Polysporin Vs Neosporin – What Type of Wounds and Which One to Use

Topical antibiotics are medicines which are administered directly to the skin to kill bacteria. Some of these medications can be purchased without a prescription and are available in different forms. Topical antibiotics can come as ointments, creams, sprays or even powders.

Among common topical antibiotics, Polysporin and Neosporin are very common and widely used. Their primary use is to help prevent infections brought on by bacteria which can get into minor cuts, scrapes and burns. When you treat a minor wound with a topical antibiotic, the wound heals much faster.

If the same wound remains untreated, then the bacteria get a chance to multiply faster. This can result in the wound becoming painful, causing swelling and redness, along with itching and oozing. Wounds that are left untreated, can become infected and cause more serious problems.

What Type of Wounds Do Topical Antibiotics Treat?

Different types of topical antibiotics are used on different types of wounds. Polysporin and Neosporin are mostly used to treat open wounds of different sorts.

An open wound is an injury that involves an internal or external break in the body tissue. Usually this happens when there is a break in the skin. Almost everybody experiences an open wound at some point in the life. Most of these open wounds are often minor and you can treat them at home.

Typical open wounds include abrasions, incisions, lacerations, punctures or avulsions. Open wounds can range from minor to severe based on their size and depth.

However, topical antibiotics such as Polysporin and Neosporin are only used to treat minor wounds. Some of these can include the following types:

Cuts and Scrapes

Cuts and scrapes are open wounds. And the main complication of an open wound is the risk of infection. The most common bacteria causing skin infections are staphylococcus and streptococcus.

When you get a minor cut or scrape, use a topical antibiotic to avoid infection. You can use either Polysporin or Neosporin to do this. Both antibiotics prevent bacteria from entering the wound through the open skin.

Treat a cut or scrape by washing the wound first. This will help in removing any dirt and germs. After cleaning the wound with a mild soap or antibacterial wash, dry area completely. Follow with an application of an antibiotic ointment a couple of times daily. Cover with a sterile bandage or dressing.

Make sure that the dressing allows some air to reach the wound.


A burn is a type of skin injury that is primarily caused by damage from heat, chemicals or friction. But not every burn can be treated with Polysporin or Neosporin. Instead, the severity of the burn needs to be determined first and then the treatment prescribed.

A first or second degree burn, though painful, is only limited to the first or second layers of the skin. It does not penetrate any deeper. Typically, this type of injury is considered minor unless a significant amount of skin gets damaged.

A third degree burn may not present any immediate pain, but it is the deepest kind. Third degree burns involve deep tissue damage and are very serious. They always require emergency medical attention and cannot be treated at home.

If there is a break in a burn wound, a skin infection could happen. Bacteria can then enter infiltrate the skin opening and infect the site. The exposure to bacterial intrusion can be reduced significantly by cleansing the wound first. Then apply a topical ointment and follow with putting on a sterile bandage or dressing.

Choose a bandage that permits air to circulate through the dressing.

Cold Sores

Polysporin and Neosporin can also be applied to cold sores. However, cold sores are not caused by bacteria but a virus. This means that topical antibiotics will not prevent the virus from spreading, but can help it from becoming secondarily infected with bacteria.

Eczema Itch

Both Polysporin and Neosporin have products to ease the discomfort of eczema. Both brands carry moisturizing creams to treat this skin condition in which the skin is unable to hold on to moisture and can become dry and tight. The result is skin itching, irritation and swelling which results in a rash.

Sometimes the itching starts before the rash appears. The rash can also create an oozing, crusting condition which occurs on the face and hands.  Some people may also experience eczema flare ups when they come into contact with certain materials.

Even though there is no cure for eczema, the condition can be managed through a daily skin care routine. You can try to manage eczema by focusing on gentle cleansing and replenishing moisture.

Poison Ivy Itch

Another condition that can be treated by either Polysporin or Neosporin is poison ivy. Poison ivy can trigger an allergic reaction that is caused by the resin of the plant. Upon contact, an oily substance gets released which causes an itchy rash to develop. The rash can start out as a streak or patches of reddened skin. It can then progress to the formation of bumps and blisters on the skin.

You should try to wash the resin off of your skin first and then follow it with an application of a cold compress. To reduce the associated itching, use a topical antibiotic like an itch relief lotion or hydrocortisone anti itch cream.

Itch from Insect Bites

Insect stings and bites can often cause an annoying, momentary itch or pain. Symptoms of such bites are mostly mild and temporary and can be treated by an application of Polysporin or Neosporin ointments. You can apply a topical anesthetic or an itch relief lotion to minimize the irritation or a topical steroid to cut down the redness and stinging.

Sun Burn Itch

A sun burn happens when the body receives too much sun exposure. As a result, it can cause a persistent, unbearable itch that becomes red, swollen and sore to touch.

However, the symptoms of sunburn do not appear until 2 to 4 hours after the skin becomes damaged. And the peak sensation of pain, redness and swelling does not become apparent for 24 hours.

Like any other burn, sunburn also takes time to heal. To find some relief from the pain, try using cold compresses and cold baths to help mange symptoms. You can also use itch relief lotions to help soothe skin. Or use non-prescription 1% hydrocortisone cream to reduce swelling.

How to Use Topical Antibiotics?

When your treat a wound, it is not enough to only apply a topical antibiotic. Instead, you must clean the wound first with soap and water and let it dry completely. Then apply the topical antibiotic to the injured skin, taking care not to spread it over a large area. Spreading the ointment on surrounding skin can prevent the skin from breathing naturally.

After ointment application cover the wound with a breathable dressing or bandage. You may also use a protective spray or gel. The best practice is to keep skin wounds clean as they heal.

Polysporin Vs Neosporin

Polysporin Vs Neosporin- Which One to Use?

Both Polysporin and Neosporin are accepted antibacterial topical ointments. You can apply them to prevent open sores from becoming contaminated. Plus, they function as excellent antiseptic agents that stop bacteria from collecting in the wound. Both these properties make these two topical antibiotics ideal for promoting would healing.

Determining whether Polysporin vs Neosporin is a better choice will be decided by a few different factors. For instance, there may be a personal preference for one over the other, but you also need to consider what active ingredients are in the medications.

For the most part, both topical antibiotics are used to treat the same kind of skin damage. In this respect, people may think that Polysporin and Neosporin can always be used interchangeably. However, that is not so since the two have different chemical compositions. Based on this, the one major consideration is the development of an allergic reaction.

To understand this better, let us take a look at the active ingredients in the two medications:

Active Ingredients

Polysporin has two active ingredients- polymyxin B sulfate and bacitracin zinc. In contrast, Neosporin has these two plus a third ingredient known as neomycin sulfate.

As such Neosporin is recognized as a triple antibiotic ointment. And research shows that the use of topical triple antibiotic ointments can significantly reduce infection rates in minor contaminated wounds. Combination antibiotics like Neosporin makes them more effective against a wider range of bacteria.

Possible Side Effects

When comparing Polysporin vs Neosporin, you also need to look at the possible side effects of using each antibiotic. The active ingredient bacitracin zinc can cause an allergic reaction which will prohibit the use of both antibiotics.

However, people who are not allergic to bacitracin can use Polysporin safely.

Neosporin has a third active ingredient called neomycin sulfate which can also cause an allergic reaction. In this case, someone who can tolerate bacitracin but not neomycin, should only use Polysporin.

The preference to use Polysporin vs Neosporin will ultimately be decided based on the chance of an allergic reaction.  Both Polysporin and Neosporin contain active ingredients which can bring about allergic reactions.

Some people may simply prefer Polysporin because of the absence of neomycin. Others may opt for Neosporin because it has more active ingredients. This may make them feel that Neosporin is more effective in wound healing.

Due to the higher risk of allergy from neomycin, Neosporin may only be recommended after other antibiotics do not work.

Pain Relieving Properties of Polysporin Vs Neosporin

Both topical antibiotics have pain relieving potential. They can be used to not only promote wound healing but also to seek pain relief. Active ingredients like pramoxine in Neosporin and lidocaine hydrochloride in Polysporin help to reduce pain associated with wounds.

Medical Interactions with Polysporin and Neosporin

Some medical conditions may interact with either of the two topical antibiotics.

  • You should tell your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to conceive soon. The same goes for breast feeding.
  • If you take any prescription or non-prescription medication, inform your doctor. The same also goes for taking any dietary supplements or herbal preparations.
  • Since allergies can be a concern, inform your doctor if you have any allergies. This can include allergies to foods, dyes, medicines, preservatives or other substances.

Precautions When Using Polysporin Vs Neosporin

Over the counter topical antibiotics should only be used as instructed. There are recommended suggestions for application and dosage which should be followed. Do not use the medication for longer than recommended as it can cause antibiotic resistance.

  • In general, topical antibiotics like Polysporin and Neosporinshould be applied as soon as possible after injury. Or, at the most, within four hours after skin damage. The dosage is also set at not more than three times daily.
  • Topical antibiotics should only be used on the skin. They should not be continued indefinitely or for longer periods. If the wound does not heal in five days, discontinue the antibiotic and consult a doctor.
  • Certain types of skin damage may require medical attention. Do not  self-treated these wounds with topical antibiotics. These can include issues like deep cuts or large wounds. Cuts that bleed continuously or those that need stitching should be reported to a doctor. Plus, deep puncture wounds or animal bites also need medical attention.
  • Even though topical antibiotics treat bacterial infections, they may permit fungal infections to grow. When treating fungal infections, the use of other antibiotic medication may become necessary.
  • When you use topical antibiotics to treat minor skin damage, avoid using other topical treatments. This can include using a topical corticosteroid at the same time. Use of two such medications together can mask some signs of infections or an allergic reaction.
  • Both Polysporin and Neosporinbecome limited in their use if the wound is dirty or the immune system compromised. For topical antibiotics to work best, they should only be used to stop infection in a new wound. They should not be used to treat an infection which has already started.