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How Do I Choose the Best Antibiotic Ointment?

By Madeleine A.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Choosing the best antibiotic ointment depends on whether a brand name is desired, or if a store brand will suffice. In addition, some people prefer ointments that contain pain relievers. An antibiotic ointment is a topical preparation used to prevent infections from minor skin irritations. Typically, this ointment is used for minor abrasions, cuts, insect bites, or burns, and should never be used on deep wounds or wounds that cover a large portion of the skin.

An antibiotic ointment can contain one or more antibiotics such as neomycin, polymyxin, and bacitracin. The combination of these three antibiotics are often referred to as a triple-antibiotic ointment. Before using the ointment, the area should be thoroughly cleaned with warm water and a mild soap. After the ointment has been applied, the area should be covered with a sterile bandage or dressing. The bandage not only helps keep bacteria out of the wound, it also helps the skin absorb the product better.

Sometimes, despite the application of an antibiotic ointment, an infection will develop. Symptoms of a skin infection can include pain, redness, inflammation, and an increase in temperature at the site. Occasionally, pus formation is present, and if advanced, the infection might cause a fever, chills, muscle aches, and nausea. When these symptoms occur, the health care provider needs to be notified because an oral antibiotic may be needed.

Topical antibacterial preparations are also available in antibiotic creams. The active ingredients are typically the same, however, the cream form is generally less greasy. Some topical antibiotics also include pain relievers, such as lidocaine, which is a topical anesthetic. Although generally tolerated by most people, this kind of ointment can cause side effects or allergic reactions. These include local redness, inflammation, and burning. If these side effects occur, the ointment should be discontinued and the health care provider notified.

Antibiotic creams and ointments are available at grocery stores and drug stores. Store brands are usually less expensive than brand names, even though the ingredients are usually the same. In some instances, the health care provider will recommend a prescription-strength topical antibiotic, but an over-the-counter strength is usually effective for most minor skin wounds. Veterinarians often recommend using antibiotic creams for dogs and cats who have sustained minor skin irritations, but they should never be used by pet owners unless suggested by the veterinarian.

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Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Feb 19, 2014

I like ointments with antibiotic ingredients and natural antiseptics like witch hazel, vitamin E and aloe vera. I feel that they are more beneficial. Cuts and scrapes seem to heal faster with these. I especially recommend ointments with vitamin E.

By bluedolphin — On Feb 19, 2014

@literally45-- I was wondering the same exact thing last week. I actually compared the ingredients list of several antibiotic ointments at the store. What I discovered was that the well known brand did have an extra ingredient that the cheaper brand did not have. So I ended up getting the well known brand because I felt that it will work better. I suggest that you do the same. If you find a cheaper, generic brand that has the same exact ingredients as a more expensive brand, go ahead and buy the cheaper one. The name doesn't matter, it's the ingredients that matter.

I don't want to sound like I'm advertising a brand, so I won't mention the name. But the ointment I'm using is a double antibiotic ointment with polymyxin and neomycin. It works great.

By literally45 — On Feb 18, 2014

Do well known brands and generic brands contain the same ingredients? I need an antibiotic ointment that's very effective. The generic brands are cheaper but I'm not sure if they work as well as popular brands.

Does anyone have a suggestion?

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