Neosporin on Acne: Does It Really Work?

OTC Creams and Aspirin Masks Might be a Better Bet

Neosporin original ointment

For years, Neosporin has been used by people as a spot treatment for pimples. After all, it's in everyone's medicine cabinet and it is an antibiotic, formulated to kill bacteria. Surely it will work on pimples and acne, right? Sorta, kinda, not really.

Neosporin is a popular triple antibiotic ointment. It works great for healing wounds and helps moisturize healing cuts so they don't scar. However, it will not kill the strain of bacteria that causes pimples and cystic acne.

What Neosporin may do is help a popped pimple heal. It can keep the skin moisturized while protecting it from bacteria that can get into the open wound and cause infections.

When Not to Use Neosporin

Will Neosporin help with adult acne, teen acne, or cystic acne? It's not likely, according to Dr. Doris Day, a New York City dermatologist and author of the book "100 Questions & Answers About Acne."

While Neosporin does kill some bacteria, it won't kill the particular strains of bacteria that cause pimples. As a spot treatment, it's useless. As for the deep pain of cystic acne, it won't work on that either. According to Day, Neosporin cannot reach the base of the skin's follicle where acne forms.

Then why do people with hormonal cystic acne swear by Neosporin? Day says in Newsweek magazine that any improvement is likely caused by the emollient nature of Neosporin. Pimples tend to dry out and the petroleum in Neosporin (which makes it oily), can soften and moisturize the skin.

When to Use Neosporin

Just as Neosporin works beautifully to promote the healing of cuts and prevent scarring, it is good to help the healing process once a pimple has popped or your acne is healing. It also helps prevent scarring. 

What to Use Instead

For spot treatments when you don't have an over-the-counter (OTC) acne cream on hand, skip the Neosporin and try an aspirin mask to treat your acne instead. Simply grind up aspirin and moisten it with a little water. Dot the paste on your cystic acne or pimples.

For bigger acne and pimple problems, OTC creams and gels containing benzoyl peroxide are recommended. Unlike Neosporin, this formula actually kills the bacteria that causes acne. And while Neosporin will actually block pores, a cleanser that contains salicylic acid unblocks them and calms any redness. 

For acne, try this three-punch treatment:

  1. Apply a 3 percent benzoyl peroxide pad, gel, or cleanser to your acne or pimples.
  2. Once that dries, apply a .5 percent salicylic acid pad or gel.
  3. Follow up with a moisturizer to keep the skin from drying out, which can easily happen when using these products.

If you prefer natural products, try tea tree oils, which are a great natural way to treat acne. They aren't an FDA-approved acne treatment, but they are known for fighting inflammation on the scalp and skin.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are far better and more effective options than Neosporin when it comes to treating acne. If you're dealing with major acne, your best is to consult a dermatologist. Sometimes, prescription ointments are simply the only option for clear skin.

Keep in mind that the only time Neosporin will be effective, from a scientific perspective, is when treating popped pimples and when you want to prevent scarring. Even then, test it on your skin first—behind your ear or under the jaw—to ensure you don't have a reaction.