The Color of Medications (2023)

Taking the Color of Medications Seriously

The Color of Medications (1)The earliest pill emerged in ancient Egypt as a little round ball containing medicinal ingredients mixed with clay or bread. For the next five thousand years - up until the middle of the 20th century - pills were round and white. Color was almost non-existent. “ Over the counter” medications were only available as tablets in ghostly white or pasty pastel hues; likewise prescription medications were colorless pills encased in clear or transparent orange vials. Liquids, with the exception of Pepto-Bismol’s pink, were drab as well.

It's a different world today, thanks to advances in technology. The color transformation started in the '60s and accelerated in 1975 when the new technology of “softgel” capsules made colorful medications possible for the first time. Shiny primary colors such as cherry red, lime green and tangy yellow arrived first. Today's gel caps can be tinted to any of 80,000 color combinations. As for tablets, continuous advancements in technology consistently bring new and colorful coating products to market.

On the other hand, does color really matter? Aside from the obvious fact that pills are more attractive to the eye, color has indeed benefited consumers as well as the pharmaceutical companies in several very functional ways.

The Color of Medications (2) First of all, color helps the consumer distinguish the non-prescription or prescription medications from other tablets or capsules. As testimony to the serious nature of this issue, The New York Times called patients’ failure to take medications as prescribed the world's “other drug problem.”

This is especially relevant for the elderly who get confused when they take various medications, most of which are small white tablets. Consider the statistics: The US Senate's Aging and Youth Committee reported that the typical Medicare beneficiary uses an average of 18 to 24 prescriptions a year. (Source) Researchers have also found that patients who took more drugs on a daily basis preferred bright pill colors. Consequently, color and color combinations are a powerful way to create emotional appeal and reduce medical errors.

Consider another fact: Patients respond best when color corresponds with the intended results of the medication. For example, calm blue for a good night's sleep and dynamic red for speedy relief. Or consider a reverse scenario: fire red capsules for acid reflux or murky bile green for nausea.

A similar benefit is rooted in the synaesthetic effects of color - and specifically a color's associations with smell and taste. Even early civilizations such as the Romans recognized that people "eat with their eyes" as well as their palates. As proof, butter has been colored yellow as far back as the 1300s.

The Color of Medications (3) Although technically we don't “eat” pills, we do taste and swallow them. What would a grey pill taste and smell like? Smoky, fruity or moldy? How about a pink pill? Sour, bitter, or sweet? Which one would be easier to swallow? Furthermore, synaesthetic effects of colors also include associations with temperature. For example, a blue pill is cool, an orange pill, hot.

The Color of Medications (4)

Aside from countless functional benefits for the consumer, color is now playing an even more powerful role in transforming the plain white pill into a unique, brand image. This has become even more significant due two recent events that have transformed marketing – and the role of color - in the pharmaceutical industry.

First, many medications – previously available only with a prescription - are now available as “over the counter” (OTC) products, without a prescription in the US. This means that customers are shopping for medications and making decisions in stores. In fact, recent research by the Henley Centre reports that 73% of purchasing decisions are now made in-store. Therefore, it's even more important for pharmaceutical products to catch shopper's eye and to convey information effectively. As competition heats up, color and design are critical to the brand. Consider the packaging and advertising for the new OTC, Celebrex: tranquil blue skies and the greener pastures of relief from suffering.

Second, five years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (U.S.) relaxed its restrictions on direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals. As a result, broadcast and print advertising exploded. Just turn on your television and note which drugs are being marketed aggressively. “Ask your doctor about the purple pill….” And it's not limited to television. Print advertisements are predominantly purple and the product's web site is hosted at (Note: US style DTC advertising is not permitted in the UK and Europe with the exception of a live broadcast, such as the Super Bowl, that includes pharmaceutical advertising.)

Consequently, drug companies are leaving nothing to chance. The color and shape of the pills, and the names and imagery used to sell products are heavily researched and tested, much like the drugs themselves.

Color has been elevated to a “powerhouse” status because it is the most fundamental part of a drug's personality. As is the case with all products – from computers to colas - purchasing decisions are not just based on what a product looks like (visual brand) but on the idea of the brand (its core brand value), how customers feel about it (emotional brand). In other words, color has the unique ability to do all three simultaneously – to create emotional appeal, to communicate functional values and benefits (such as reliable pain relief), and to distinguish the brand from others.

A significant example of the critical role colors play is the competition between two prescription medications for male virility: Viagra and Levitra.

The Color of Medications (5)Viagra, a diamond-shaped blue pill, was introduced in 1997. It immediately became an overnight sensation- one of the most successful prescription medications in the pharmaceutical history – with sales of the drug totaling $1.74 billion in one year alone. In 2002, the marketing groups of a rival product, Levitra, brainstormed the issue of color for their brand. The purpose was to figure out "how to beat the blues," referring to Viagra's sky-blue tablets.

The Color of Medications (6)Extensive market research concluded that consumers didn't "resonate with the imagery" of Viagra. They found that the blue color was too cool and was equated with being sick. The goal was to come up with an enticing color and logo for Levitra. After extensive testing, the team presented Levitra's color: orange, an extremely vibrant and energetic color. And the logo? An orange and purple flame.

In conclusion, color does indeed matter - 80% of visual information is related to color - and this is especially true for pharmaceutical products. Color is functional. Color subliminally and overtly communicates information and provides many other operational benefits.

On the other hand, color may not matter in the future of prescription medications tablets and capsules. Scientists have created a coin-sized microchip drug dispenser that may be implanted under the skin. It would be programmed to release medications in concentrated formulas -- all on different schedules. Sensors may even be attached to the chip to detect the level of a drug in your body and then add more as needed. Source: Science News

©Jill Morton, All rights reserved

Learn more :Color Psychology in Medicine, an article by Jill Morton /Color Matters for Munsell

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What does the color of medication mean? ›

As with any other design choice, colors like red and orange suggest stimulus, while shades of blue imply serenity. So the color depends on what the drug does.

What are the colors of medicines? ›

Pharmaceutical manufacturers make use of this knowledge to give patients orientation and to strengthen their confidence in the respective drug. This is why sedatives are often colored blue, stomach remedies green, strong painkillers, and cardiovascular preparations red.

What is the most common false positive drug test? ›

Amphetamine (more on this below) and methamphetamine are the most commonly reported false positive.

What happens if you test positive for drugs at the doctor? ›

So, what happens if doctors find drugs in your system? In most cases, the results of private drug testing are protected by HIPAA, which grants the right to medical privacy. However, if the test is done as part of a court case, arrest, parole, etc., doctors may be obligated to share the results with law enforcement.

Why are medications different colors? ›

Colored medications have powerful synesthetic effects that help make them appealing to patients, especially when these colors are associated with smell and/or taste. For example, a pink syrup would definitely be more appealing to a child than a dull one, as it brings about an image of strawberry juice.

Are medicines color coded? ›

Color-coded medication labels are widely used in anesthesia to identify medications by their drug class. There is growing controversy regarding the safety of these medication labels.

What colors represent pharmacy? ›

White, green and blue colors have been associated with pharmacies and we seem to have more trust in those. But you can add a little red to “dilute” the cold colors. R Pharm chain has an interesting emblem that uses a styled green cross. Style Pharma chain uses a white cross on a crimson background.

What is the best color for pharmaceuticals? ›

Blue is the most popular color in brand marketing and logo design, and it is also one of the most common colors in pharmaceutical branding. 1 Study results suggest that blue conveys trust and authority, and is associated with cleanliness and health. Pfizer, Roche, Amgen, and AbbVie all have blue in their logos.

Can you fail a drug test for prescribed medication? ›

But some prescription drugs can also make it appear as if you failed your drug test. For example, Adderall shows up as an amphetamine on most drug tests.

What drugs are false positive in urine? ›

Clinically, a false positive urine drug screen can be due to numerous xenobiotics: dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, doxylamine, ibuprofen, imipramine, ketamine, meperidine, venlafaxine, buproprion, methylenedioxpyrolvalerone (MDPV), and tramadol.

What can cause false negative drug test? ›

False-negatives can occur when the urine drug concentration is below the threshold level set by the laboratory performing the test. Dilute urine, the duration of time between ingestion of the drug and time of testing, and the quantity of the drug ingested may affect the occurrence of false-negatives.

What triggers a positive drug test? ›

What Can Cause a False Positive Drug Test
  • Secondhand Marijuana Smoke. 1/11. If you hang out often with someone who puffs on pot, your urine could have traces of THC. ...
  • Weight Loss Pills. 2/11. ...
  • Poppy Seeds. 3/11. ...
  • Mouthwash. 4/11. ...
  • Antidepressants. 5/11. ...
  • Antibiotics. 6/11. ...
  • CBD Oil. 7/11. ...
  • Antihistamines. 8/11.

Can you retake a positive drug test? ›

While you have the right to request a retest at your own expense when you fail a pre-employment drug test at your own expense as described above, you do not have a right to retake a pre-employment drug test. Instead, if you dispute the results, your original sample will be retested.

Can the doctor drug test you without you knowing? ›

In general, no doctor can conduct drug urine testing or any form of drug testing/ screening on an individual without their prior consent.

What does the color of prescription bottles mean? ›

The orange coloring helps keep UV light from damaging the medications that are kept inside the bottle. Medications can be photosensitive, meaning UV light could create a photo-chemical reaction, which could damage the medication.

What does the color green mean in pharmacy? ›

The colour green has long been seen as a symbol of nature and life. One theory is that many medicines are plant based, another is that because, in the 18th and 19th centuries, military pharmacists wore green armbands. It has also been suggested that looking at the colour green has a calming effect.


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