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What age can children buy over-the-counter (OTC) medicines?

There are no legal age restrictions for buying over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

What are OTC medicines?

OTC medicines are classed as "general sales list (GSL)" medicines. You can buy GSL medicines from pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail outlets without the supervision of a pharmacist and without a prescription.

OTC medicines include those used to treat minor illnesses that you may feel aren’t serious enough to see your GP or pharmacist about. For example:

For more information about medicines and the law, see What is the law on the sale of medicines? There is also more information on medicines and how they are regulated.

Is there any guidance?

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society does not have any specific rules on a suitable age for buying OTC medicines. Similarly, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which makes sure that medicines and medical devices work and are safe, has not issued any guidance. However, some retail outlets have specific company policies that restrict the sale of OTC medicines to children.

Are OTC medicines suitable for children?

Always check the packaging to find out whether an OTC medicine is suitable for children. Some OTC medicines should not be given to children. For example, children under 16 shouldn’t take aspirin.

You should always check the dosage instructions for children, as they may be different from those for adults.

There may be some situations where a retail outlet cannot sell an OTC medicine to a child for their use because the medicine isn’t licensed for children of that age. For example, some antacid medicines, which relieve heartburn, are only recommended for children who are aged 12 and over.

Read the answers to more questions about medicines.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 13/12/2014

Next review due: 12/12/2016