The Real Difference Between Polysporin And Neosporin

The medications Polysporin and Neosporin both have similar names ending in "sporin" so it's easy to think they are virtually the same thing, just with a different brand name. After all, when we have a minor cut, scrape, or burn, we might reach in our first aid kit for either of these over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointments. We might also use Polysporin as a powder, while Neosporin is also available in cream, foam, or spray formulations, explains Iodine. Both can do a great job of treating or preventing bacterial infections when applied to superficial wounds, according to GoodRx. Also, both contain similar ingredients, including the antibiotics bacitracin and polymyxin B sulfate. 

However, there is one important difference between the two: Neosporin contains one additional ingredient, an antibiotic called neomycin. While this might seem like a small thing, it could become an important detail for some people. In fact, Dr. Anne Marie McNeill, a board-certified dermatologist with Newport Beach Dermatology and Plastic Surgery, says dermatologists often do not recommend Neosporin because of its neomycin content.

Neomycin can cause allergic contact dermatitis

What could possibly be bad about having one more antibiotic in your ointment's formulation? If you are allergic to this particular ingredient, maybe a lot. Dr. McNeill says that neomycin is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis (per Newport Beach Dermatology and Plastic Surgery). The Mayo Clinic explains that allergic contact dermatitis is an itchy, red rash caused by coming in contact with something you are allergic to. It isn't something you can transmit to others and it's not harmful, experts say, but it can be very uncomfortable.

Dr. McNeill says that this can be a problem after surgery or a biopsy because people may mistake it for an infection due to the redness and irritation at the surgical site. In addition, even if people have not reacted to it before, if the skin is open, people may develop a new sensitivity to it after being exposed to it for a long time. She recommends that people use Polysporin instead since its ingredients do not tend to create allergic reactions.