In the purest form, heroin looks like a fine white powder, but it can appear as other colors which occurs when additives are mixed in to dilute it.

Heroin is a highly dangerous, illegal drug that’s used by millions of people around the world. Heroin has no approved medical uses in the United States. Derived from the resin of poppy plants, heroin was first manufactured in 1898. It was originally marketed as a tuberculosis treatment and as a way to overcome morphine addiction.

Heroin is sold in various forms and it’s responsible for tens of thousands of overdose deaths. What commonly happens is that people become addicted to prescription opioids and then once they’ve developed a tolerance, they move on to heroin to still get the euphoric high they once experienced with the prescription drugs.

Heroin addiction impacts people from all backgrounds and ages. Heroin addiction is an epidemic across the country.

If you are concerned someone close to you is using heroin, it can be important to be able to know what heroin looks like as well as how someone on heroin might behave. Educating yourself is a great way to help someone close to you who believe could be struggling with heroin.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

In the purest form, heroin looks like a fine white powder, but it can appear as other colors.  When additives, like sugar, are mixed in to dilute the heroin, it can take on a different color like brown, gray or even black color.

The additives drug dealers put in heroin are also one of the many dangers of using this drug. While pure, unadulterated heroin is often a white powder, there are different ways of manufacturing and distributing it, so how it looks can vary.

The Drug Enforcement Administration outlines three primary types of heroin, which are detailed below and can help you understand what does heroin generally look like:

  • Black tar heroin: Black tar heroin gets its name from its appearance. Black tar heroin when it’s in powder form looks somewhat like ash, and the powder is flaky and fine-grained. It almost looks like fireplace ash according to many people. As the name implies, it looks like black tar and is sticky or gooey in many cases.
  • White heroin: White heroin is powdery and can be cut with other white substances. While white heroin can sometimes be cut with something like sugar, it can also be cut with dangerous substances like cocaine. White heroin has different consistencies of this type of cocaine, depending on what it’s cut with.
  • Brown heroin: Brown heroin can be brown or tan. It’s used for smoking instead of injecting in most cases, and it’s less expensive and less potent. It is usually a fine powder.

In most cases, heroin looks like a fine powder or it can also look like tar. Heroin is usually black, white or — most commonly — brown.


Heroin is usually sold in small packages that are easy to hide. The most common way to package white heroin is in aluminum squares. Ziploc bags are often used for higher-quality heroin, and black tar heroin is often found in latex material, like balloons.

In some cases, heroin might also be sold in capsules that have been emptied and replaced with the drug.


As well as asking questions such as, “What does heroin look like?” and, “What color is heroin?” it’s important also to know heroin paraphernalia looks like.

For example, aluminum foil and lighters are often found with heroin users because heroin is placed on foil and heated with the lighter. Syringes are also common with heroin users because the drug can be mixed into a solution that can be injected directly into veins.

Spoons are used as paraphernalia because they’re also used as a tool involved in heating the drug. Cotton balls and cigarette filters are used to filter the heroin before it’s injected.

If you or a loved one live with an addiction to heroin or another substance, help is available. Contact The Recovery Village today to begin treatment for your substance use disorder and any co-occurring disorders.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Christina Caplinger
Medically Reviewed By – Christina Caplinger, RPh
Christina Caplinger is a licensed pharmacist in both Colorado and Idaho and is also a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.