Insulin Performance Categories

The chart below describes the features of different kinds of insulin. Here are some quick definitions to help you understand some of the terms:

Onset of action:  how fast the insulin starts to work after injection.

Peak: when the insulin works the hardest.

Duration: how long it continues to work.

Note: The information in the charts below refers to human U-100 insulin only.

Rapid-acting insulin

Onset of action 5 to 15 minutes
Peak 30 to 60 minutes
Duration 3 to 5 hours
Brand names Humalog®  (lispro)
Novolog®  (aspart)
Apidra®  (glulisine)
Additional information Can be injected immediately before a meal or, in some cases, after a meal.

Comes closest to matching the body's natural bolus supply.

Leaves the bloodstream quickly, minimizing the risk of hypoglycemia several hours after a meal.

Clear in appearance.

Available in vials and pens. Learn about insulin devices


Short-acting insulin (regular)

Onset of action 30 minutes
Peak 2 to 3 hours
Duration 3 to 6 hours
Brand names Humulin® R
Novolin® R
Additional information

Should be injected 30 to 45 minutes before eating.

Clear in appearance.

Available in vials and pens.

Intermediate-acting insulin

Onset of action 2 to 4 hours
Peak 4 to 12 hours
Duration 12 to 18 hours
Brand names Humalin® N  (NPH)
Novolin® N  (NPH)
Additional information Cloudy in appearance.

NPH is available in vials and pens.

Long-acting insulin

Onset of action 1 to 2 hours (detemir)
1 hour (Glargine)

6 to 8 hours (detemir)
virtually no peak (Glargine)


6 to 23 hours depending on dose (detemir)
24 hours (Glargine)

Brand names Levemir®  (detemir)
Lantus®  (Glargine)
Additional information Clear in appearance.

Available only by prescription.

Cannot be mixed in the same syringe with any other type of insulin.

Available in vials and pens.

Your personal treatment program might include more than one type of insulin to be used at different times of the day, at the same time each day, or even in the same injection.

In addition to the insulin types listed above, you can purchase vials, prefilled pens and cartridges of insulin that have two types of insulin already mixed together in a set proportion.Pre-mixed insulins

Onset of action 30 minutes

2 to 4 hours


22 to 24 hours

Brand names

Humalog® Mix 75/25
Humalog® Mix 50/50
Humulin® Mix 70/30
Humulin® Mix 50/50
Novolog® Mix 70/30
Novolin® Mix 70/30

Additional information Helpful for people who have trouble drawing up insulin out of two different bottles.

Useful for those who have poor eyesight or dexterity. 

If the insulin mix that your regimen calls for isn't available as a pre-mix, you'll have to do the mixing yourself because you can't adjust the dosage of one of the insulins in a pre-mix without also adjusting the dosage of the other.

Humalog and Humulin are trademarks of Eli Lilly and Company
NovoLog and Novalin are trademarks of Novo-Nordisk, A/S
Lantus and Apidra are trademarks of Aventis Pharma Deutschland GmbH


The BD Diabetes Learning Center describes the causes of diabetes, its symptoms, and diabetes complications such as retinopathy and neuropathy. This site contains detailed information about blood glucose monitoring, insulin injection and safe sharps disposal. Interactive quizzes, educational literature downloads and animated demonstrations help to teach diabetes care skills.

Important Note: The content of this website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Do not disregard your doctor's advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this website.

Unless otherwise noted, BD, BD logo and all other trademarks are property of Becton Dickinson and Company. © 2017 BD