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What does antiseptic do? All this and more at a first aid course in Blacktown

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Antiseptics have widespread use in first aid and many people would be familiar with products such as hand sanitiser gel, iodine, and various creams used to stop the spread of infection. These are not all the same nor are their active ingredients and their use in first aid has been questioned.

Here is a general guide to some of these products.

Firstly, what is the difference between antiseptics, antibiotics, antibacterials and disinfectants? They are not all the same but sometimes people refer to them as if they were the same.

What is the difference between antiseptics and other products?


Can be effective at stopping the growth of or killing bacteria whereas antiseptics can be effective on viruses and fungi as well as bacteria but antiseptics are more harsh on the skin which is why antibacterials and water may be better for cleaning minor cuts and abrasions.


Antibiotics are usually prescription only and often taken in oral form to combat bacteria.

There are some antibiotic ointments and creams which can be applied to the skin to prevent the growth of bacteria.


Disinfectants are applied to the surface of objects such as tables, handrails and doorknobs whereas antiseptics are applied to the skin.

Disinfectants often have greater concentrations of biocides such as hydrogen peroxide, which make them too harsh for the skin and can cause irritation.

So, what is an antiseptic?

Antiseptics are usually applied to the skin to slow the growth of microorganisms that could be potentially harmful, and often used in medicine to in preparation for medical procedures and surgery and to treat some infections.

Many are available over the counter, usually in cream or liquid form for use in first aid to prevent infection in minor wounds or burns.

Antiseptics should be used to clean the skin around broken skin, not inside the wound.

Antiseptics can be potentially dangerous if used incorrectly.

Strong antiseptics can cause irritation, or even chemical burns, if the are not diluted and this can slow down the healing process.

Antiseptics can also be an irritant or cause contact dermatitis if left on the skin. Always follow the directions on the packaging or seek medical advise if unsure and avoid their use for periods more than one week.

Always seek medical advice if:

· The wound is large, or you are unable to clean foreign matter from it

· An animal or human bite

· The wound is showing no signs of healing

· The wound is becoming inflamed and weeping

· The wound is to the eye

Typically, antiseptics would be used in:

· Dry hand washing, such as hand sanitising gel

· Over the counter antiseptics applied to the skin to prevent infection for minor burns, cuts and abrasions

· Mouth and throat infections are often treated using antiseptic or antibacterial mouth wash or lozenges

Antiseptics, which are generally safe to use, should not be used for prolonged periods and should be used in accordance with safety advice on the packet.

They are useful to kill or prevent the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses on the skin and mucous membranes.

You can learn more by enroling in a first aid course in Blacktown or Sutherland

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