If you suffer from acne, or even just from the occasional pimple (which always rears its ugly head at the worst possible moment, argh!), you may be tempted to try Neosporin. The popular antibiotic cream your mom used to rub on your skin every time you scraped it is touted to be an effective anti-acne treatment. After all, if acne is caused by a bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, then an antibacterial ointment will be able to cure it, won’t it? Not this particular one. Here’s why:
Full Ingredient List
Polymyxin B Sulfate, Bacitracin Zinc, Neomycin, Cocoa Butter, Cottonseed Oil, Olive Oil, Sodium Pyruvate, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), White Petrolatum.
Polymyxin B Sulfate, Bacitracin Zinc, & Neomycin
The three active ingredients in Neosporin are Polymyxin B Sulfate, Bacitracin Zinc, and Neomycin. Polymyxin B Sulfate and Neomycin can only kill gram-negative bacteria (their cell wall is composed of a thin layer of peptidoglycan covered by a membrane made up of lipoproteins and lipopolysaccharides). But P. Acnes is a gram-positive bacteria (it has a thicker layer of peptidoglycan and no outer membrane). Therefore, they can’t kill it.
Worse, they can cause problems for the skin. Gram-negative bacteria are one of the main causes of infections in wounds after surgery. And they can adapt to become resistant to antibiotics. So, if you use these ingredients regularly for acne, when you’ll need them to heal wounds, they won’t work anymore! In addition, Neomycin can cause irritations and allergies. If these occur, they could worsen your acne.
Bacitracin Zinc can kill gram-positive bacteria, but only S aureus and streptococci. Besides, it can’t really penetrate deep into the skin, so, even if it could kill P. Acnes, it’s unlikely that it would be able to reach it. But isn’t Zinc good for acne, I hear you ask? When taken orally yes. But, when topically applied, studies have found it is no better than the placebo treatment it was compared to!
Cocoa Butter, Cottonseed Oil and Olive Oil
Cocoa Butter, Cottonseed Oil and Olive Oil are all very moisturizing ingredients, but they can also clog pores. Therefore, if you suffer from acne, you’d want to stay away from them, not slather them all over the affected area!
White Petrolatum, on its own, doesn’t clog pores. However, this very moisturizing ingredient works by creating a protective barrier on the skin that prevents water from evaporating. But, by doing so, it also traps comedogenic ingredients (and this ointment contains quite a few of them) underneath. And that could exacerbate breakouts.
Final considerations on the formula
Not only Neosporin doesn’t contain anti-bacterial agents that can kill the bacteria that causes acne, but it also includes comedogenic ingredients that could make it worse. And yet, some people have seen an improvement after using Neosporin. How is that possible? Well, its wound-healing and moisturizing ingredients can help heal not acne, but the skin. They can repair the skin’s natural protective barrier, which was damaged but acne, and even improve the appearance of scars. Still, considering the potential side effects of Neosporin on the skin, it’s much better to use a product properly formulated to treat acne.
The Bottom Line
Neosporin is great at healing wounds, but it can’t treat acne. Worse, due to the comedogenic and irritating ingredients it contains, it can exacerbate it. Not to mention that prolonged use to antibacterial agents, especially when unnecessary, can make bacteria become resistant to them. So keep Neosporin away from your acne and pimples and, instead, use products that are properly formulated to treat this condition without side effects.
Have you ever used Neosporin to treat acne or get rid of a pimple?