Birth Control
November 8, 2022

How Does The Birth Control Patch Work?

The birth control patch is a small, adhesive you wear on your skin.
Written by
Tabitha Britt
Published on
November 8, 2022
Updated on
What's changed?
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There are several ways to prevent pregnancy, from the pill to condoms to IUDs. However, not all of these methods are ideal or practical for everyone. One method you may consider is the birth control patch — a small (1.75 square inch) adhesive patch you wear on your skin.

How does the birth control patch work?

The birth control patch, also known as the transdermal patch, protects you from unwanted pregnancy by releasing small doses of estrogen and progestin hormones, which are absorbed through the skin and into the body (1). You absorb these hormones through an adhesive patch on your skin that lasts seven days, meaning you do not need to take a daily dose of medication. According to Dr. Fran Yarlett, the clinical director at The Lowdown, the patch prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation (release of an egg), thickening cervical mucus, and thinning the lining of the uterus (2). 

How to use the birth control patch.

1. Wash your hands with soap and water. Make sure they're dry before applying the patch.

2. Clean your skin. Gently clean and dry the area where you plan to apply the patch. Dr. Yarlett recommends placing the patch in a hairless area. It shouldn't be placed on your breasts or any sore or irritated area.

3. Remove the patch from its packaging. Carefully remove the backing paper, and be careful not to touch the sticky side with your fingers. 

4. Apply it to the skin Press the patch firmly onto the skin until it's stuck. Hold the patch against your skin for at least 10 seconds to ensure it's in place (3).

5. Replace it weekly. Replace the patch with a new patch once every week. Avoid placing the new patch in the same place the old one was (3).

6. Throw out your used patch. When disposing of your old patch, fold it in half, seal it in a plastic bag, and throw it in the trash (4). Don't flush the old patch down the toilet!

"After three weeks (three patches), you can have a patch-free break," says Dr. Yarlett. "During this time, you will likely get a withdrawal bleed (similar to a period). After the break, apply a new patch within seven days," she adds. "You can choose to shorten this break to four days or miss breaks altogether."

Where to put the birth control patch 

You can apply the patch to the buttocks, chest (except the breasts), upper back, upper arm, or abdomen (1). Do not stick the patch anywhere that's sore, irritated, or hairy. Avoid placing a new patch in the same place as where the previous one was. You should also avoid applying the patch to an area where it may rub against your clothing or accessories (3,5).

Birth control patch effectiveness 

With perfect use (e.g., you never forget to replace a patch or wear one for longer than seven days), the birth control patch is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy (2). With typical use, it’s 91% effective (5).

The birth control patch may be less effective for individuals who weigh 198 lbs. or more (1).

Note that the patch doesn't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia or gonorrhea (2). So you and your partner need to practice safer sex using barrier methods

Birth control patch side effects 

Because the birth control patch is a hormonal method, it may cause some side effects for some individuals. These include: 

  • Breast tenderness 
  • Headaches 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Skin irritation 

These side effects typically disappear within two to three months (1). The birth control patch is also linked to an increased risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or DVT), heart attack, and stroke (1).

Not all side effects of the patch are harmful. Some people use the patch to reduce period cramps and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (6). There's also evidence that the birth control patch may protect against ovarian, womb, and bowel cancer (2). 

Is the contraceptive patch worth trying?

The birth control patch is a reliable and effective method of contraception for women who prefer a non-invasive method of birth control. That said, it may not be the best choice for everyone. Some may see switching out the patch each week as time-consuming and inconvenient, while others may experience side effects that are too bothersome to tolerate. So whether or not the birth control patch is the best method for you will depend on your individual preferences, needs, and medical history.

Who the contraceptive patch might be best for

The birth control patch may be a good option for someone looking for a non-invasive hormonal method of birth control that's easy to use. In addition, it may be a good choice for individuals who suffer from menstrual pain or PMS (1, 6) since the birth control patch can help reduce these symptoms. It's also a viable option for people who can't or prefer not to take oral contraceptives (7) .

Who it might not be best for

The patch shouldn’t be used by those with high blood pressure, a history of migraines with aura, previous blood clots, or a family history of blood clots, breast cancer, or a family history of breast cancer. Those aged over 35 or those with a smoking history may want to consider an alternative method of birth control (1, 2). 

The bottom line 

The birth control patch is an effective and reliable method of birth control, but it's not the right choice for everyone. Individuals who are allergic to certain ingredients in the contraceptive patch or have underlying medical conditions may not be good candidates. Speaking with your doctor about the pros and cons of different birth control methods is essential. If you think the birth control patch may not be suitable for you, consider exploring other birth control options to find what works best for you.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Tabitha Britt is the founding editor-in-chief of DO YOU ENDO – the first BS-free magazine for individuals with Endometriosis by individuals with Endometriosis. You can find her byline in a variety of publications including CBS NY, Taste of Home, Luna Luna, Thought Catalog, and Elite Daily.

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