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Revealed: cheapest places to buy popular medicines

Where to find medicines such as Clarityn, Gaviscon, Imodium and Nurofen for less, and how you could save more than £75 by switching to cheap generic alternatives

Ditching the big brands and buying from supermarkets and discount stores could net you massive savings on a range of everyday medicines.

When we totted up the savings from buying the cheapest versus the most expensive version of 20 popular medicines, we found generic alternatives costing a fraction of the price of the branded version.

If you’re restocking your medicine cabinet with frequently used medicines such as hayfever tablets, painkillers or indigestion remedies, the costs can add up more than you might expect. We found you could save £78.29 overall by switching to the cheapest generic equivalent of the familiar brands.

Paying the highest prices around for our medication shopping list would cost £97.11, but buying the cheapest generic equivalents – which have exactly the same active ingredients – would cost you just £18.82.

Which shops are cheapest?

  • In most cases, you’ll save more buying from a supermarket or discount store
  • Branded products sell for similar prices across the big three pharmacy chains (Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug), but Superdrug was often cheapest
  • Asda tended to have the cheapest prices of any supermarket for both branded and generic medicines
  • Poundstretcher was most frequently the cheapest option overall, whereas Savers and Home Bargains most often had the cheapest price for the big-brand medicines
  • Aldi and Lidl have a smaller range of generic products, but they are generally competitively priced, particularly for allergy and pain relief medication

If you don’t want to go out of your way, switching to the pharmacy own-brand options, eg Boots, Superdrug or Lloyds painkillers – will usually make you immediate savings. Switch to a generic alternative sold in supermarkets or discount stores such as Savers or Poundstretcher, however, and you could save significantly more.

Below, we reveal where you can find the cheapest prices for popular hay fever remedies, painkillers, cold and flu remedies, stomach medicine and other common ailments.


Best painkillers – find out how aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen compare


Cheapest places to buy hay fever remedies

One-a-day hay fever remedies are generally much cheaper at discount stores. Switching to a generic version at the pharmacy or supermarket will still save you money, though. Lloyds Pharmacy, Superdrug and Boots all sell generic versions for £2 or less, as do Asda and Aldi.

Medicine Active ingredient/s Cheapest branded version Cheapest generic alternative
Piriteze Allergy tablets (30 pack) Cetirizine hydrochloride Asda – £7 Poundstretcher – 79p
Clarityn Allergy tablets (14 pack) Loratadine Savers – £2.99 Savers – 49p
Beconase Hayfever Relief nasal spray (100 sprays) Beclometasone dipropionate Home Bargains – £3.49 N/A

Cheapest places to buy painkillers and cold/flu remedies

Generic versions of paracetamol and ibuprofen are pretty cheap at pharmacies and supermarkets – on par with discount stores. If you want cheaper versions of cold and flu remedies, though, the supermarkets and discount stores tend to have better deals.

Medicine Active ingredient/s Cheapest branded version Cheapest generic alternative
Lemsip Max Cold & Flu lemon sachets (10 pack) Paracetamol, phenylephrine hydrochloride B&M, Home Bargains – £2.99 Aldi – £1.49
Benylin Dry & Tickly Cough Syrup (150ml)* Glycerol, sucrose B&M, Home Bargains – £3.29 (£2.19 per 100ml) Poundstretcher – 79p (40p per 100ml)
Sudafed Mucus Relief Day & Night capsules (16 pk) Day: paracetamol, caffeine, phenylephrine hydrochloride. Night: same minus caffeine Home Bargains – £2.79 Home Bargains – 99p
Nurofen Ibuprofen caplets (16 pack) Ibuprofen Poundland – £1 Poundstretcher – 24p
Panadol Extra Advance tablets (14 pack) Paracetamol, caffeine Morrisons, Wilko – £2.50 Poundstretcher – 39p
Lemsip Max Cold & Flu capsules (16 pack) Paracetamol, caffeine, phenylephrine hydrochloride

Home Bargains, Poundstretcher

£2.99

B&M – 89p
Breathe Right nasal strips (10 pack) Nasal strips

Savers

£3.79

Poundstretcher – 69p
Panadol Advance tablets (16 pack) Paracetamol

Asda

£1.40

Poundstretcher, Savers – 19p
Calpol Infant Suspension 2+ months Paracetamol

B&M, Home Bargains, Savers

£2.89

B&M – £1

Cheapest places to buy medicine for indigestion and digestive problems

Pharmacy chains all do cheaper versions of these stomach medicines, usually slightly cheaper than the best branded price, but the supermarkets and discount stores have the edge with budget alternatives.

Medicine Active ingredient/s Cheapest branded version Cheapest generic alternative
Imodium Original capsules (6 pack) Loperamide hydrochloride Savers, Home Bargains – £2.39 Poundstretcher – 49p
Gaviscon Original liquid (150ml)* Sodium alginate, sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate Savers – £3.19 (£2.13 per 100ml) Asda, Morrisons, Tesco – £1 per 100ml
Zantac Relief tablets (12 pack) Ranitidine B&M, Home Bargains, Savers – £2.99 B&M, Home Bargains, Poundstretcher – 79p

Cheapest places to buy medicines for other common ailments

If you regularly need help drifting off, the cost of a good night’s sleep will be considerably smaller if you head to Wilko to buy its Sleep Aid tablets, rather than plumping for Nytol. Similarly, back pain needn’t also cause a pain in your wallet, as the generic gel version of ibuprofen is much cheaper in Poundstretcher.

Medicine Active ingredient/s Cheapest branded version Cheapest generic alternative
Nytol Herbal tablets (30 pack) Hop strobile, valerian and passion flower Boots, Superdrug – £3.99 Wilko – £1.20
Zovirax cold sore cream (2g) Aciclovir Home Bargains – £2.29 Savers – 89p
Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief 5% Gel (30g)* Ibuprofen Superdrug – £4.99 (£16.63 per 100g) Poundstretcher – 90p (£1.80 per 100g)
Corsodyl mouthwash (300ml) Chlorhexidine digluconate Asda, Wilko – £4.50 Savers, Wilko – £1.75
CanesOasis Cystitis Relief (6 sachets) Sodium citrate dihydrate Savers – £4.19 Poundstretcher – 79p

Our pricing research

  • Prices were compared during late May/early June 2019. Alternative sizes included if comparable (under 100% difference).
  • Products marked with a * compared on price per unit, as product sizes vary.
  • For generic products, tablets and caplets were treated as comparable.
  • Generic Benylin alternatives contain slightly different but comparable versions of the active ingredient (sugar).
  • Discount prices and multi-buys not included

Generic vs branded medicines: what’s the difference?

Generic versions of medicines have to be ‘bioequivalent’ to the branded versions. This means that they contain the same active ingredients and have to work in exactly the same way to be approved for sale, whether you buy them in Boots, Tesco, Poundland or any other shop.

How to check if a generic medicine is the same:

  1. Look for the active ingredient This should be listed on the front under the medicine name, and on the back of the box.
  2. Check the product licence (PL) number Listed on the bottom edge of the box. Medicines with the same PL number are identical. This number also means the medicine is licensed and meets quality and safety standards.
  3. Scan the shelf Generic alternatives will usually be near to the branded version, but they may have a less prime position, to the side or nearer the floor for example.

So why do branded medicines cost so much? Pharmaceutical companies have to prove safety and efficacy before bringing a product to market. This takes time and money, which is then rewarded with several years of patent protection, so that the company who originally developed the medicine is the only one who can sell that product.

Once this patent expires, generic companies can produce copies of the branded product. They will need to demonstrate it’s the same, but they don’t need to do all the original safety testing again, meaning they can sell for a much lower price.

Fancier formulations cost more

Outside of the active ingredient, the other inactive substances (known as excipients) which make up your tablets can also affect the price.

Anatomy of a tablet:

  • Active ingredient What makes you feel better, often quite a small amount
  • Binders Hold the ingredients together
  • Coatings Can make the tablet easier to swallow, taste better and / or prevent deterioration from moisture in the air
  • Preservatives Such as antioxidants or parabens

If you’re happy with ordinary tablet or caplet formulations, you can make big savings. More convenient formulations, such as soluble or melt-in-the-mouth tablets, tend to cost more, and be less widely available in generic formats.

It’s also worth double-checking the use-by date when buying, to ensure if you’re buying in bulk that you don’t get stuck with products with a shorter shelf life.

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