Antibiotic ointments like Neosporin are certainly good at preventing
infection, they can certainly make cuts heal faster by preventing or
stopping bacterial infection, and plenty of people will absolutely vouch
for their efficacy, but they don’t always perform very well in clinical
trials. In one recent study
of different ointments’ influence on wound healing time, Aquaphor
Healing Ointment, whose active ingredient is simple petroleum jelly,
beat both Neosporin and Polypsorin (an antibiotic ointment containing
fewer antibiotics than Neosporin). Other studies have had similar results,
concluding that petroleum jelly was just as effective than the more
expensive antibiotic ointments. Antibiotic ointments also bring the
potential for skin irritation or allergic reactions, a problem more
inert ointments generally do not have; another study found that Aquaphor Healing Ointment also caused less irritation than antibiotic ointments.
As to the gushing reports of Neosporin’s powers, I suspect a lot of
it stems from lack of a proper control group. If all you ever put on
your wounds is Neosporin and every wound has healed, you’ll assume that
it “works,” even if it isn’t actually doing much. There’s also the
chance that “dirty” wounds, like you might get out in the real world,
are at a greater risk of infection and may benefit from topical
antibiotics, whereas the controlled environments of clinical trials
remove the risk of bacteria. There’s also evidence that antibiotic
ointments are increasing the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bugs,
including MRSA. That said, I find it likely that Neosporin works better
than nothing at all, particularly if the wound is infected or at risk
for infection (which you won’t know unless you test the wound).
Honey works well on wounds,
acting as a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent and as a promoter of
tissue healing. Thanks to many factors, including the antioxidant
compounds, acidity, natural hydrogen peroxide content, osmotic effect,
and as-yet unidentified compounds, it appears to stimulate tissue
growth, reduce scar tissue formation, and increase epithelialization.
The honey doesn’t even need to be raw as long as it’s actual, real
honey (although unfiltered, raw honeys may have more bioactive
compounds, also known as “impurities”). The only side effect of topical honey
is, to my knowledge, incitement of pooh bears. If you ever cut yourself
walking through the woods of Sussex, England, skip the honey –
particularly if you see any bipedal piglets wearing pink horizontal
striped singlets. Though normally plush and giggly, the pooh bear is a
fearsome predator when in the throes of honey lust. Don’t let the baby T
Coconut oil is a potent antibacterial agent, mainly because of its medium chain triglyceride content (PDF).
Since it’s MCTs we’re after, it shouldn’t matter much if you use
refined or virgin coconut oil. That said, virgin coconut oil may have
some extra bioactive compounds that affect the healing effect; sure
enough, one study
found that virgin coconut oil improves wound healing time partially due
to “the cumulative effect of various biologically active minor
components present in it” in addition to the MCTs.
Allantoin, a compound found in comfrey root, seems to speed up the healing process. This comfrey ointment gets very good reviews.
Garlic is another one, especially aged garlic extract (extract from garlic aged at least 20 months, giving it a higher phenolic content).
There’s also the timeless classic that spans species: wound licking.
Most saliva has healing properties, whether canine, murine, or hominin. A
dog’s saliva is antibacterial (against e. coli and s. canis), certain types of rat saliva promotes wound healing, human saliva contains healing-promoting histatin,
and nerve growth factor, which stimulates wound healing, is produced in
the saliva of most mammals. There are lots of other possible
explanations for the beneficial effect of licking – the physical removal
of dirt and debris from the wound, for one – but it’s pretty clear that
we’re drawn to lick our wounds because it helps in some fashion.
I won’t go into an exhaustive list of all possible natural
alternatives, because there are way too many. Some are bunk, some are
legit. I’d even wager that most plant-based compounds have potential to
help, even if an effect has yet to be shown in a clinical trial, simply
because plants tend to contain bioactive compounds, oftentimes
antimicrobial (to, you know, protect the plants from microbes).
Antibiotic ointments and the aforementioned petroleum jelly ointments
won’t win you any friends at the food co-op, but they also appear to be
better than nothing.
Cleaning the wound with soap and water (or even just water), keeping it moist, and keeping it covered are prob
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