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What’s the Difference Between Neosporin, Bactine, and Hydrogen Peroxide?

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The time to learn about topical first-aid treatments is not when you’ve got a gash in your thumb and you’re bleeding on the carpet. The time is now, when (we hope) you’re not bleeding at all.

Here’s what you need to know about first-aid ointments, sprays, liquids, and creams: Some of them are helpful; some of them aren’t. Some may do more harm than good. All of them should be chucked and re-purchased once a year to ensure they’re still effective. None of them should ever be put on a burn—nor should butter, or ice, or any of those other wacky home burn treatments out there. Do not do it—leave your burns alone (unless the blister breaks or there is no blister, in which case bacitracin, and pretty much only bacitracin, is allowed in order to help prevent infection). 

Experts agree that the most important thing you can do is clean your wound and the surrounding area gently with soap and water, pat it dry, and apply an adhesive bandage. If the area around your wound starts getting red and inflamed, or the wound itself gets greenish or yellow or produces pus, or you develop a fever, get to a doctor. Skin infections are nothing to play around with.  


Ordinarily, your skin works hard to keep germs out. But an open wound is like an open invitation to bacteria, fungi, and other microbes. Applying antibiotic ointment after cleaning a wound and before applying a bandage may help stave off infection.  

Good for: Small cuts and scrapes

Won’t help with: Pain and itching (although some newer formulations contain mild anesthetics), existing infections, or burns

Warning: Don’t go overboard with this stuff. These ointments are like any other antibiotic treatment; used too liberally, they may actually encourage bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.


Antiseptics are best for helping clean the skin. Although they can kill bacteria, they’re frequently used to help slow its growth instead.

Good for: Cleaning small cuts, preparing for an injection, and swabbing the skin before removing a splinter

Won’t help with: Pain, itching, existing infections, or burns

Warning: Antiseptics can dry out the skin and even kill skin cells, so use these sparingly. 


Are your itchy bug bites driving you to distraction? Got a paper cut that just won’t stop stinging? You might benefit from a topical anesthetic.

Good for: Itching from bug bites and rashes; pain from mild burns, sunburn, and small wounds

Won’t help with: Wound healing

Warning: If you find yourself using a topical anesthetic for more than a few days, it's time to take a look at the source of your itching or stinging to make sure it's not infected or spreading.

All images courtesy of iStock 

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
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Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]


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