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 fool you.