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What Types of Pharmaceutical Packaging Are Available?

MedLock | October 20, 2021

shelves of pharmaceuticals in boxes and bottles.
Pharmaceutical and medication packaging come in all shapes and sizes.

Elements of Medication Packaging

Pharmaceutical packaging contains a combination of design elements necessary to safeguard, maintain, protect, and ensure medications are preserved for safe product use. Before we dive into a discussion about some of the various pharmaceutical packaging formats available to the medical community, let's briefly recall the the functions of pharmaceutical packaging for medications, supplements, and other drugs.


Protects Products

Pharmaceutical packaging for medications uses materials and closures designed to preserve the product. This means protecting the substance from sunlight, extreme temperatures, humidity, and oxidation. All packaging must be made from materials that will not emit any chemicals that could adversely react with the substance it is housing.


When medications are packaged, it is done so in a sterile environment that meets specific health and safety standards to ensure good manufacturing practices. Gas flushing is usually used at this point to create airtight closures and seals. Sachets are also usually added to pill bottles to preserve the product. All of this is done to prevent product degradation, ensuring consumers receive a safe product.


Communicates Information

Apart from being used to store and protect drugs, pharmaceutical packaging is also useful for identifying, marketing, and promoting different household brands. The information contained on secondary pharmaceutical packaging (e.g., the outer box) must contain specific information to ensure consumers understand what the medication is for, how it works, what dosage to take, how to store the product, potential side effects, the expiration date and more.


Compliant Packaging: Child Resistant Packaging

Pharmaceutical packaging follows strict regulations in every country or region. Medication compliance packaging must protect consumers. This includes children. To ensure everyone's safety, child resistant caps and closures are mandatory for all medication packaging. Tamper evident features are also sometimes required to help track chain of custody. Like its name, these features allow you to identify when a product has potentially been tampered with.


Pharmaceutical Packaging Formats

Pharmaceutical packaging solutions provide numerous specialized storage vessels that address all safety requirements for medical packaging and pharmaceutical products. This facilitates the effective supply and containment of medical supplies for storage and transport, while making it easy to access by medical professionals and consumers alike.


1. Bottles

Bottles are the most widely used packaging format for pharmaceuticals and medications. Bottles can come in various sizes with wide or narrow necks depending on the nature of the product in the package. Wide neck bottles are typically used for capsules and tablets. They may also be used for powder, but jars are usually used for powder products.

a group of glass bottles in different colours and sizes with different types of child resistant caps with tamper evident bands
Glass and plastic bottles are a widely used packaging format for pharmaceutical products.

Narrow neck bottles are usually used for liquids and perhaps some small tablets. Narrow neck bottles can come with a variety of caps depending on the nature of the pharmaceutical product. For example, narrow neck bottles can come with dropper caps (screw cap with graduated glass pipette), PIBA stoppers for small drops or use with an oral syringe, other dropper caps like those used for eye drops.


Bottles come in glass or plastic. The material depends on the type of product it is meant to hold. Amber and darker shades of glass are typically used to protect pharmaceuticals from UV rays. Plastic is usually opaque to also protect products from direct sunlight.

a line of clear vials with clear liquid and a syringe going into one of them
Vials are typically used for liquid vaccinations and other injections.

2. Vials

Vials are plastic or glass containers - almost like a small bottle with a flat base - that are generally used to store liquids as well as powders (sometimes solids). Vials are larger in size than similar packaging like ampoules. Vials are not the same as test tubes, which are elongated cylindrical tubes with a rounded base.


There are a few different types of glass vial formats.

  • The vial crimper and decapper are typically used in testing labs for blood or other liquids. These vials typically have a metal cap with rubber to form a proper seal. There is usually a needle integrated into the crimper allowing for the easy withdrawal of liquids.

  • Lip vials are often used for cosmetics, oils, liquids, dry materials, and so forth. These vials typically use a cork plug.

  • Screw vials have a threaded neck that is used with screw caps. These could be standard caps, child resistant caps, tamper evident caps, dropper caps, caps with PIBA stoppers, and so on.

Plastic vials are also available. These vials typically have a built-in hinge cap that is directly attached to the vial and works like a pop top lid.

A cluster of clear glass ampoules and an amber vial.
Ampoules are similar to vials, but usually smaller with a sealed neck.

3. Ampoules

Ampoules can look similar to vials but are smaller and usually contain a single dose of a pharmaceutical. This type of packaging is typically use for liquids or powders and come with lids that have been sealed using an open flame. This is done to prevent contamination. Larger manufacturers also use heat to close ampoules with hermetic seals. Some ampoules have long necks that can be snapped off. Ampoules can come in glass or plastic, with glass mostly being used for injectable pharmaceuticals.

Two clear PET plastic vacuum sealed collection tubes with yellow caps and yellow and white patient labels. One 5ml and one 10ml
Vacuum sealed collection tubes are commonly used for toxicology testing.

4. Collection Tubes

Collection tubes are used to store bodily fluids during transport to labs for testing. In this case, the tubes are typically vacuum sealed and made from plastic, like PET. The test tubes shown in this image are leakproof, spill proof, and shatterproof. Test tubes used in labs to run tests may be glass. Unlike vials and ampoules, collection tubes and test tubes have rounded bottoms and must be placed in holders to remain upright.

a pile of blister packs
Blister packs are commonly used for over the counter medications.

4. Blister Packs

Blister packs are used to house single doses of gel capsules and tablets. They are preformed and come in various shapes and sizes. Blister packs are typically made from aluminum foil, plastic, or paper-based materials. This form of packaging has individual plastic or foil seals that are (usually) easy to puncture or pop out with your hands.

surgical scissors and others surgical tools in sterile packaging
Sterile packaging is typically used for surgical instruments, tools, and other medical devices.

5. Sterile Packaging

Sterile packaging is typically used for medical devices (e.g., urine cups, surgical masks, vacuum collection tubes, surgical equipment, lab equipment, etc.). Sterile packaging is often an aseptic plastic film made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE or PEHD) or polypropylene (PP) plastic. This type of packaging is crucial for preventing contamination and exposure to airborne particles.


6. Sachet Packaging

Sachets are like square or rectangular pouches that can hold powder or solids (sometimes gels and liquids). This type of packaging can come in single dose sachets or resealable bags in which multiple single doses can be removed from. Sachets typically have a tamper evident notch at which you can tear the pack open from.

three white sachets pouches for powder medications
Sachets can come in single dose packs or resealable packs. Often used for powders.

Conclusion

Pharmaceutical products require extreme care and safe packaging. That is why there are such strict packaging regulations for the pharmaceutical industry that must be followed. However, manufacturers need to start looking for more sustainable materials and production processes to help address the amount of packaging waste produced by the medical industry.

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