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What Are Dayquil's Active And Inactive Ingredients?

Understanding Dayquil's Ingredients

Dr. Caryn Cassidy Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Caryn Cassidy on August 6, 2021

DayQuil is a popular brand of cold and flu medications that is produced by a company named Vicks. While there are many different cold and flu medications on the market, DayQuil has become popular because unlike many formulas, it does not cause drowsiness. As a result, it is possible to take DayQuil in the morning and go about your day with the symptoms of your cold or flu improving.

If you are considering choosing DayQuil as your cold and flu medicine of choice, you might be curious to know what are the active and inactive ingredients in DayQuil.

What is the difference between active and inactive ingredients?

Like most other medications, DayQuil contains both active and inactive ingredients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines active ingredients as any component of a drug product that is intended to furnish pharmacological activity or other direct effect in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans or animals.

Stated simply, active ingredients are the ingredients in your medication that make you feel better by improving your symptoms.

By contrast, inactive ingredients are defined as any component of a drug product other than the active ingredient. These ingredients make up about a third of the average drug and strongly influence how the medication looks, tastes, and feels. The average medication contains about nine inactive ingredients.

What are DayQuil’s active ingredients?

Vicks produces DayQuil and NyQuil, which are formulas designed to provide relief from symptoms of the common cold and flu. DayQuil is intended to be used during the daytime and contains a non-drowsy formula, while NyQuil contains ingredients that will make you drowsy so that you can sleep better when sick.

There are nine different DayQuil products, one of the most popular of which is DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu Relief Liquid, the active and inactive ingredients of which are discussed below.

DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu contains the following active ingredients in each 30 ml dose.

  • Acetaminophen, 650 mg
  • Dextromethorphan HBr, 20 mg
  • Guaifenesin, 400 mg
  • Phenylephrine HCl, 10 mg

Acetaminophen is a common over the counter pain reliever that is used to treat mild to moderate pain stemming from a number of different causes. The medication is effective in relieving discomfort caused by ailments like a cold or flu, headaches, osteoarthritis, backaches, toothaches, menstrual periods, and more. In addition to serving as a pain reliever, acetaminophen is also commonly used as a fever reducer. When included in DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu, acetaminophen serves as a pain reliever for symptoms associated with a cold or flu like a headache, sore throat, and minor aches and pains, and it also acts as a fever reducer.

Dextromethorphan HBr is an over the counter medication that is commonly used as a cough suppressant. Many cold and flu medications contain dextromethorphan to help control the hacking cough that keeps many people awake at night when they are sick. The drug works by reducing the activity level in the area of the brain that causes you to have the impulse to cough. Cough suppressants work on a temporary basis to help you stop coughing, but they do not treat or resolve the reason why you’re coughing in the first place.

Guaifenesin is an over the counter medication that is used to reduce symptoms associated with chest congestion. The medication is classified as an expectorant, which means that it helps to reduce chest congestion by thinning the mucus that lines the airways when you are sick, making it easier to cough up and remove from the body. Like dextromethorphan, guaifenesin only treats symptoms and does not treat the root cause of chest congestion.

Phenylephrine HCl is included in DayQuil because it helps to reduce feelings of nasal congestion. This ingredient helps to diminish postnasal drip and decrease nasal congestion, which in turn makes it easier for you to breathe if you come down with a cold or flu. Because postnasal drip can cause coughing and sore throat, improving your nasal congestion can also cause these symptoms to improve.

What are DayQuil’s inactive ingredients?

DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu liquid contains the following inactive ingredients: citric acid, FD&C yellow no. 6, flavor, glycerin, propylene glycol, purified water, saccharin sodium, sodium benzoate, sodium chloride, sodium citrate, sorbitol, sucralose, and xanthan gum.

Citric acid is a naturally occurring compound that can serve a number of different roles as an inactive ingredient in medication. As an inactive ingredient in DayQuil, citric acid is used as a pH buffer to keep the product stable.

FD&C yellow no. 6 is an artificial coloring that gives DayQuil its easily recognized yellow-orange color. The color of DayQuil is designed to correspond to the flavor of the medication, which is listed as orange citrus. The artificial orange flavor is added under the term “artificial flavor,” while purified water makes up the vast majority of the product.

Medications like DayQuil that include the term “flavor” or “flavors” on their list of inactive ingredients may be referring to either natural flavors or artificial flavors.

Companies are not required to include details about the types of flavoring that they include in their products unless the source of the flavor is a common allergen, in which case the product must be labeled with a disclaimer below the ingredient list. The FDA defines the term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring under21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 501.22 as any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof. In comparison, natural flavors are flavors that are derived from any of the sources listed above.

Glycerine, also spelled glycerin, is a common inactive ingredient that is included in DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu Liquid as a thickening agent. Although this ingredient can also be used as a humectant and solvent, glycerin is used in DayQuil to help thicken the product and improve the consistency of the formula. Glycerin also functions as a sweetener in DayQuil, helping to improve the taste of the medication, and it can also function as a preservative.

Propylene glycol is an inactive ingredient that commonly functions as a binder. Binders generally consist of different types of sugars, including cellulose or modified cellulose, and they are responsible for keeping the ingredients of the medication intact.

Saccharin sodium is an inactive ingredient that is used as a sweetener in DayQuil Severe Cold and Flu Liquid. Sweeteners are used to mask the taste of bitter active ingredients and make the medication more palatable.

Sodium benzoate is a type of preservative that is used in DayQuil to help prevent the growth of dangerous mold, yeast, and certain types of bacteria in the medication before its expiration date.

Sodium chloride, commonly known as salt, is used in DayQuil Severe Cold and Flu Liquid as a flavor enhancer. It does not sweeten the medication but does help to improve the overall flavor of the drug.

Sodium citrate is a type of salt that is used as an antiseptic and preservative. This inactive ingredient works to extend the shelf life of the product by preventing the growth of certain microorganisms, such as bacteria and mold.

Sorbitol and sucralose are two types of sugar that are added to DayQuil Severe Cold and Flu Liquid to act as binders. Binders are commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry to keep the ingredients of a medication together. Most binders consist of sugars like sorbitol and sucralose, which also help to improve the taste of the medication by masking the bitter taste of the active ingredients and making the drug easier to swallow.

Xanthan gum is the final inactive ingredient included in DayQuil. This ingredient is a commonly used thickening agent that is added to many different foods and medications, and it can also be used as a stabilizer.


DayQuil Severe Cold & Flu Liquid contains acetaminophen, dextromethorphan HBr, guaifenesin, and phenylephrine HCl as active ingredients. The medication contains the following inactive ingredients: citric acid, FD&C yellow no. 6, flavor, glycerin, propylene glycol, purified water, saccharin sodium, sodium benzoate, sodium chloride, sodium citrate, sorbitol, sucralose, and xanthan gum.

While the FDA has declared that the majority of inactive ingredients are categorized as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, some people may experience adverse reactions to certain inactive ingredients, including allergic reactions and digestive distress.