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What Is A Birth Control Patch And How Effective Is It?

How much protection does a patch provide?
PHOTO: getty images

If you’re exploring different types of contraception, the birth control patch is an interesting option. It’s a painless yet statistically reliable method. It’s perfect if you simply can’t be trusted to remember to pop a pill at the same time each day.

We asked Dr. Viktoria Ines Matibag, Resident Physician (OB-GYN) at Philippine General Hospital a few quick questions to help us understand how it works.

What exactly is a birth control patch?

Dr. Matibag says: “It is a transdermal contraceptive patch which contains two hormones, ethinyl estradiol (EE) and norelgestromin. Approximately 35 mcg of EE and 150 mcg norelgestromin are released daily. It has the same mechanisms as combined oral contraceptives, where there is estrogen-/progestin-induced inhibition of the midcycle surge of gonadotropin secretion, so that ovulation does not occur, preventing pregnancy. Progestin-related mechanisms such as changes in cervical mucus, fallopian tube motility, and promotion of an unfavorable endometrial receptivity prevent fertilization and implantation.”

Just like the pill, it releases a mix of estrogen and progesterone. Unlike the pill, which you need to remember to take daily, the patch takes care of regular dosage for you. The hormones secreted are responsible for preventing ovulation from taking place at all, meaning there’s no egg to fertilize during sex.

How effective is it, and how long does it take to take effect?

“It is highly effective, and as effective as oral combined hormonal contraceptives (which was illustrated in three clinical trials that evaluated contraceptive efficacy in transdermal contraceptive patch users and oral contraceptive users). As soon as it is placed, you will be protected after 5-7 days after application of the patch, Dr. Matibag explains.


Similar to the pill, you need to take extra care in the first week after you start using the birth control patch, as it won’t be fully reliable until the following week. After that, however, it’s been proven to be as effective as the pill in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

If I want to be extra safe and use more than one contraception method, what can I pair with this?

She advises, “Do not use other contraception containing hormones as they may cause increased hormone serum levels. Barrier contraception (condoms, vaginal condoms, cervical caps) is recommended to pair if you want to be extra safe. If the patch is initiated more than five days from onset of menses, abstinence or back-up contraception (e.g., condom, vaginal spermicide) should be used through the first seven days of use.”

As a rule of thumb, never double up on hormone-based contraceptives. If an additional method of contraception will help put your mind at ease, choose a barrier contraceptive. Also remember that hormone-based contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

How do you put it on? Where is the best spot to place it?

She says, “You apply it firmly into your skin. You may put it on your buttocks, abdomen, upper arm, or upper torso (but not the breasts as it may cause breast tenderness due to the local estrogen concentration).”

Generally, just find a place where it’s unlikely to get rubbed frequently, to make sure it maintains its adhesion. Also avoid areas where your skin is sensitive. Each week, it should be placed on a different spot to minimize skin irritation.

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How restrictive can it be? Can you shower with it on?

“It is not restrictive as it is a patch attached to the skin. It is intended to be waterproof, hence, you can shower with it on, however patch detachment may occur, so checking it daily should be practiced.”

Apart from checking to make sure it’s still attached, you won’t need to make too many lifestyle changes to accommodate the birth control patch.

Is there any patch care or maintenance routine to keep in mind?

Dr. Matibag says, “The patch is changed once per week for three weeks (21 total days), followed by one week that is patch-free. It should always be changed/applied on the same day of the week. If a patch becomes partially or completely detached for less than 24 hours, it should be reapplied at the same location (if it has not lost its stickiness, ancillary adhesives or tape should not be used) or replaced with a new patch immediately. If detachment lasts longer than 24 hours, a new patch should be applied, and this day of the week becomes the new patch change day. An additional method of contraception (e.g., condoms, spermicides) should be used for the first seven days of this cycle or the patient should avoid sex.”

This is where the similarity between a pill and a patch is most apparent. You end a 28-day cycle with a patch-free period--only in this case, it’s a full week instead of just 4 days. Instead of forgetting to take a pill, what you need to watch out for when it comes to using the patch is if it falls off.


Are there any risks or side-effects?

“Locally, the transdermal patch may cause topical problems in some people. Phase 3 clinical trials reported complaints such as: contact dermatitis, erythema, and skin irritation, however, only a small percentage of people (2.5 percent) reported this. It contains the same hormones as the pill (estrogen + progesterone), hence, it has similar side effects.”

Skin-related side effects are minimal, plus of course the typical side-effects you’d have if you were taking the pill. Think headaches, moodiness (especially while adjusting), weight gain, bloating, nausea, but also, glowing skin and shinier hair!

Is it available in the Philippines?

Unfortunately, “it’s currently not available in the Philippines.”

It’s only available abroad and only if you have a prescription from your healthcare provider.

The patch may be suited to some lifestyles, and not others. It is not advisable for those who weigh over 198 pounds, are smokers, or are over 35 years old, as it may lead to cardiovascular health risks. As with any other changes you’re thinking of making with your birth control routine, it’s always best to check with your own OB-GYN and see what works best for you!

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