The patch has been a reliable birth control method since it entered the scene in 2002. If used correctly, it prevents pregnancy 99 percent of the time.
But a team of scientists is trying to take this reliable technology and make it even easier to integrate into a routine: They want to stick the patch to the back of jewelry that people who use birth control are already wearing.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology developed tiny skin patches that adhere to the backs of jewelry — think watches, rings, earrings — and deliver the hormonal contraceptive levonorgestrel into the body, the same way the traditional patch does.
Levonorgestrel works by stopping your ovaries from producing eggs. It also thickens the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.
Infused with levonorgestrel, contraceptive jewelry could provide a novel method of drug delivery and may very well help women better adhere to their birth control regimen, according to the researchers’ initial testing results, which were published in the Journal of Controlled Release in April.
Nearly 65 percent of U.S. women of child-bearing age use contraception, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Birth control options make it more likely that a user will find a method that works for them. That’s why there are lots to choose from.
That’s the idea behind this invention, the researchers say.
“The more contraceptive options that are available, the more likely it is that the needs of individual women can be met,” said researcher Mark Prausnitz, a professor and the J. Erskine Love Jr. chair in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in a news release. “Because putting on jewelry may already be part of a woman’s daily routine, this technique may facilitate compliance with the drug regimen. This technique could more effectively empower some women to prevent unintended pregnancies.”
One of the main issues with the pill is that people simply forget to take it at the same time each day.
The Georgia Institute of Technology researchers suspect that by infusing patches with contraceptive hormones and attaching them to jewelry, women won’t run into this issue. They think the patches might work best stuck to the back of a watch or on earring backs.
“A woman could acquire these drug-loaded earring backs and then use them with various earrings she might want to wear,” Prausnitz said.
However, some health experts aren’t so sure that jewelry will do the trick.
“One of the main problems with the oral contraceptive is remembering to take the pill,” said Kim Langdon, an OB/GYN with Parenting Pod. “In the case of contraceptive jewelry, having to put the earrings on each morning, remove for showers or bedtime, and having to wear earrings every day may pose a huge compliance issue.”
You could also lose them, misplace them or get the jewelry wet, which could impact how effective they are at preventing pregnancy. The researchers did factor in eight hours of sleep when a user wouldn’t be wearing their contraceptive jewelry — they found there would be enough medicine in the system to maintain its effectiveness through the night. But sleep schedules can vary throughout the week.
“Weekend wake up time tends to be different from weekday, yet women typically put on jewelry at the start of the day,” said Catherine Monk, a professor of medical psychology in the departments of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University. “How will women easily get the time right for jewelry contractive use in relation to weekday (and) weekend wake up times?”
In addition, each patch can only provide protection for about a week before it needs to be changed out. Monk suspects that if a user had trouble remembering to take a pill, they may also struggle with remembering to change out the medication patch each week.
The technology isn’t ready for the market yet. The initial testing was conducted on pigs and rats. While it successfully provided the animals with contraceptive protection, it’s still unclear how effective it’ll be for humans.
IUDs — both hormonal and copper types — and the contraceptive pill are extremely effective. They’re well tolerated in our bodies, according to Langdon, as the overall hormone dosages are quite low.
Hormonal birth control patches are a tried-and-true method, too. But researchers say they need to make sure sticking them on jewelry is just as safe and effective.
They also need to make sure it’s something people actually want.
“We need to understand not only the effectiveness and economics of contraceptive jewelry, but also the social and personal factors that come into play for women all around the world,” Prausnitz said. “We would have to make sure that this contraceptive jewelry concept is something that women would actually want and use.”