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Bacitracin vs. Neosporin: Which Is Better for Me?

Introduction

Cutting your finger, scraping your toe, or burning your arm doesn’t just hurt. These minor injuries can turn into bigger problems if they become infected. You may turn to an over-the-counter (or OTC) product to help. Bacitracin and Neosporin are both OTC topical antibiotics used as first aid to help prevent infection from minor abrasions, wounds, and burns.

These drugs are used in similar ways, but they contain different active ingredients. One product may be better than the other for some people. Compare the major similarities and differences between Bacitracin and Neosporin to decide which antibiotic may be better for you.

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Active ingredients

Active ingredients and allergies

Bacitracin and Neosporin are both available in ointment forms. Bacitracin is a brand-name drug that contains the active ingredient bacitracin only. Neosporin is the brand name of a combination drug with the active ingredients bacitracin, neomycin, and polymixin b. Other Neosporin products are available, but they contain different active ingredients.

One of the main differences between the two drugs is that some people are allergic to Neosporin but not to Bacitracin. For instance, neomycin, an ingredient in Neosporin, has a higher risk of causing allergic reactions than other ingredients in either drug. Still, Neosporin is safe and works well for most people, like Bacitracin.

It’s especially important with over-the-counter products to read the ingredients. Many of these products may have the same or similar brand names but different active ingredients. If you have questions about the ingredients in an over-the-counter product, it’s better to ask your pharmacist than to guess.

Drug action

What they do

The active ingredients in both products are antibiotics, so they help prevent infection from minor injuries. These include scratches, cuts, scrapes, and burns to the skin. If your wounds are deep or more severe than minor scratches, cuts, scrapes, and burns, talk to your doctor before using either product.

The antibiotic in Bacitracin stops bacterial growth, while the antibiotics in Neosporin stop bacterial growth and also kill existing bacteria. Neosporin can also fight against a wider range of bacteria than Bacitracin can.

Active ingredients Bacitracin Neosporin
bacitracin X X
neomycin X
polymixin b X
 
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Side effects

Side effects, interactions, and warnings

Most people tolerate both Bacitracin and Neosporin well, but a small number of people will be allergic to either drug. An allergic reaction can cause a rash or itching. In rare cases, both drugs can cause a more serious allergic reaction. This can cause trouble breathing or swallowing.

Neosporin can cause redness and swelling at the wound site. If you notice this and aren’t sure if it’s an allergic reaction, stop using the product and call your doctor right away. If you think your symptoms are life-threatening, stop using the product and call 911. However, these products don't typically cause side effects.

Mild side effects Serious side effects
itchiness trouble breathing
rash trouble swallowing
hives  

There are also no known significant drug interactions for either Bacitracin or Neosporin. Still, you should use the drugs only according to the directions on the package.

Dosage

Using the ointments

Dosage warnings
  • Both medications are for external use only.
  • Do not use Bacitracin or Neosporin on your eyes.
  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before using either drug.

How long you use the product depends on the type of wound you have. You can ask your doctor how long you should use Bacitracin or Neosporin. Do not use either product for longer than seven days unless your doctor tells you to.

You use Bacitracin and Neosporin in the same way. First, clean the affected area of your skin with soap and water. Then, apply a small amount of the product (about the size of the tip of your finger) on the affected area one to three times per day. You should cover the injured area with a light gauze dressing or sterile bandage to keep dirt and germs out.

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Warnings

When to call a doctor

If your wound doesn’t heal after using either drug for seven days, stop using it and contact your doctor. Tell your doctor if your abrasion or burn gets worse or if it cleared up but returned within a few days. Also call your doctor if you:

  • develop a rash or other allergic reaction, such as trouble breathing or swallowing
  • have ringing in your ears or trouble hearing
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Takeaway

Key differences

Bacitracin and Neosporin are safe antibiotics for most people’s minor skin wounds. A few key differences may help you choose one over the other.

  • Neomycin, an ingredient in Neosporin, is linked with a higher risk of allergic reactions. Still, any of the ingredients in these products can cause an allergic reaction.
  • Both Neosporin and Bacitracin stop bacterial growth, but Neosporin can also kill existing bacteria.
  • Neosporin can treat more types of bacteria than Bacitracin can.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your individual treatments needs. They can help you choose whether Neomycin or Bacitracin is a better fit for you.

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