Birth Control Patch (Transdermal Contraceptive)

What Is the Birth Control Patch?

The birth control patch is a small, sticky square that you wear on your arm, back, lower belly, or other places on your body. Also called a transdermal patch, it sends hormones similar to those in birth control pills or the vaginal ring into your system through your skin. You might also hear it called a transdermal contraceptive.

The patch works about as well as the pill or the vaginal ring, and with similar side effects. You may find the patch easier to use than remembering to take a pill every day and simpler to use than a vaginal ring.

How the Patch Works

The patch keeps you from getting pregnant by sending the hormones estrogen and progestin through the skin into your bloodstream. The hormones keep your ovaries from releasing an egg, thicken the cervical mucus to stop swimming sperm, and make it harder for any fertilized egg to implant inside your womb.

How Effective Is the Birth Control Patch?

If you follow directions perfectly, the patch works 99% of the time. That means 1 woman out of 100 might get pregnant in a year. But in real life, people make mistakes, like not changing the patch on the right day. That can drop the effectiveness to about 91%.

How Do You Get the Patch?

You'll need a doctor's prescription for the patch. In the U.S., it's sold under the generic name Xulane and used to be sold under the brand name Ortho Evra. Under federal law, all health plans must cover most contraceptives without co-pays or deductibles. Depending on your income, you also may get the patch for free from your local public health clinic or a Planned Parenthood health center.

How to Use the Birth Control Patch

You wear a new patch for 7 days. Replace it on the same day every week for a total of 3 weeks. Skip the patch on the fourth week. That’s when you’ll have your period.

You can shower, exercise, and swim with it on. Avoid tight clothes that might rub against it. Check often to make sure the patch stays in place.

  • Press the patch onto clean, dry skin and hold for at least 10 seconds. Pick a different spot when you change it each week. The sticky stuff used to keep it in place is strong and may bother you if your skin is sensitive.
  • If it peels away, try to reapply it. But if the patch won't stick completely, put a new one on. And wear only one patch at a time.
  • If the patch falls off for more than 24 hours or you change it late by more than a day, use a condom or another type of backup birth control for a week. If you aren't sure what to do, call your doctor for advice.

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Disadvantages of the Birth Control Patch

Patches can be a good option if you want effective and long-term birth control that you can quit easily. But they might not be the best choice if you:

  • Need protection against STDs like HIV and chlamydia. The male condom is the best contraceptive for that.
  • Are over 35 and you smoke.
  • Weigh more than 198 pounds. The patch may be less reliable for heavier women.
  • Are pregnant or think you might be.
  • Are prone to blood clots, have had breast or uterine cancer, or take drugs for epilepsy. The patches have a higher concentration of estrogen than typical birth control pills, which may raise your chances of problems.

Birth Control Patch Side Effects

Not all women have problems with the patch, but some common issues include:

Some symptoms may go away as you get used to the hormones. Talk to your doctor about anything that makes you feel bad.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 11, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Xulane: “Patient Information and Instructions for Use,” “Tell me more about the patch.”

MedlinePlus: “Ethinyl Estradiol and Norelgestromin Transdermal Patch.”

KidsHealth: “Birth control patch.”

Mayo Clinic: “Birth control patch.”

National Health Service (UK): "How effective is contraception at preventing pregnancy?”

International Journal of Women’s Health: “Transdermal delivery of combined hormonal contraception: a review of current literature.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Birth Control Patch.”

CDC: “Birth Control Methods.”

Office on Women’s Health: “Birth Control Methods.”

UpToDate: “Transdermal contraceptive patch.”

National Center for Health Research: "Should You Consider a Birth Control Patch?"

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