We haven’t written much about wearables, carryables, or health tech apps used for contraception or family planning. Due to controversy regarding reported effectiveness rates, we raised a journalistic eyebrow when the FDA cleared the Natural Cycles fertility awareness smartphone app. Reliance on abstinence or the use of secondary means of pregnancy prevention during fertile days also colored our reaction to Cycle Technologie’s Dot (Dynamic Optimal Timing) fertility app.

A new wearable contraceptive patch in development at the Georgia Institute of Technology may have promise, although to date it has not been tested with humans. In a report detailing proof-of-concept research published in the Journal of Controlled Release, initial testing with transdermal patches showed that jewelry in contact with the skin such as earrings, wristwatches, rings, or necklaces can deliver hormones in amounts sufficient to prevent pregnancy. The Georgia Tech researchers applied conventional transdermal patch technology to make patches small enough to fit on an earring backing. Testing was performed with pigs and hairless rats. The patches have three layers: an impermeable adhesive layer that sticks to the earring backing, the hormone payload in solid form, and a layer that consists of a skin adhesive that allows the hormone transfer. The testing with both species consisted of wearing the patches for 16 hours a day and removed for 8 hours daily. The results show that while the hormone levels of levonorgestrel dropped when the patches were off, the amount of hormone remaining in the bloodstream was sufficient.

According to Georgia Tech researchers, the patch on the jewelry would likely need to be changed weekly. Work on the contraceptive patches initially focused on applications in developing countries with limited health care service access. Further thinking now leads the team to believe contraceptive jewelry could have a global appeal for women.