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Bacitracin for Pimples

by
author image Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut has published peer-reviewed medical research since 1971. Pickut teaches presentational speaking and holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors and is editor for "The Jamestown Gazette." Pickut holds bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and master's degrees in physiology and mass communication.
Bacitracin for Pimples
Bacitracin antibiotic ointment is a valuable and safe pimple fighter. Photo Credit Bartosz Ostrowski/Hemera/Getty Images

Acne pimple treatments should be both strong both gentle. Staff physicians at the Mayo Clinic warn acne patients that skin already under assault by acne must be treated gently, but the treatment has to be strong enough to kill the bacteria that complicate it. Bacitracin is an antibiotic that meets both needs when you use it properly. In many cases best use is in combination with other antibiotics, antiseptics and cleansing treatments.

Nature of the Drug

Bacitracin was discovered in a complicated fracture wound of a 7-year-old girl named Tracey in 1943. Dermatologist Sharon Jacob, writing for Skin & Aging.com, says the bacterium that came to be known as the Tracey-I Strain of Bacillus subtilis, or Bacillus lichenformis, was found inhibiting growth of other germs in Tracey's wound. It kills other bacteria by stopping them from forming cell walls when they are growing actively. Early experience with bacitracin showed it can also be highly toxic to a patient's kidneys when taken internally. As a result, topical skin care quickly became its main use, especially to protect acne-damaged skin and other open skin wounds.

Indications

Bacitracin ointment and cream does not always cure acne. Dr. Jacob notes that, like all antibiotics, bacitracin is selective. Some types of bacteria are sensitive to it ,and others are not or have developed resistance. In some infrequent cases, bacitracin has no effect or allows acne to become worse. Acne pimples appear when oil glands in skin become overactive, plug the gland's pores and painfully swell the choked glands. Normal skin bacteria, primarily Proprionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, decompose the trapped oil and cause inflammation and soreness. Mayo Clinic physicians point out that topical antibiotics that kill the bacteria will not stop this oversecretion of oils, but they can stop the resulting infections. Bacitracin treatment is indicated when pimples become infected.

Combinations

Bacitracin is often combined with skin cleansers like benzoyl peroxide to kill P. acnes and to clear surrounding skin of other bacteria that might colonize the injured pimple skin. Another common combination, sold commercially as Neosporin ointment, contains bacitracin and two other antibiotics, neomycin and polymixin. Mytrophene combines erythromycin with bacitracin. These broaden the list of skin germs killed to further protect pimples that open, exposing inflamed, injured skin. The medium is petroleum jelly or mineral oil. This prevents drying and promotes healing.

MRSA

An uncommon but dangerous complication of acne pimples is the bacterium known as methycillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Staphylococcus bacteria are common on normal skin, and they rarely cause infections unless skin is damaged or immunocompromised, as in patients with HIV/AIDS. Acne can open normal skin to MRSA, which is susceptible to bacitracin. Skin care advisers with the California Department of Public Health, among others, prescribe topical bacitracin for all such skin lesions and pimples.

Allergen

The rapid growth of bacitracin use for skin infections and pimples has exposed previously unrecognized skin sensitivities. The Mayo Clinic Contact Dermatitis Group reported that for the years 1998 through 2000, bacitracin had become the eighth most common skin allergen reported. They do not list bacitracin among the topical antibiotics they prescribe for acne pimples. In 2003 the American Contact Dermatitis Association designated bacitracin as the Allergen of the Year. Various bacitracin formulations are available over-the-counter, but consult your doctor before you make it your home pimple remedy of choice.

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