Is there a topical birth control available, you ask? No contraceptive cream or ointment has been developed yet, but yes, there is a patch that can be applied to your skin that is almost 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Patches are easy to use, discreet, and provide excellent birth control.
It’s called a transdermal patch and there is only one available by prescription in the United States. The Ortho Evra patch (or the generic version, called Xulane) is a small, sticky plastic patch that you apply to your skin: one patch each week for three weeks and then no patch for one week before you start the cycle again. While you wear a patch, it releases both a progesterone hormone, norelgestromin, and an estrogen hormone, ethinyl estradiol. This hormone combination is absorbed through your skin and enters your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy, much like oral birth control pills. It is discreet and can be worn comfortably and confidently during bathing, showering, swimming, and exercising without fear of its falling off. As a matter of fact, the patch has been rigorously tested in many situations, and these studies have shown that when applied properly, the patch loosens or falls off less than 2 percent of the time.
Contraceptive patches come in boxes of three for each month. To use a patch, you open a packet and apply one patch to clean, dry, intact (not irritated or injured) skin. It is recommended to apply it to areas on the buttocks, abdomen, upper torso but not breasts, or outer part of upper arm. It should not be applied to areas where it could be rubbed off, such as under a bra strap. Most users apply the patch the first day of their period or the Sunday after the start of their period. When you initially start using the patch, you will need to use a back-up contraceptive method such as a condom for the first seven days. If you are switching to the patch from birth control pills or the vaginal ring, you apply your first patch on the day you would usually start your next pill pack of pills or insert your next vaginal ring. In that case you do not need to use a back-up method of birth control.
After wearing the patch one week, you remove it on the same day as you first applied it and put a new patch on a different area of skin. This patch is worn the second week, then it is removed on the same day the next week and the third patch is applied. The next week that patch is removed and you remain patch-free for the week, when you usually have your period. After the free week, you apply your new cycle of patches on the same day to start the next three weeks on, one week off cycle. It’s important to change and apply the patches on the same day each week for continuous contraceptive coverage. Of course these contraceptive patches do not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.
You should check to see that your patch is in place on a daily basis. If a patch does loosen or fall off, and if it has been less than 24 hours and the patch is still sticky, you can just reapply it in the same place or put on a new patch. If the patch has been off for more than 24 hours or you’re not sure, you must use a new patch, and then this will be the day that you count as the first day of a new week. You must also use a back-up contraceptive method for the next seven days. If you need to use a new patch and find that you need an extra patch for that month, replacement patches are available at a pharmacy by prescription from your health care provider.
Contraceptive patches are easy to use, discreet, and provide excellent birth control. They do not interfere with sexual intercourse and allow spontaneity in sexual relationships. They are 92 to 99 percent effective when used properly. Decreased effectiveness is usually due to a patch falling off and not being replaced, forgetting to change the patch on time, or using a previously opened packet or one that was not stored at room temperature. There is concern that patches may not work as well in overweight users. Once you decide to remove the patch or stop using it, your fertility quickly returns to normal.
Because the hormones in the patch are absorbed through your skin, more of the hormones are available to get in your bloodstream, and this may cause side effects especially related to higher levels of the estrogen hormone circulating in your system. Side effects that may go away with time include headaches, spotting, mood changes such as depression, or irritated skin. But some side effects can increase your risk for more serious events, such as blood clots in legs and lungs, heart attacks, or strokes. Because of this, the FDA has included a warning for the patch that recommends women over 35 who smoke should not use this type of birth control. Also, if you smoke, or have a history of high blood pressure, heart attacks or strokes, liver disease, or breast cancer, you should not use the patch. A good medical history and check-up, including blood pressure, with your health care provider is important before you start using the patch.
Prices for Ortho Evra or Xulane may be slightly higher or comparable to birth control pills, and could be covered by your insurance or Medicaid. If you are interested in a convenient, easily reversible birth control that does not include taking a daily pill, talk to your health care provider or Planned Parenthood about the contraceptive patch.
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