Aquaphor and Neosporin are medicine cabinet staples. While they’re often used for the same thing (i.e. wound healing), there are some major differences between the two.
Aquaphor is an ointment largely made up of petrolatum—aka petroleum jelly. It works to protect your skin from cuts, burns, chapped lips, cracked skin, etc. Although Neosporin is also an ointment consisting (to a lesser degree) of petrolatum, it’s mainly known for its “triple antibiotic” ingredients (Bacitracin, Neomycin, and Polymyxin B), which help prevent infections.
Read on to find out the similarities and differences between the two products.
Difference #1: Aquaphor Beats Neosporin When It Comes to Wound Healing
Aquaphor and Neosporin are first-line treatments for minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. While you might think that the medicated treatment (Neosporin) will supercharge your wound healing, studies suggest otherwise.
Below are some of the studies that compare the two products.
- [Aquaphor for the win] A study conducted in 2011 found that applying Aquaphor to minor wounds resulted in faster healing when compared to Neosporin.
- [Tie] Another study conducted in 2011 compared Aquaphor to Polysporin (a product made up of Polymyxin B and Bacitracin—aka two of the main ingredients in Neosporin). When these two products were applied to postprocedural wounds (from mole removal), they were found to be equally effective.
- [Tie] After removing facial lesions from 20 participants, one study (again conducted in 2011) compared the effects of Aquaphor to Polysporin. The participants were required to cover half their face in Aquaphor and the other half in Polysporin two times a day for 21 days. Once the 21 days were over, researchers didn’t find any difference between the two sides.
- [Aquaphor for the win] In 2010, Weber compared the trifecta (aka Aquaphor, Neosporin, and Polysporin) on laser-induced wounds from CO2 lasers. While they didn’t see any differences in the Poly/Neo group, they found that Aquaphor significantly improved redness, inflammation, and general wound appearance. And that’s not all. They also found that Aquaphor improved TEWL (transepidermal water loss).
Bottom line: You don’t need topical antibiotics to heal your wound. Research shows that Aquaphor is equally effective, if not more effective, than Neosporin.
Difference #2: Petrolatum is the Only Common Ingredient Between the Two
Found in Both Products
- Petrolatum (found in both). Ever since its discovery in the 1870s, petrolatum (better known as petroleum jelly) has been used to treat everything from cuts to burns to dry skin (and more). And although it’s derived from petroleum, cosmetic-grade petrolatum (sometimes referred to as white petrolatum) is considered safe for general use—it’s even non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic. (Read more about petrolatum here.)
Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Panthenol, Glycerin, Bisabolol
- Mineral Oil (only Aquaphor). Like petrolatum, mineral oil is also derived from petroleum. In cosmetics, it’s mainly used as a moisturizing agent (emollient) and a skin protectant (occlusive). Side note: Mineral oil is baby oil (except baby oil has few added ingredients—usually fragrances and preservatives).
- Lanolin Alcohol (only Aquaphor). Interestingly enough, lanolin is a fatty alcohol derived from “wool grease” (or the oils secreted by a sheep’s sebaceous glands). It’s incredibly moisturizing, but some people also find it to be pore-clogging. So you should definitely patch test Aquaphor before you use it on a large area.
Bacitracin, Neomycin, Polymyxin B, Cocoa Butter, Cottonseed Oil, Olive Oil, Sodium Pyruvate, Vitamin E, Petrolatum
- Bacitracin, Neomycin, and Polymyxin B (only Neosporin). All three of these ingredients are topical antibiotics—this is where the “triple antibiotic” comes in. While they might fight bacteria, both bacitracin and neomycin are pretty common allergens. We’ll discuss these ingredients more in-depth in the following section.
- Cocoa Butter (only Neosporin). Neosporin smells a little sweet. And I’m guessing that it smells sweet because of cocoa butter, an emollient derived from cocoa beans (yum).
Bottom line: With the exception of petrolatum, these two ointments have completely different ingredients. Aquaphor seems to be geared more towards occlusives—in other words, it’ll protect the heck out of your skin, while Neosporin is more geared towards antibiotics—it’s super medicated. One isn’t better than the other (as long as you’re not allergic to either products’ ingredients). They’re just different.
Difference #3: Neosporin is a Common Allergen, Aquaphor isn’t
You might be surprised to find out that, in 2003, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named bacitracin (the main ingredient in Neosporin) the Allergen of the Year. And if that wasn’t enough, neomycin (the second ingredient in Neosporin) was given the title in 2010.
A 2005 patch-test study found that 9.2% of its participants were allergic to bacitracin and 10% of its participants were allergic to neomycin. So it’s safe to assume that, at minimum, 1 in 10 people will react negatively to Neosporin.
On the other end of things, none of the ingredients in Aquaphor made it on the Allergen of the Year list. So you don’t really have to worry about doing more harm than good when you use Aquaphor.
Bottom line: There’s a 1 in 10 chance that you’re allergic to Neosporin, so be careful.
Difference #4: Neosporin Might Contribute to Antibiotic Resistance, Not Aquaphor
Overusing antibiotics is becoming a serious health concern.
Let’s take MRSA for example. One study found that USA300, a strain of MRSA that’s infamous for being a flesh-eating bacteria, was found to be resistant to both bacitracin and neomycin (the active ingredients in Neosporin).
Why are they resistant?
Well, the authors of this study suggest that over-the-counter antibiotic ointments have something to do with it.
Of course, using it every once in a while probably won’t hurt you any—as long as you use it on minor cuts/scrapes for a short period of time (i.e. less than 7 days).
Needless to say, antibiotic resistance isn’t an issue with Aquaphor. You can pretty much use as much of it as you want. Some people even sleep with a thin layer of the stuff on their face (#sluglife).
Bottom line: Overusing Neosporin can contribute to resistant strains of bacteria. If you’re prone to injury and want to get your ointment fix, use Aquaphor instead.
Difference #5: Aquaphor is Always Cheaper, While Neosporin is Often Twice as Expensive
No surprises here:
Aquaphor is cheaper.
I’m guessing since Aquaphor (a) doesn’t contain expensive antibiotics and (b) isn’t marketed as a medicated treatment, it can be sold at a much lower price than its counterpart, Neosporin.
From the looks of it, Neosporin is just over two times the cost of Aquaphor (per ounce) at most major retailers. While that might not be a huge difference for an individual, if you’ve got kids and run through ointments like there’s no tomorrow, it’s probably more cost effective to stick with Aquaphor.
Bottom line: If you’re worried about price, you’ll get more bang for your buck with Aquaphor.
Difference #6: Neosporin Has a Thinner Consistency, Whereas Aquaphor Has a Thicker Consistency
When it comes down to it, consistency isn’t the biggest issue here. Then again, I think it’s worth mentioning because there is a difference between the two.
Aquaphor has a thick, salve-like consistency that stays put no matter what. Sometimes when I have a cut on my hand, I dab some Aquaphor on it and skip the band-aid because I know that the Aquaphor isn’t going anywhere—it’s not easily rub-off-able.
I can’t say the same for Neosporin. It has a thinner consistency that wears off easily—simply put, a band-aid is essential for use. Nevertheless, when you do add a band-aid to the mix, it does its job just as well.
Aquaphor Vs. Neosporin: Which One Is Better?
Here’s a summary of the differences between Aquaphor and Neosporin:
- Aquaphor is as good—if not better—than Neosporin when it comes to wound healing.
- Both contain petrolatum and various skin-soothing ingredients. But Neosporin also contains antibiotics.
- 1 in 10 people are allergic to the ingredients in Neosporin. Aquaphor isn’t known to cause any allergies.
- With regular and extended Neosporin/antibiotic use, you just might contribute to the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA.
- Aquaphor is more cost effective.
Obviously, Aquaphor reigns supreme. It’s the perfect ointment to keep in your arsenal because it can do everything. You can apply it to your cuts/scrapes to get them to heal faster. Or, if you’re feeling dry, you can apply it onto your entire face as a sleeping mask—you know, to trap moisture.
If you decide to buy Aquaphor, do yourself a favor and buy it in tube form (like this one here on Amazon). In my opinion, tubs (not tubes) can get pretty unsanitary after you use it for a while.