Neosporin on Acne: Does It Really Work?

Why OTC creams and asprin masks might be a better bet

Neosporin original ointment
Can Neosporin heal pimples and cystic acne?. Amazon.com

For years, Neosporin has been used by people as a spot treatment for pimples. It's in everyone's medicine cabinet, after all, and it's an antibiotic, formulated to kill bacteria. Surely it will work on pimples and acne, right?

Sorta, kinda, not really.

While Neosporin (buy it from Amazon) is great for healing wounds and helps moisturize healing cuts so they don't scar, it will not kill the strain of bacteria that causes pimples and cystic acne.

What it will do is help a popped pimple heal and keep the skin moisturized and protected from bacteria that can get into the open wound and cause infections.

When Not to Use Neosporin

Will it help on adult acne, teen acne or cystic acne? Likely not, according to Dr. Doris Day, a NYC dermatologist and author of the book "100 Questions & Answers About Acne" (buy it from Amazon).

While Neosporin does kill some bacteria, it won't kill the bacteria that causes pimples, so as a spot treatment, it's useless. As for the deep and 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.

For those people, like my friend who suffers from hormonal cystic acne and who swears 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 to prevent scarring, Neosporin 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 of Neosporin

For spot treatments when you don't have an OTC acne cream on hand, skip the Neosporin and try an aspirin mask to treat your acne.

Simply grind up aspirin and moisten it with water. Dot the paste on your cystic acne or pimples.

For bigger acne and pimple problems, I recommend OTC creams and gels containing benzoyl peroxide, which, unlike Neosporin, actually kills the bacteria that causes acne. And while Neosporin will actually block pores, salicylic acid unblocks them while calming redness. 

For acne, I recommend this 3-punch treatment:

  • Apply a 3% benzoyl peroxide pad, gel or cleanser to your acne or pimples.
  • Once the benzoyl peroxide dries, apply a .5% salicylic acid pad or gel.
  • Follow with a moisturizer to keep the skin from drying out, which can happen from these products.

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

Get the full scoop on my favorite acne products, my 3-punch system and my aspirin mask recipe in my article, Best Treatment Options for Acne.

The Bottom Line

I do not recommend the Neosporin treatment for people suffering from major acne, in this case, you should always consult a dermatologist. Neosporin should be used only to treat popped pimples and help prevent scarring.

I advise testing the skin first behind the ear or under the jaw to make sure you don't have a reaction.