillin, MRSA is also resistant to common antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin.)

Researchers found that nearly half of the USA300 samples they studied grew unhampered by two of the antibiotics found in both Polysporin and Neosporin (bacitracin and neomycin), indicating that they were resistant to both drugs. Another USA300 sample was resistant to bacitracin, but susceptible to neomycin.

Triple antibiotic ointment is rarely used outside America, and resistance to bacitracin and neomycin was only found in USA300, a type of MRSA found in the United States. Johnson & Johnson, which garnered $28.1 billion in worldwide sales in 2013, claims that the study doesn’t prove a link between the ointments and MRSA resistance to antibiotics.

Click Here To Protect Yourself Against Any Topical Infection Without Antibiotics.

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The Epidemic of Antibiotic Resistance

Experts warn that deaths from minor things like cuts, diarrhea, and pneumonia will soon become a common occurrence as antibiotics lose their power to fight infections. The World Health Organization says the crisis of antimicrobial resistance threatens to turn the clock back on modern medicine, and is far worse than the AIDS epidemic.

Tackling the problem will require new antibiotics, but few are being developed, because there is little profit to be made from drugs that must be used briefly and sparingly. And speaking of sparingly, Neosporin must be used as such: “People should understand that triple antibiotic is not almighty, and avoid preventive or excessive use of this ointment,” said Japanese researcher David Suzuki in an email to CNN.

Neosporin’s ingredient list includes not one or two, but three antibiotics: Neomycin, Polymyxin B, and Bacitracin. Other ingredients include cocoa butter, cottonseed oil (likely genetically modified), olive oil, sodium pyruvate, vitamin E, and white petrolatum (crude oil).

Could Your Ointment Be Making Your Cut Worse?

Have you ever put Neosporin on a wound only to realize that days later, your cut has turned into a full-fledged infection? Chances are you’ll just apply even more ointment. But did you ever consider that it’s the cream that’s making your wound worse?

“I see allergic contact dermatitis to this ointment all the time. I no longer recommend it to my patients,” says Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The local irritation and inflammation from the dermatitis only prolongs wound healing time — the exact opposite of your intention in using it in the first place!

“The ointment on inflamed skin is a quick ticket to a drug reaction, not to mention a trip to the doctor. The manufacturer will argue, no doubt, that such would be a misuse of the product. Based on my long experience in the practice of medicine, they overestimate how often people actually read the label at all. It’s late at night, you’ve got an itchy rash, so you grab a tube of cream from the medicine cabinet and rub it on it,” Dr. Crutchfield writes.

If an area that should be healing is getting worse despite diligent application of Neosporin, you know there is a problem. And since we now know that antibiotic treatments should be used as a last resort, it’s best to consider safer, healthier options.

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Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.

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6 Responses to “Antibiotic Resistance: Why Neosporin May Hurt More Than It Heals”

  • Halli620

    While I agree that creams like Neosporin are not usually the best options, nor “necessary,” and I very rarely use them, I do have it in the house, specifically for occasional cuts or scrapes (NOT for “so much more” as you suggest most people use it for – who uses it for a hangnail or a burn? Doesn’t it say not to apply it to burns, as it’s a petroleum based product? Who are you basing these assumptions on?), though coconut oil is generally a better option for any minor cuts or scrapes. Mainly, I feel that the tone of articles like these, rather than serving to educate, turns people new to the ideas off by being too extreme in their presentation of both the risks, and in how the item in question is presumed to be misused. This includes the allegation that the study showing antibiotic resistance of the MRSA strain to bacitracin and neomycin automatically suggests that use of these ointments caused the antibiotic resistance – are these seriously the only products or uses of these antibiotics? That seems doubtful, especially in an age where such an egregious amount of our antibiotics are going to “preventative” use in industrial animal agriculture. While I don’t wish to purchase anything made by Johnson & Johnson, and despise the fact that they’ve continued to use questionable ingredients in US products even after reformulating their lines for sales in European countries where these ingredients were banned, I have to agree with them that the study doesn’t prove a link between the ointments and MRSA resistance to antibiotics, if you haven’t shown at all that the use of these creams is the only exposure that these bacteria could have had in order to develop resistance.

    You have such important points – but instead of discussing healthier alternatives, such as coconut oil, or how to dilute essential oils into carrier oils, or anything helpful or educational (with only one link to an alternative product, basically turning this into an ad), I feel that the tone of this article was far too alarmist, and instead of inviting people in to educate them, that it will turn people off due to the extreme claims regarding something they’ve used for years with no ill effects. Of course the doctors are only seeing people who have had bad reactions – this doesn’t mean that this is not a very small percentage of users, and that the majority of no users had no ill effects, and therefore did not go to the doctor for any issues. I’m also baffled by your suggestion that using these creams frequently results in an infection – not only have I certainly NOT seen or heard of this for any minor injuries, but are you really suggesting that any more serious injuries that became infected after the use of these products would not have become infected WITHOUT the use of these products? This seems extremely unlikely, and rather that these injuries would certainly have become infected without the use of the creams as well.

    Your examples also border on the absurd instead of the familiar – an “itchy rash in the middle of the night so you go grab a tube and slather it on without reading the label?” Really? How many tubes do you think people have in their cabinets that they don’t know the designated uses for? In the middle of the night? Your attempt to make this wanton use sound commonplace only served to make it sound ridiculous and uncommon rather than common.

    In essence, making extreme claims harms your important points. Percentages of people allergic to the ingredients, or percentages of cuts or scrapes that would not become infected with and without the use of these products, would be far more helpful, as would better suggestions, such as coconut oil, rather than a link to a single product. Just like “you catch more flies with honey,” you catch more readers with open minds with useful information rather than alarmism.

  • Does nobody follow the directions? It seems most of the downsides to Neosporin is from failing to follow or read the instructions. Besides, ointment isn’t going to cause an antibacterial resistant bacteria epidemic, it’s the antibiotics that are prescribed left and right from doctors sponsored by pharmaceuticals. Zithromax is pretty popular these days among the various other antibiotics that we consume and piss down the toilet.

    Regarding the topic, Neosporin has its uses but for someone with a healthy immune system it’s really not required to dab it on every scrape. If you have a compromised immune system then it’s of course better to take any step possible to keep yourself from getting compromised.

    • Nick Nicholas

      Use Ozonol ointment instead of Polysporin. It works miracles on any insect bites, burns or cuts that you apply it to. I have gotten infections while using on Polysporin or hydrogen peroxide on their own. But I have never got an infection while using rubbing alcohol or Ozonol to treat a wound.

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