Other ingredients in medicines

As well as the active ingredient, medicines contain other ingredients known as excipients or ‘inactive ingredients’.

Excipients are ingredients such as fillers, binders or coatings. These may make the medicines a different shape, size or colour from the original brand. Even though they look different, the same strict regulations for effectiveness, quality and safety apply to all medicines.


Why do medicines have inactive ingredients?

The active ingredient is the important thing as this is the chemical that makes it work, but the other ‘inactive’ ingredients (excipients) are needed in the manufacturing process for a variety of reasons.

Inactive ingredients may be included:

  • as a filler if the quantity of active ingredient is very small
  • to stabilise the active ingredient so that it stays effective for longer
  • to help the active ingredient absorb more effectively in the body
  • as a binder to hold all the ingredients together
  • to sweeten or flavour the medicine to make it easier to take
  • to coat tablets or capsules so that they’re easier to swallow.

Should I be concerned about inactive ingredients?

For most people they won’t matter. However, if you have particular allergies or intolerances, or choose to avoid certain substances for cultural or medical reasons you may need to know what excipients are in your medicine. Ingredients such as lactose, gluten, sugar, preservatives and dyes might matter to you. If so, be medicinewise and check with your pharmacist or doctor before you choose a different medicine brand.

Finding information about medicine ingredients

You can find a list of excipients under ‘inactive ingredients’ in the consumer medicine information (CMI) for prescription and pharmacist-only medicines. The CMI is sometimes included inside the medicine’s packaging, or will be provided as a print out by your pharmacist or doctor. You can also search and download the CMI from the NPS website.

What else can I do to be medicinewise?

  • Consumers can call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for more information about prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.
  • Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about your medicine brand choices.