Neomycin/polymyxin B/bacitracin

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Neomycin/polymyxin B/bacitracin
A tube of Neosporin
Combination of
Polymyxin B sulfateAntibiotic
Neomycin sulfateAntibiotic
Bacitracin zincAntibiotic
Trade namesNeosporin, others
Clinical data
Routes of
Topical, eye drops
External links
AHFS/Drugs.comProfessional Drug Facts
License data
Legal status
  • US: OTC / Rx-only

Neomycin/polymyxin B/bacitracin, also known as triple antibiotic ointment, is a medication used to try to decrease the risk of infections following minor skin injuries and to treat superficial bacterial eye infections.[2][3] It contains three antibiotics: neomycin, polymyxin B, and bacitracin.[2] It is generally less preferred than bacitracin/polymyxin B.[4] It is either applied to the skin or used as eye drops.[2][3]

Common side effects include itchiness and skin rash.[1] More severe side effects may include hearing loss.[1] Use in pregnancy is generally not recommended.[1] It is relatively broad spectrum, being effective against both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria.[3]

The combination was approved for medical use in the United States in 1971.[5] It is available over the counter in the United States.[1] In 2017, it was the 78th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than ten million prescriptions.[6][7] It is sold under the brand name Neosporin among others.[8]

Medical uses

Neomycin/polymyxin B/bacitracin ointment is reported to be a safe and effective topical agent for preventing infections in minor skin trauma.[9] It, however, is generally less preferred than bacitracin/polymyxin B due to its greater side effects.[4]

It is used for burns, scratches, cuts, and minor skin infections.[10] The ointment is most effective when applied after cleaning the affected area.[medical citation needed]

The use of neomycin/polymyxin B/bacitracin, decreases infection rates in minor-contaminated wounds.[11] However, if the wound is sterile, then there are no benefits compared to petrolatum (placebo).[11][12]

Side effects

It is for external use only and should not be applied near mucous membranes such as the eyes or mouth. It is not recommended for children under the age of two. Users should immediately seek medical attention if they experience hives, rashes, or itching. Any skin irritations such as pain, burning, or cracked skin that were not present prior to use of ointment must receive immediate care.[13]

Concern exists that its use contributes to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the US, the only large market for the ointment may promote antibiotic resistance. For instance, it may increase the prevalence of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria,[14] specifically the highly lethal ST8:USA300 strain.[15][16][17]

It has been shown to cause contact dermatitis in some cases.[18]


The original ointment contains three different antibiotics: bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B, in a relatively low-molecular-weight base of cocoa butter, cottonseed oil, sodium pyruvate, tocopheryl acetate, and petroleum jelly.[medical citation needed]

The generic name for these products, regardless of the base, is "triple antibiotic ointment". In China, the product is named "complex polymyxin B ointment" and is manufactured there by Zhejiang Fondnow Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. The product was also marketed by the Upjohn Company under the name "Mycitracin", until 1997 when that name was acquired by Johnson & Johnson.[19]

Some people have allergic reactions to neomycin, so a "double antibiotic ointment" is sold without it, containing only bacitracin and polymyxin B: one such example is Polysporin branded product.[medical citation needed]

A "Plus" variant of the ointment exists that adds the analgesic pramoxine, but uses the cheap, simple, long-lasting, but heavier petroleum jelly base, common to many over-the-counter topicals. The latest[when?] version of this analgesic formulation, a high-absorption cream, excludes bacitracin because it is unstable in such a base.[medical citation needed]

Active ingredients

The three main active ingredients in Neosporin are neomycin sulfate, polymyxin B sulfate, and bacitracin zinc.[medical citation needed]

One of the main components is neomycin sulfate, which is a type of antibiotic discovered in 1949 by microbiologist Selman Waksman at Rutgers University.[20] Neomycin belongs to the aminoglycoside class of antibiotics and fights against Gram positive and gram negative bacteria. The antibiotic is often used to prevent risk of bacterial infections.[21] Aminoglycosides work by binding to bacterial RNA and changing the ability to produce proteins while exerting little to no effect on DNA. Thus, neomycin kills bacteria as a result of irregular protein production in the bacterial cell. When the cell can no longer produce the correct proteins, its membrane becomes damaged.[22] As a result of damaged membrane, the affected bacterial cells die, and the infection is prevented or limited.[medical citation needed]

Like neomycin, polymyxin B is an antibiotic. Polymyxin B forms holes in the bacterial cell wall causing the internal cellular components to leak out, resulting in cell death. This antibiotic also interferes with the production of tetrahydrofolic acid by altering an enzyme. Without the tetrahydrofolic acid, the bacteria can no longer produce proteins necessary for survival.[23]

Pramoxine is used to temporarily reduce pain from burns, insect bites, and minor cuts. It works like an anesthetic by decreasing the permeability of neuron membranes. As a result, pain neurons in the area have difficulty sending signals (or signals are blocked entirely), resulting in numbness.[24]

In some countries bacitracin is replaced with gramicidin.[25]


Neosporin is the brand name for a product produced by Johnson & Johnson that contains neomycin sulfate, polymyxin B, and bacitracin. There is no exact date to when the antibacterial ointment was invented, but it was used as early as the 1950s. This antibiotic ointment was patented in the United States on August 27, 1951.[26]


In 2017, it was the 78th most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than ten million prescriptions.[6][7]


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  4. 4.0 4.1 Woo, Teri Moser; Robinson, Marylou V. (2015). Pharmacotherapeutics For Advanced Practice Nurse Prescribers. F.A. Davis. p. 651. ISBN 9780803645813. Archived from the original on 2019-04-19. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
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  12. Draelos ZD, Rizer RL, Trookman NS (March 2011). "A comparison of postprocedural wound care treatments: do antibiotic-based ointments improve outcomes?". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 64 (3 Suppl): S23-9. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2010.11.010. PMID 21247662.
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  17. Trookman NS, Rizer RL, Weber T (March 2011). "Treatment of minor wounds from dermatologic procedures: a comparison of three topical wound care ointments using a laser wound model". Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 64 (3 Suppl): S8-15. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2010.11.011. PMID 21247665.
  18. Sheth VM, Weitzul S (2008). "Postoperative topical antimicrobial use". Dermatitis. 19 (4): 181–9. doi:10.2310/6620.2008.07094. PMID 18674453.
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  26. US 2804421, "Tetracycline type antibiotic ointment" 

External links