Topical antibiotic trends from 1993 to 2007: use of topical antibiotics for non-evidence-based indications

Dermatol Surg. 2011 Oct;37(10):1427-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.2011.02122.x. Epub 2011 Sep 2.


Background: Systemic antibiotic use has become more conservative with the emergence of drug resistance. Topical antibiotics are employed for a variety of indications, although there are only a few evidence-based indications.

Objective: To examine topical antibiotics use in the outpatient setting.

Methods: Topical antibiotic use was characterized using data from the 1993 to 2007 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Visits were identified at which a topical antibiotic was used and analyzed according to patient demographics, diagnoses, procedures, concomitant medications, and provider specialty. Topical antibiotic use over time was analyzed using linear regression.

Results: The most frequent diagnoses associated with topical antibiotic use were benign or malignant neoplasm of skin, impetigo, insect bite, and cellulitis. Data revealed a significant downward trend in topical antibiotics associated with dermatologic surgery (p<.001) and a nonsignificant downward trend in use in conjunction with skin biopsies (p=.09). Topical antibiotic use by dermatologists was noted to be decreasing over time, whereas among non dermatologists, it was noted to be increasing, although neither of these trends was statistically significant.

Conclusion: Topical antibiotics continue to be used for non-evidence-based indications, despite data that suggest that such use may be detrimental for patients and represents significant costs to the health care system. The authors have indicated no significant interest with commercial supporters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dermatology / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Utilization*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents