Use of topical antibiotics as prophylaxis in clean dermatologic procedures

Michelle M. Levender, Scott A. Davis, Shawn G. Kwatra, Phillip M. Williford, Steven R. Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Topical antibiotics are not indicated for routine postoperative care in clean dermatologic procedures, but may be widely used. Objective: We sought to describe topical antibiotic use in clean dermatologic surgical procedures in the United States. Methods: The 1993 to 2007 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey database was queried for visits in which clean dermatologic surgery was performed. We analyzed provider specialty, use of topical antibiotics, and associated diagnoses. Use of topical antibiotic over time was analyzed by linear regression. Results: An estimated 212 million clean dermatologic procedures were performed between 1993 and 2007; topical antibiotics were reported in approximately 10.6 million (5.0%) procedures. Dermatologists were responsible for 63.3% of dermatologic surgery procedures and reported use of topical antibiotic prophylaxis in 8.0 million (6.0%). Dermatologists were more likely to use topical antibiotic prophylaxis than nondermatologists (6.0% vs 3.5%). Use of topical antibiotic prophylaxis decreased over time. Limitations: Data were limited to outpatient procedures. The assumption was made that when topical antibiotics were documented at procedure visits they were being used as prophylaxis. Conclusions: Topical antibiotics continue to be used as prophylaxis in clean dermatologic procedures, despite being ineffective for this purpose and posing a risk to patients. Although topical antibiotic use is decreasing, prophylactic use should be eliminated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)445-451e3
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • allergic contact dermatitis
  • antibiotic ointment
  • class I wound
  • clean wound
  • dermatologic surgery
  • postoperative care
  • surgical prophylaxis
  • surgical site infection
  • surgical site infection prophylaxis
  • wound healing
  • wound infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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