If you care about your skin, a triple antibiotic ointment, like Neosporin, is something that you should have on hand for scrapes and cuts. It’s great for preventing wounds from infection, speeds up healing and helps to prevent scars. But Neosporin for acne?
Sure, some advocate using it as an acne treatment, going so far as to suggest using it all over your face as a night cream moisturizer. However, this is terrible advice and ignores many of the things we know to be true about antibiotic ointment.
If you are using antibiotic ointment as a way to treat blemishes, you should stop immediately, and here’s why:
It’s Not Designed for Acne
Anti-bacterial ointment relies on three active ingredients: neomycin, polymyxin, and zinc.1
It was designed for superficial cuts and infections. While blemishes are an infection, antibacterial ointment can make blemishes worse.
It Can Make Your Acne Worse
Antibacterial ointment has a petroleum jelly base, which means that it isn’t breathable. Petroleum products may be great on top of your moisturizer if you’re walking through the arctic tundra because they can form a barrier over your face and protect it from the harsh winds.
But, if you’re not in the Arctic, you’ll want to avoid using petroleum products on your face too often, unless you’ll be using it sparingly on a wound. Because, just like the Arctic, you may need the protective barrier that petroleum provides.
The trouble with petroleum though, is that in order to give this barrier protection, it also prevents your skin from breathing. It robs your skin of its ability to create its own moisture or to get much-needed fresh air. Using petroleum products on your skin too often can lead to more clogged pores, meaning that it’s far more likely to hurt your acne than help it.
It Wasn’t Made for Extended Use
In the era of up-cycling, we’re always looking for off-label ways to use a product. Sometimes, it’s best to follow the directions on the box. Antibacterial ointment isn’t recommended for use on large areas of skin, and using it for longer than seven days is a no-no.
The reason for this is that if used for extended periods of time, the antibacterial ointment can actually break down the skin’s natural protective layers. Our skin has its own built-in layer of protection against damage and infection. If you use an antibacterial ointment with the intention to strengthen that defense, you will actually weaken it, leaving the skin vulnerable to infection and further outbreaks.
Acne, Super-Bug Style
Doctors are reporting that the bacteria that causes acne is becoming stronger, demonstrating immunity to many of the antibiotics that are commonly prescribed.2 As antibiotic-resistant acne becomes a growing concern, many medical professionals are moving away from the go-to treatments, fearing that over-prescription may be contributing to this trend. Given that anti-bacterial ointment is an antibacterial ointment, this is yet another reason to avoid it in your skincare routine.
Not Even Treating The Right Bacteria?
Some doctors argue that anti-bacterial ointment does not even have an effect on acne because the antibiotics used in the ointment do not treat the bacteria that causes acne. This means you may very well be taking on negative side effects without any actual benefits.
So, Can I Use Neosporin At All?
Neosporin should only be used on wounds. And, yes, unfortunately, pimples sometimes do become wounds because we personally “massacre” them. But you won’t be doing that – right?
But if you do, you can suddenly be faced with a mini wound. And, right then and there is the best time to apply a little Neosporin. A tiny dab of Neosporin on a freshly picked pimple may potentially speed up the healing process and prevent scarring. But everyone’s skin is different.
You can think of Neosporin as a first-responder who rushes in but then makes way for other experts to come in and treat the “patient”.
Studies have found that wounds seem to heal fastest when they’re kept moist and covered because the blood vessels regenerate faster. But that doesn’t mean that an antibiotic ointment is your go-to. Though they can keep your wound soft, we’ve already seen the issues they can create.3
The problem is that it’s hard to keep a plaster on your face. So, experts recommend just a dab of plain petroleum jelly twice a day max on that newly healing wound. The jelly prevents the wound from drying out too much and therefore forming a scab. Wounds with scabs are believed to take longer to heal.4
But, as long as the wound is cleaned daily, it is not necessary to use anti-bacterial ointments. And, overuse of petroleum jelly can clog your pores and cause more pimples.
The Best Way to Treat Acne is with Acne Products
Medical professionals agree that the best way to treat acne is with products specifically designed for acne.
It can be incredibly frustrating if you’re faced with stubborn acne, and it can be overwhelming if over-the-counter treatments don’t have any effect. If you find yourself in this situation, your best bet is to call a dermatologist.
A dermatologist can help you to control your acne, prevent scarring and damage, and they can even help minimize some scarring.
These are some common prescription products used to help control acne.
Retinoids come in creams, gels, and lotions. They are derived from Vitamin A and include tretinoin (Retin-A), adapalene (Differin), and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). These medications are strong, so they need to be prescribed by a doctor.
This medication is a gel, which is best used with a topical retinoid.
For moderate to severe acne, oral antibiotics might be an option to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. The most common of these medications are minocycline and doxycycline.
Combined Oral Contraceptives
Another option for women is the use of combined oral contraceptives. These are products that combine estrogen and progesterone, specifically Ortho Tri-cyclen, Estrosep, and Yaz.
The Final Verdict
An anti-bacterial ointment is great for cuts and scrapes, but you should keep it out of your beauty routine. When you’re dealing with a blemish, the best thing to do is to reach for something specifically designed to fight it – and don’t pick it!
Article updated: March 21, 2018
1 Neosporin – FDA prescribing information, side effects and uses. Drugscom. 2016. Accessed November 7, 2016.
2 Dahl M. Super acne? Drug-resistant zits on the rise. msnbccom. 2009. Accessed November 7, 2016.
3 The Claim: Wounds Heal Better When Exposed to Air www.nytimes.com 2006. Accessed March 22, 2018.
4 Proper wound care: How to minimize a scar. American Academy of Dermatology. www.aad.org. Accessed March 22, 2018.