Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI — Written by Veronica Zambon on April 27, 2020
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Neosporin is an antibiotic ointment that a person can use for minor skin injuries. However, it may not be a viable treatment option for acne.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting around 40–50 million people.
However, a person can manage this condition by using products formulated specifically for acne.
This article will look at whether or not Neosporin is an effective treatment option for acne. It also looks at some alternative acne treatments a person can try.
Share on PinterestBenzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are typically more effective at treating acne than Neosporin.
Gram-positive bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) commonly cause acne. When bacteria become trapped within layers of sebum, or oils under the skin, acne can form.
Closed acne, such as whiteheads, is more prone to inflammation, as P. acnes cannot escape to the surface of the skin. When this type of acne ruptures, the bacteria spread underneath the skin, leading to pustules and cystic acne.
The appearance of acne can vary, potentially appearing as:
whiteheads, which remain under the skin
Cystic acne is a severe form of acne that can cause scarring. These scars can appear as:
icepick scars, which are tiny but deeplarger pitted scarskeloid scarring, in which scars are raised
Some people use Neosporin to treat acne and reduce the appearance of scars.
Neosporin is a combination antibiotic that prevents infection in minor cuts and burns. Its active ingredients are neomycin, polymyxin, and bacitracin.
Two of these are not effective against P. acnes. Bacitracin may be effective, but people primarily use it for different bacteria. Two of these three ingredients can also cause allergic contact dermatitis.
The sections below will look at Neosporin’s three active ingredients in more detail and explain why they may not work against acne.
According to some research, neomycin is effective against Gram-negative bacteria. However, Gram-positive bacteria, such as P. acnes, are resistant to it.
Another concern regarding neomycin is the high rate of contact dermatitis. Around 1–6% of people who use neomycin experience an allergic reaction.
Those who are not allergic to neomycin should use it topically, as it can be toxic if a person ingests it.
Polymyxin is also only effective against Gram-negative bacteria. P. acnes is a Gram-positive bacterium. Also, it is not usually effective against bacterial skin infections on its own.
Studies have also shown that it is not particularly effective against bacteria that cause staph infections.
Bacitracin is effective against Gram-positive bacteria, especially Staphylococcus aureus (which causes infections and illnesses such as abscesses and pneumonia) and Streptococcus pyogenes (which can cause strep throat).
Bacitracin is also a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis.
Neosporin contains several ingredients, such as cocoa butter and petroleum jelly, that may soften acne scars.
According to a 2016 article, petroleum ointments moisturize the skin, which may help prevent scarring. The same article also suggests that cocoa butter does not work more effectively on postsurgical scars than petroleum ointments.
The main benefit seems to arise from massaging and moisturizing the scars.
However, a person can find the ingredients in Neosporin that soften the appearance of acne scars elsewhere.