Cold weather can be hard on your skin. When your skin becomes dry, as often happens in the winter, it can easily crack and bleed. When caring for a cut or other wound, it might seem logical to apply an antibiotic cream or ointment from the store to fight off germs and prevent infection. However, these antibiotic creams and ointments can irritate your skin even more and cause a painful and/or itchy rash, called contact dermatitis.
“In addition to causing irritation and a rash, the widespread use of antibiotics — including in instances when they aren’t needed — has contributed to a major public health challenge known as antibiotic resistance,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marcelyn Coley, MD, FAAD. “Antibiotic resistance occurs when germs, such as bacteria, develop the ability to survive the drugs designed to kill them. That means 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 typically needed is in the case of 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 (in light skin) or brownish red (in dark skin) streaks; feeling very hot or cold; or having a fever.