In short, it depends who you ask.
If you have a minor first-degree burn, topical antibiotic ointments such as Neosporin may help provide relief and prevent infection.
More severe second- and third-degree burns may require more advanced care from a medical professional. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to some patients. Hospitalized patients may receive antibiotics intravenously (i.e., via an IV).
Before you use any antibiotic – oral or topical – speak with your doctor.
What is Neosporin?
Neosporin, owned by Johnson & Johnson, is a triple antibiotic ointment used to care for wounds. Neosporin Original Ointment contains three antibiotics:
- Bacitracin zinc
- Neomycin sulfate
- Polymyxin B sulfate
But why is this important?
The skin plays a key role in protecting the body from infection. It’s like a gate keeper, guarding against invaders that seek to enter the body. But a wound, such as a partial- or full-thickness burn, opens the gate and unwanted bacteria can creep in.
So the point of triple antibiotic ointments, like Neosporin, is to wipe out these bacteria. But some research suggests that antibiotic ointments may not provide the results that patients expect.
What is the evidence against Neosporin for a burn?
Some medical practitioners do not recommend Neosporin and other antibiotic ointments for wounds, noting that some people may experience allergic reactions to one of the ingredients.
A review of literature from 2013 cited limited evidence that fails to establish antibiotics as an effective preventive measure against burn wound infection.
In addition, a 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery measured the efficacy of various topical antibiotic ointments in laboratory tests. The researchers found that Neosporin had little effect on three different types of bacteria – Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus spp., and group D streptococci.
Neosporin and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
You’ve probably heard about the growing global concerns about antibiotic resistance. Some evidence suggests that Neosporin may contribute to this problem.
In a 2011 study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers examined a strain of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) called USA300.
They found that almost half of the samples of USA300 were resistant to bacitracin and neomycin, which are two of the ingredients found in Neosporin. In a different sample of the strain, USA300 was not affected by bacitracin but was affected by neomycin.
This suggests the widespread use of Neosporin and other over-the-counter anti-bacterial ointments to treat wounds, including burns, may contribute to the antibiotic resistance of certain strains of MRSA.
Johnson & Johnson responded to the study, according to WebMD Health News, stating that it did not create a link between antibiotic ointments and the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria:
This small study did not evaluate any relationship between development of resistance to bacteria and the usage of over the counter antibiotic ointments for the prevention of infection and the authors themselves convey that further research would be needed to reach any significant conclusions. It should also be noted that antibiotic ointments have been used safely for years to provide a broad-spectrum of protection against a wide variety of germs.
How else can I protect myself from infection?
Talk to your doctor about your use of Neosporin or any other antibiotic ointment or cream for your minor burn. Your doctor may advise you use other forms of treatment to treat your minor burn, such as thorough cleaning with soap and water, proper wound dressing, and regular bandage changes.
More serious burn wounds may require skin grafting, prescription antibiotics, and other advanced medical care.
For more information on burn care, check out our blog or give one of our burn injury referral advocates a call.