Types of Pharmaceutical Packaging

Packaging plays a hugely important role in the safe storage and administration of pharmaceutical products. If you were to look around a pharmacy, you’d notice all kinds of different drug packaging. Pharmaceutical and packaging companies select different types of packaging made from various materials to suit the type of drug and to cater to modern consumer demands and preferences. If you’re keen to learn more about the primary packaging of pharmaceuticals, here’s a useful guide to the different types of packaging for pharmaceutical products.

Drug packaging/pharmaceutical packaging types

Pharmaceutical packaging has a range of important uses. As well as being used to store and protect drugs, packaging pharmaceuticals is also essential for identification purposes, for marketing and promoting different brands, and for facilitating the use of pharmaceutical products. There are several different types of packaging for a pharmaceutical product, which are classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary drug packaging is the material that surrounds the pharmaceutical product, while secondary and tertiary packaging provide additional external protection. The most common types of primary pharmaceutical packaging include:

  • Vials
  • Bottles
  • Blister packs
  • Sachets
  • Syringes
  • Ampoules

Examples of secondary packaging include cartons and boxes.

Types of bottle

Packaging for pharmaceutical bottles comes in various forms. Most commonly, glass bottles are used to store drugs. Glass bottles come in a range of sizes (from miniature to large), and they can also be found in different colours. Amber glass bottles are common, and it is also possible to order blue and green glass bottles. For safety reasons, glass medicine bottles are often fitted with child-resistant closures. Plastic is also used to create bottles for pharmaceutical products, and bottles are produced utilising a range of different types of plastic. Like glass bottles, plastic containers and sample bottles also come in miniature, small and large sizes and they are either clear, white, or amber in colour. Examples of plastics used for pharmaceutical bottles include PET, PP, LDPE, and HDPE.  

Drug packaging/pharmaceutical packaging materials

Drug packaging is manufactured using a range of materials, and the spectrum of options is broadening all the time due to advances in research and development. The most commonly used materials are glass and plastics. The type of packaging that is selected for a specific drug will depend on factors such as:

  • The degree of protection that is needed for the product
  • The dosage (this will affect the size)
  • Convenience and ease of use for the customer
  • The method of filling
  • The sterilisation technique that is used
  • The cost

Glass

Glass has been used for decades, and it offers a host of benefits. Glass bottles are transparent, they are tough and durable, they can be labelled and identified very easily and they come in a range of different shapes and sizes. Glass is also inert, which facilitates more comprehensive protection, and there is a lower risk of interaction with leachable substances. It is very common to come across amber glass bottles when looking at pharmaceutical packaging. Amber glass is used more frequently that clear glass because it protects the drug from UV rays, which can damage the product. There are three types of glass:

  • Type I: ultra-resistant borosilicate glass
  • Type II: surface treated soda lime glass
  • Type III: soda lime glass

Plastic

Plastic is one of the most versatile substances in the world. Plastic is light, it’s flexible, it can be used to produce packaging of all shapes and sizes, and it’s very difficult to break. These are all advantages when exploring materials for pharmaceutical packaging. The only real downside of using plastic, rather than glass, is the possibility of plastic materials interacting with the product by means of transferring leachables. There are several different types of plastics used in pharmaceutical packaging, including:

  • PET: polyethylene terephthalate
  • HDPE: high-density polyethylene
  • PP: polypropylene

Sterile packaging

Sterile packaging is used to ensure that drug products and medical devices are safe to use. They protect the product, but also the health and safety of the customer. Sterile packaging often features coextruded films, which can be created using plastics including HDPE and PP.

There are several ways to present a pharmaceutical package, and you’ll often come across a number of different packaging types when you look around a drug store or pharmacy. Pharmaceutical packaging involves an array of materials, which are carefully selected to preserve and protect the drug and enable the customer or the patient to use it safely. From glass bottles to innovative plastic containers, packaging comes in all shapes and sizes, and it fulfils a number of important roles.