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How Do I Choose the Best Antibacterial Ointment?

A.E. Freeman
By A.E. Freeman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The best antibacterial ointment will speed the healing time of cuts and wounds and reduce the presence of scars. When choosing an over-the-counter antibacterial ointment, look for one that is labeled as a broad-spectrum or triple ointment. Some ointments contain an ingredient that can cause allergic reactions, so you need to aware of any allergies you have before choosing an ointment. Additionally, some antibiotic skin creams are not recommended for use by pregnant women. Name-brand products do not necessarily work better than generic or store brands.

An antibacterial ointment that contains polymyxin B and bacitracin has been shown to shorten the duration of a wound or cut by several days. Allergic reactions to the ingredients in this type of ointment are possible, though, so it may not be the best option for you if you have had an allergic reaction to any of those ingredients. Signs of an allergic reaction include burning and redness at the site as well as trouble breathing. You may notice that the wound becomes worse instead of healing if you are allergic to the ointment.

Other antibacterial ointments contain a third ingredient, neomycin, which further protects against bacterial infection. In some cases, choosing a triple antibacterial ointment means that your cut or wound will leave less of a scar in addition to healing faster. Neomycin may cause allergic reactions more than other ingredients, though. A serious side effect of ointments with neomycin is hearing loss. Hearing loss is rare when the medicine is applied to small areas of the skin.

Usually, creams and ointments that contain neomycin are not recommended for pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding. Some studies have shown that certain antibiotics present a risk to the fetus. If you are breastfeeding, the medication may pass to your baby through the milk. It is up to you to discuss the risks with your doctor if you are pregnant and trying to choose an antibacterial ointment.

As long as the cream contains the three active antibiotic ingredients, it will be as effective in terms of healing time and scar formation whether you choose a name brand cream or a store brand. More severe bacterial infections on the skin, such as those caused by impetigo, may require a prescription ointment. If an over-the-counter cream or ointment does not prove to be effective after a few days, talk to your doctor about a prescription-strength ointment.

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Discussion Comments

By donasmrs — On Aug 12, 2013

I use an ointment with polymyxin B and neomycin all the time. I have cat who loves to scratch. Whenever I get a scratch, I wash it with soap and water and apply antibacterial ointment on it. None of my scratches have gotten infected and they heal fast. Antibacterial ointment is a life saver.

By bear78 — On Aug 12, 2013
@alisha-- Of course, the antibacterial ointments we get from the store aren't effective against every type of bacteria, but it's not supposed to be.

A broad-spectrum antibiotic ointment however is effective against the common bacteria that we come across from day to day. So it's still enough to protect us from most bacterial skin infections.

An ointment that kills all bacteria wouldn't be desirable anyway. It would also kill good bacteria and the bacteria would soon develop resistance to it. This is why the antibacterial ointments that we can buy over-the-counter are never as strong as prescription antibacterial ointments. It's all for a good reason.

By discographer — On Aug 11, 2013

As far as I know, there are millions of different strains of bacteria. How can the antibacterial ointment sold at the pharmacy be effective against all of them? I mean, who knows what type of bacteria exists on our skin?

Sometimes I feel like antibacterial ointments are a scam.

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