The contraceptive patch – everything you need to know

Is it a plaster? Is it an unidentified piece of plastic? No...it's the contraceptive patch

The contraceptive patch (Evra) is a birth control method that doesn’t sit high on the popularity scale and because of this, it can cause a lot of confusion.  It often finds itself subject to a lot of weird and wonderful suggestions of what it is – a nicotine patch, a plaster, a bit of plastic that’s accidentally attached itself to someone. This underrated contraceptive is actually a strong competitor in the world of contraceptives and here’s why…

What is the contraceptive patch?

The patch is a thin beige plaster made of three layers of plastic. The great things about the patch are that it is still effective if you are sick or have diarhoea, it can be worn in the bath, swimming and whilst playing water sports; and 45% of Lowdown users have even stated it helps with heavy or painful periods. To top it all off, it’s more than 99% effective – thank you from all the females ever.

Graph showing 45% of Lowdown users experienced lighter periods

How does the contraceptive patch work?

The patch sticks onto your skin and releases the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into your bloodstream. It prevents pregnancy in three ways:

  • By stopping ovulation
  • By making the fluid in your cervix thicker (which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb)
  • By preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for an embryo to grow in it

How do I start using the patch?

Your doctor or nurse will do some tests to make sure that you can have the patch. They check your medical history, make sure that you’re not pregnant and take your blood pressure.

You can start using the patch at any time in your period cycle. If you stick it on within the first five days of your cycle, you will normally be protected from pregnancy straight away. Any other time in your cycle and you’ll need to use condoms or other contraception for seven days. You can start to use the patch 21 days after you give birth if you’re not breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding a baby less than six weeks old, using the patch isn’t advised as it may affect your milk production.

The patch can be applied yourself and does not need to be done by a healthcare provider. You apply a new patch once a week, every week for three weeks (21 days). You then stop using the patch for seven days (patch-free week). During this week you get a period-like bleed. After seven patch-free days, you apply a new patch on the eighth day. It’s really important that you don’t have more than seven days without the patch – you should do this even if you’re still bleeding.

You will normally be given a three-month supply of patches from your doctor, and if you get on well with it, it can be prescribed for six months to a year.

Where can the patch be applied?

To apply, stick the first patch in the packet onto your skin – you can stick it on most areas as long as the skin is dry, clean and not very hairy. Don’t stick it on your breasts, sore, irritated skin or areas that it’s likely to rub against your clothes. Lots of females stick it on their bum, upper arms or lower back.

How do I stop using it?

Stopping using the patch is easy – you can just take it off or not replace it after a break. As soon as it’s removed, you won’t be protected from pregnancy.

Check out our survey results to see how long it took most people’s cycles to return to their definition of ‘normal’ after they stopped using the patch and learn about the after-effects they’ve experienced.

What do I do if the contraceptive patch falls off?

The contraceptive patch is very sticky and should stay on. It shouldn’t come off after interaction with water.

However, if the patch does fall off, the next steps will be dependent on how long it’s been off for and how many days the patch was on before it came off.

If it’s been off for less than 48 hours:

  • Stick it back on as soon as possible if it still has its stick
  • If it’s not sticky, put a new patch on (do not try to hold the old patch in place with a plaster or bandage)
  • Continue to use your patch as normal and change your patch on your normal change day
  • You’re protected against pregnancy and won’t need additional contraception if it was on correctly for 7 days before it came off
  • But if the patch fell off after using it for 6 days or less, use additional contraception, such as condoms, for 7 days.

If it’s been off for 48 hours or more, or you’re not sure how long:

  • Apply a new patch as soon as possible and start a new patch cycle (this will now be day one of your new cycle)
  • Use additional contraception for 7 days
  • See a GP or nurse for advice if you’ve had unprotected sex in the previous few days as you may need emergency contraception.

Pros and Cons of the contraceptive patch

Pros

  • Easy to use and doesn’t interrupt sex
  • Doesn’t need to be taken every day
  • Can make periods regular, lighter and less painful
  • It can help with premenstrual symptoms

Cons

  • Sometimes the patch can fall off, or you may forget to replace it at the right time. What you should do next depends on how long it has been off or on for, and where you are in your patch cycle. Check out the NHS guide or read the Patient Information Leaflet for advice. You won’t always be protected from pregnancy and may need to use additional or emergency contraception.
  • As with any combined type of hormonal contraception, there is a slightly increased risk of developing blood clots in your veins and arteries. We are developing a full guide to the medical research on the serious and potentially life-threatening side effects of contraceptives here.

Who should use it?

  • Females that are unable to remember to take contraception each day
  • Females that do not want to interrupt sex
  • Females that have heavy periods

Who shouldn’t use it?

  • Females that smoke
  • Females over 35
  • Females that are very overweight
  • Females that want protection from STIs

Where can I find it?

When first given the contraceptive patch, you will be given a 3 months’ supply to see how to get on with it. If there are no problems, you can be prescribed the patch from 6 months to a year.

You can get the patch free from contraception and sexual health clinics, some GP surgeries and some young people’s services.

This guide was brought to you by The Lowdown. We are the world’s first contraception review platform, providing real-life experiences from thousands of reviews collected from our community of men and women.

Why not leave us a review of your contraceptive experience? Whether you’ve got good things to say about the Mirena coil or had trouble with implant removal, we want to hear about it! Tell us about your experience and help people around the world find the right method for them.