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What is Triple Antibiotic Ointment?

By Donn Saylor
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Triple antibiotic ointment is a topical solution containing three antibiotics — bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B sulfates — that is used to prevent infection and heal wounds. The combination of antibiotics works to kill bacteria on the surface of the skin, keeping open wounds free of germs that could cause infection. This mixture is typically combined with petroleum jelly or some other type of petroleum base, which helps to further protect the skin and more effectively distribute the antibiotics. The ointment is sold as a gel or as an antibiotic cream.

The trio of antibiotics that work together in this ointment kill germs by weakening their cellular walls. They also slow down the protein synthesis process in the bacteria. Both factors cause bacteria cells to die off, which helps keep a wound clean and stave off infection.

Triple antibiotic ointment is designed to be used for minor injuries. It is meant to be applied to small nicks, scrapes, and cuts and is not intended for use on severe burns, deep wounds, or animal bites. People who are allergic to any of the three antibiotics should avoid this ointment.

Medical professionals recommend that individuals using a triple antibiotic ointment apply the solution no more than three times daily. Generally, a patient will wash the affected area with soap and water and dry it thoroughly before reapplying the ointment. The wound is often covered with a bandage to add another layer of protection to the sensitive area.

Triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment is a solution intended for use on the eyes, and it is used to treat bacterial infections of the eyelid or the eye itself. It works in the same manner as the topical version to kill germs, and contains the same antibiotics, usually mixed with petroleum jelly and mineral oil to better avoid irritating the eye. Though it is used by humans, this type of ointment is especially popular in treating eye conditions in dogs, cats, and horses.

Major side effects produced by triple antibiotic ointment are exceptionally rare. The only individuals who react negatively in most cases are those with allergies to bacitracin, neomycin, or polymyxin. The ointment is not intended to be taken internally, and medical experts suggest using the product for no more than one week. It is widely available over the counter; enhanced versions, which contain mild painkilling ingredients, are also sold without a prescription.

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Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Dec 24, 2011

My kids are grown and out of the house, but I still keep tubes of antibiotic ointment around for my canine kids.

We live in the country, so they always seem to be getting some kind of scrape or cut. The first thing I do is use some triple antibiotic ointment for the dogs.

This is always the first thing I try, and if it doesn't start clearing up within a few days, I will call the vet. More times than not, it does the trick and works just as well on them as it did on my kids.

By julies — On Dec 23, 2011

myharley - I don't know if using an antibotic ophthalmic ointment is usually used for pink eye or not.

All I know is that I was thinking the same thing, and tried it on myself, but it didn't help my pink eye.

I ended up going to the doctor and had to get a prescription antibiotic in order for my pink eye to clear up.

Everyone reacts differently though, and I know there are different kinds of pink eye, so it also might make a difference whether it is viral or bacterial.

By myharley — On Dec 22, 2011

I always try to keep antibiotic ointment on hand because with three young kids you never know when you might need some.

I also have some triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment and wondered if that would work on pink eye?

Pink eye has been going around school lately and I think it is just a matter of time before one of my kids comes home with it.

I was hoping that this type of antibiotic cream would clear it up and it would save me a trip to the doctor.

Does anybody know if this would work?

By Sara007 — On Dec 22, 2011

@animegal - I have adult acne and I know how you feel about being embarrassed about the more prominent sores. I have tried some Equate triple antibiotic ointment on my worst spots and it does an amazing job of getting rid of the redness and swollen spots. All acne really is for some people is a bacterial infection that has gotten out of hand.

As far as your pills go, make sure to keep taking them even if you don't see results right away. When my doctor gave me pills for acne it took me almost 2 months before I really started to see a difference in my skin. It isn't instant and I think that most people feel that it should be.

By animegal — On Dec 21, 2011

Does anyone know if triple antibiotic ointment for acne really works? Does it need to be prescribed or is it available over-the-counter?

I have some unpleasant looking acne sores and the regular acne cream doesn't do that much for them. They are getting pretty red and inflamed and I am almost positive that I have some sort of infection.

My dermatologist gave me some wash and pills to take but I am not seeing any results yet. I just want the redness to tone down a bit and not look so bad. I hate the idea of people staring at my face when I know it looks so bad. It's really embarrassing.

By rugbygirl — On Dec 21, 2011

@ElizaBennett - Have you tried liquid bandage for cuts on your hands? It's basically sterile nail polish that you can put on small cuts. It stings, but it protects even through handwashing, putting lotion on, etc. I live by it in the winter; my hands get chapped and get little cut areas. I just dab a little liquid bandage on and it seems to help them heal by just protecting them.

For cuts anywhere else, I do like Neosporin (or the generic equivalents). As you said, at least it keeps the band aid from sticking! I know it's good to let the wound breathe sometimes, but if it's in an area that's going to be covered by your clothes all day anyway (like a shaving accident), it seems just as well to put a band aid on first.

By ElizaBennett — On Dec 20, 2011

I was advised to use a triple antibiotic cream as part of my post-operative wound care after I had a C-section. I was told to first wait until the steri-strips fell off, then every day I was to clean the incision with hydrogen peroxide and dab it with the antibiotic cream. I imagine that the idea was to prevent infection from setting in. I've heard of other people getting similar advice for other surgeries, but I would follow my surgeon's advice - don't use it unless you are told to.

My understanding is that for first aid of minor scrapes and nicks, the cream doesn't really do that much to promote healing, but it helps keep the bandage from sticking and it's a good idea from that standpoint. But I always seem to get little cuts on my hands, and I can't keep a band aid on there anyway!

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