A short, understandable ingredient list is a staple of the wellness industry. Wellness-centric food, beauty, and home-care companies have scrubbed their products of artificial preservatives, dyes, and fragrances, and washed them clean of “hard-to-pronounce” chemicals. But the same can’t be said for the products meant to treat sickness. Among over-the-counter (OTC) medications, long lists of unfamiliar ingredients beyond the active (aka the component responsible for a drug’s therapeutic effect) are still common—but that’s starting to change. New medication brands are paring down their ingredient lists, turning our attention to the fillers that comprise, on average, 75 percent of any pill and making transparent a space that’s been largely opaque.
The focus of these new brands is to remove or swap out all the ingredients typically included in an OTC drug aside from the active (e.g., acetaminophen in Tylenol), which remains the same. These other components, called excipients or “inactive ingredients,” are used to bind the medication, or help shape its weight, color, flavor, and size (among other roles). They can include things like artificial sweeteners, dyes, and colorants, as well as fillers like talc, shellac, and parabens. But while they’re considered “inactive” because they do not have a therapeutic effect, these ingredients can potentially impact your body like anything else you might consume.