What is the meaning of the stripes of the medicines and their colors?

Did you know that the colored stripes on the medicine boxes have a meaning? While black-stripe drugs are said to be “strong”, not everyone understands why.

If you are interested in better understanding this system, check out the meanings and more information about the drug labels below.


What is the meaning of the stripes on the medicines?

Basically, the stripe is a visual classification of the degree of risk that the medicine offers the consumer, the yellow stripe being the only exception. Thus, we find in the market medicines without stripe (low risk) and medicines with stripe, with a risk that varies from moderate to high.

Understand more about the stripes of medicines and their colors:

Non-labeled drugs

There are, in pharmacies, several medicines without borders. These are known as Non-Prescription Drugs (MIPs) or over the counter .

These drugs can be purchased at any pharmacy without the need for a prescription. They are also the only drugs that can be prescribed by pharmacists.

MIPs are commonly used to treat minor symptoms and ailments, such as colds, inflammations, heartburn , pain, among others. They do not require a prescription because they do not have many serious side effects.

However, it is not advisable to take medications without the recommendation of a doctor or pharmacist, even if they are exempt from prescription. This is because these drugs also have adverse effects and contraindications. In addition, its indiscriminate use can be harmful to health. Avoid self-medication !

Medications tagged

Red stripe

Generally speaking, the red stripe means that drugs need a prescription to be sold. Sometimes, just present the prescription to purchase the medicine. Others, the prescription is retained at the pharmacy.

These drugs are only marketed when there is a proven medical indication because they have more serious side effects or can have serious consequences when they are not used correctly.

This is the case of antibiotic drugs that, when used indiscriminately, can contribute to a mutation that makes the bacteria resistant to the drug and, consequently, intractable.

Other examples of red-stripe medications are psychotropics, controlled medications, for diabetes , high blood pressure (hypertension) etc.

Red stripe with recipe retention

Generally, if the medicine is sold only with retention of the prescription, it is written inside the red stripe, which reads:


In such cases, the prescription is withheld because such drugs have special government control. Therefore, at the time of purchase, it is mandatory to identify the buyer , who is then registered in Anvisa’s Controlled Product Management System (SNGPC).

Red stripe without recipe retention

When, on the label, it only says “Sell under medical prescription”, the patient can take the prescription home.

Black stripe

The black stripe means that the drug in question can pose serious health risks, including addiction and tolerance. These are drugs that act on the Central Nervous System (CNS), and can cause sedation and even death.

If the use is inadequate, the patient may end up needing increasingly higher doses to guarantee its effect, which is potentially fatal. On the label of this type of medication is written “Sale under medical prescription. The abuse of this medication can cause dependence ”.

This is the case of benzodiazepine medications, such as Valium ( diazepam ), which are widely used to treat insomnia due to their sedative effect. Unfortunately, the irresponsible use of this type of medication is common and, precisely for this reason, its sale is much more restricted and is only made with the retention of the prescription , for the same reasons as the red-stripe medicines.

Yellow stripe

When the stripe is yellow, it indicates that it is a generic medicine. The generic is a drug with the same active ingredient (salt) and efficacy as the reference, but it is manufactured by other laboratories after the patent for that active ingredient expires.

The laboratories research several substances and, when they find an effective one for some treatment, it is patented. In this way, only this laboratory can manufacture the medicine with that active ingredient, being the reference medicine.

Over the years, the patent for the active ingredient expires and other laboratories can make medicines from it as well. If laboratories make exactly the same medicine, in the same pharmaceutical form and in the same dosages, it is a generic.

The Tylenol , for example, is the reference medicine’s active ingredient Paracetamol . Its generics are Paracetamol – EMS , Paracetamol – Medley , among others.

When the generic drug is exempt from medical prescription, only the yellow stripe appears on the box. When he needs a prescription, he has, in addition to the yellow stripe, the red or black stripe. It is the only type of medicine that can have two stripes.

Other details to be observed in the generic medication are the presence of a capital “G” above the yellow band, blue in color, with the words “Generic medication”. Paying attention to these details is essential to avoid counterfeiting.

What is the role of ANVISA in all this?

The National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) is the body responsible for the control of products for special use, such as medicines.

Any and all medications must be registered and approved by ANVISA before entering the market. It is this body that promotes and approves the certification, distribution and commercialization of this type of product, in addition to reviewing the cases in which each of them is indicated.

This is precisely why, in the case of controlled drugs, the buyer must be identified, since it is not anyone who can make use of these substances.

The stripe system is an obligation that ANVISA has determined so that the dispensing of medicines becomes more practical, both for doctors and pharmacists.

It is worth remembering, however, that food supplements such as vitamins , fish oil and herbs, for example, are not considered medications and, therefore, do not require registration with ANVISA.

Now that you know the meaning of drug labels, you understand a little better about the dangers they can bring to health.

Even if they are made to treat symptoms and diseases, no medicine is completely safe , so it is important to keep an eye on it.

Avoid self-medication, read the package insert and always see a doctor!