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What Are the Different Uses of Antibiotic Cream?

By Anna B. Smith
Updated May 17, 2024
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The different uses of antibiotic cream can include the topical prevention of mild skin infections, the treatment of rashes that result from allergic reactions, and the reduction in appearance of acne. The cream acts as a preventative that discourages the growth of new bacteria in potentially vulnerable patches of skin. Each type of use typically requires a unique formulation of antibiotic ingredients in the cream, some of which are only available as prescriptions from doctors.

The most common use for antibiotic cream is as a preventative for minor skin infections. It is sold over the counter in drugstores primarily in cream or powder form and can be applied directly to the affected skin. When using this product to treat a wound, such as a minor burn, scrape, or cut, consumers should first disinfect the area with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. The cream or powder can then be spread over the area to discourage the growth of bacteria.

Prescription antibiotic cream is occasionally recommended by doctors in the treatment of certain types of rashes. Poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac are common plants with which individuals may come in contact while hiking or biking in wooded areas. These plants can cause a severe allergic reaction of the skin, and are spread quickly by skin and clothing that have picked up the oils of the plant. Severe rashes may be treated with prescription corticosteroids, which are creams that are designed to be spread across the affected areas and can reduce swelling, inflammation, and itching sensations. Antibiotics may be additionally prescribed, both orally and topically, for rashes in which a person has scratched off several layers of skin and is in danger of becoming infected.

Some forms of acne may be treated using acne formulated antibiotic cream. This type of medication is typically prescribed by a doctor and is not available for over the counter purchase. These creams are designed to penetrate the pores and fine hair follicles of the face and eradicate the various forms of acne bacteria which may be found there. Bacteria which is allowed to remain in pores and hair follicles can become infected, clog the skin, and create red swollen patches on the face, as well as white and black heads. The antibiotic ingredients may also be combined with a mild skin exfoliator which works to peel away the uppermost dead layers of damaged skin to reveal new, healthier skin beneath.

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