Artificial colourings used in foods, drinks and medicines offer no nutritional or safety benefits.  They are used solely as cosmetic additives to boost the consumer appeal of products, for example, by adding brightness lost in processing or storage, mimicking the colour profile of healthier ingredients such as fruits and vegetables, or overcoming colour variations that occur in natural products. The use of artificial colourings in processed foods, drinks, medicines and vitamins is common as the only products they are excluded from by law are infant formulae.  Artificial additives in food can mask poor quality ingredients and persuade consumers that highly processed foods are equivalent to home prepared versions.

Are artificial colourings harmful to children?

Research in 2007 ( linked six artificial food colourings to hyperactivity in some children and in the UK many manufacturers have voluntarily removed these colourings from foods and drinks.  Most of the major supermarkets' own-brand foods and drinks no longer contain these colourings, nor do the big confectionery brands.

The artificial colourings linked to behavioural problems in some children are:


If these artificial colourings are still present in food or drink products they must by law carry a warning label reading:

'may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children'



The hidden additives in children's medicines

Some of the UK’s leading children’s medicines, including Calpol Infant Suspension and Boots Paracetamol 3 months + contain colourings withdrawn from food and drink because of risks to hyperactivity and ADHD in children. Artificial colourings used in medicines provide no nutritional or safety benefits and they are simply there as cosmetic additives to boost the appeal of products. 

This new report outlines current children’s medicines that contain artificial colours, and the preservative sodium benzoate which was included in the additive mix in scientific studies showing that these additives did increase hyperactivity and ADHD in some children in the general population. Action on Additives recommends that these additives are prohibited in children’s medicines as they are in food and drink and encourages parents and carers to request additive free medicines and report any adverse reactions to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Click on the report cover to view/download pdf


Additives in children’s medicines: A parent’s guide


This simple guide will allow you to see which popular over the counter, pharmacy and prescription children’s medicines contain colours which you may want to avoid.


You can read the research report funded by the FSA from the research group in Southampton on the affect of colourings on children's behaviour by following the link here: 


Click on the report cover to view/download pdf


What can I do to support the campaign to have additives removed from children’s medicines?

  • Join the Action on Additives in Medicines Campaign and share information among friends on Facebook and Twitter @actionadditives
  • Share your experiences using the Yellow Card Scheme.
    If you suspect a child has had an adverse effect from ingesting medicine containing the Southampton Seven additives, you can use the Yellow Card Scheme, run by the MHRA and the Commission on Human Medicines.  This is used to collect information from both health professionals and the general public on suspected side effects to a medicine (prescription and over the counter).   You can do this online at yellowcardscheme or pick up a leaflet at your local pharmacy.
  • Protest in writing
    If you have purchased a child’s medicine that contains one of the Southampton Seven additives, you can contact the MHRA with the name of the product and the date and place of purchase, complaining about the constituents.

    You can write to: MHRA Enforcement and Intelligence Group at 5 Magenta, 151 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9SZ. Tel: 020 3080 6330. Or email them at

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To find out more about Colourings:

Practical Resources & Toolkits:
Understanding Colourings and how to avoid them

Reports & Product Surveys:
For information on Colourings in our foods, drinks and medicines

More information
about Colourings