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What ingredients are in my medicine?

30 April 2020

Knowing how to find information about medicine ingredients can help you make better choices about your medicines.

Medicines are made up of active ingredients and inactive ingredients. They can also contain traces of other substances used during their manufacture.

Active ingredients

Active ingredients give the product its medicinal effect.

Some examples of active ingredients are:

  • paracetamol in pain relief medicines
  • atorvastatin in cholesterol-lowering medicines
  • ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in some multivitamins.

Inactive ingredients

Inactive ingredients (also known as excipients) are all the other non-active ingredients used in a medicine. Some inactive ingredients are essential for a medicine to function as intended.

Some examples of types of inactive ingredients are:

  • preservatives
  • flavours
  • colours
  • fillers that help a tablet stick together.

Manufacturing aids

A manufacturing or processing aid is a substance that helps make the medicine but is not meant to stay in it. Sometimes medicines have trace amounts of these substances, but they are not considered medicine ingredients.

Some examples of manufacturing aids are:

  • soy oil used as a lubricant
  • egg used to culture vaccines.

How to find ingredient information

To find out about the ingredients in your medicine, first check the medicine label. The label includes important information about the medicine, including:

  • the name and amount of the medicine's active ingredients
  • any common allergens that are ingredients in the medicine, such as milk or peanut products
  • any common allergens used in the manufacture of the medicine that are likely to be present in the medicine.

Medicine labels do not always list all the inactive ingredients in the medicine.

For prescription and some over-the-counter medicines, information about active and inactive ingredients is in the consumer medicines information (CMI) leaflet. The CMI also explains how to use the medicine safely. You can ask your pharmacist for a copy or find it through the CMI database.

For all medicines, information about active and inactive ingredients is available on the TGA website, in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) summary for each medicine. To find the ARTG summary for a medicine, use the “Search TGA” box by entering either the medicine name or the medicine's AUST number (found on the label).

The ARTG summary lists the formulation of the medicine, with inactive ingredients in alphabetical order. The medicine's ARTG summary does not include information on:

  • any manufacturing aids
  • the components of an ingredient (such as caffeine in a herbal extract)
  • the source of an ingredient (such as whether an ingredient is of animal origin, or whether it is natural or synthetic)
  • ingredients within flavour, fragrance or colour mixes.

Contact the medicine company for more information about a medicine or if you are concerned about possible allergens. The company's contact details are on the medicine label.

Safety of medicine ingredients in Australia

We regulate medicines according to their risk. No medicine is 100% risk-free.

We assess the ingredients in medicines to make sure they are appropriate for their intended purpose. For example, if an ingredient is safe to use on skin but not in the eye, it may be allowed in a topical cream but not in eye drops.

Where a medicine ingredient has risks, we take steps to lessen the risk. We may limit the amount allowed in a medicine or require a warning on the label.

Some people are sensitive to substances that do not cause any health issues for the general population. If this is the case for you, talk with your doctor about these sensitivities.

Medicine ingredients and pregnancy

Pregnancy information for medicines is on the medicine label and in the CMI.

Always talk to your doctor about taking any kind of medication during pregnancy.

Need more information?

If you are concerned about the source of ingredients or other information that may not be on a label, it is best to contact the medicine company. Their contact details are on the medicine label.


How we regulate medicines

What's on my medicine label?

Allergies and medicines

Consumer Medicines Information (CMI)

Updating medicine ingredient names