People can discern the uses for ointments based on their active pharmaceutical ingredients, which determine their effects on treatments, preventions, cures or diagnoses, according to About.com. There are several types of active ingredients in ointments, including those that act as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antipruritics. antivirals and antimicrobials.
Ointments that have active ingredients such as bacitracin zinc, neomycin sulfate and polymyxin B sulfate are antibiotic treatments that help prevent infections from burns, scrapes and cuts that are minor and do not require more invasive medical treatment, according to Drugs.com. Desonide is an active ingredient found in ointments used as anti-inflammatories and antipruritics. These ointments treat skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
Acyclovir is an active ingredient in antiviral ointments that treat conditions such as herpes, according to RxList. These ointments do not prevent or cure herpes, but rather lessen its symptoms and slow the growth and spread of the infection to allow the body time to fight it.
Silver sulfadiazine is an active ingredient in ointments that function as antimicrobials used to prevent infections caused by burns, states MedicineNet. These ointments kill the bacteria in burns before they can become more seriously infected, and they contribute to stopping the spread of existing infections to other parts of the body.