December 2, 2022

When to use (or not to use) antibiotics on your skin

News — ROSEMONT, Ill. (February 15, 2022) — The cold can be hard on the skin. When your skin becomes dry, as often happens in winter, it can easily crack and bleed. When treating a cut or other wound, it may seem logical to apply an antibiotic cream or ointment from the store to fight germs and prevent infection. However, these antibiotic creams and ointments can further irritate your skin and cause a painful and/or itchy rash called contact dermatitis.

“In addition to causing irritation and rash, the widespread use of antibiotics – including when they are not needed – has contributed to a major public health challenge known as antibiotic resistance” , says Dr. Marcelyn Coley, Board Certified Dermatologist, MD, FAAD. “Antibiotic resistance occurs when germs, such as bacteria, develop the ability to survive drugs designed to kill them. This means that the germs continue to grow. This makes infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs difficult – and sometimes impossible – to treat. »

Most minor cuts and wounds and even surgical wounds do not require antibiotics. The only time antibiotics are usually needed is for an infection. Signs that a wound may be infected include pus; yellow or golden crusts; pain; red, purple or brown skin; swelling or warmth; red (on light skin) or brownish-red (on dark skin) streaks; feeling very hot or cold; or have a fever.

If your wound shows no signs of infection, Dr. Coley recommends skipping the antibiotics and doing the following instead:

  • Keep your skin clean. Wash your hands before touching your wound and gently wash the wound daily with mild soap and water to keep germs out. As long as the wound is cleaned daily, there is no need to use antibiotic ointment.
  • Apply regular petroleum jelly to keep the wound moist. To prevent the spread of dirt and bacteria, choose petroleum jelly that comes in a tube instead of a jar.
  • Keep your wound covered with an adhesive bandage. For severe scrapes, wounds, burns, or persistent redness, it may be helpful to use hydrogel or silicone gel sheets instead.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all antibiotics used in the United States are unnecessary,” says Dr. Coley. “If you hurt your skin and have questions about how to treat it, talk to a board-certified dermatologist.”

These tips are illustrated in “When to use (or not to use) antibiotics on your skina video posted on the AAL website and Youtube channel. This video is part of AAD’s “Video of the Month” series, which offers tips people can use to take good care of their skin, hair, and nails.

To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit

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More information

Relief for dry skin

Relief from dry skin for people with diabetes

Proper wound care: how to minimize a scar

How to Treat Minor Cuts

How to Treat a Minor First Degree Burn

About ADA

Based in Rosemont, Illinois, the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential and representative of all dermatological associations. With more than 20,000 physician members worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the medical, surgical and cosmetic diagnosis and treatment of skin, hair and nails; to advocate high standards in clinical practice, education and research in dermatology; and supporting and improving patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), instagram (@AADskin1), or Youtube (Academy of Dermatology).

Editor’s Note: AAD does not endorse or endorse any product or service. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be incorporated into paid, sponsored or advertising content as it may be perceived as AAD endorsement.