You might be able to test the limits on your beauty products, but birth control is one thing you don’t want to use past its expiration date. Doing so can put you at increased risk of an unplanned pregnancy and make the pill less effective at managing pesky symptoms like painful cramps.
“Because of the hormones within birth control pills, most expire within one year from their manufacturing date,” Charlsie Celestine, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn in New Jersey and host of the podcast For Vaginas Only, told POPSUGAR. Depending on when you pick up your prescription, your pills may actually expire less than a year after your bring them home. This is because the expiration date printed on your birth control pack is dated exactly one year from the time it was manufactured, not the date it was prescribed or purchased.
How you store your pills is also important. “Keeping birth control pills in an environment that is too hot, too cold, or with high humidity can make your pills lose their effectiveness even prior to their expiration date,” Dr. Celestine warned. This can easily be avoided by storing them in an indoor, temperature-controlled environment (think: inside the purse you keep on you at all times, not in a steamy bathroom or the center console of your car).
While taking expired birth control can make it less effective at preventing pregnancy, it can also have consequences if you use the pill to help regulate your cycle or find relief from issues like migraine headaches, heavy bleeding, or severe cramps. “It’s very important to abide by the expiration dates, as the hormones in the pill that help regulate your period are at a risk of deteriorating, which may affect how they help your cycle,” Dr. Celestine said.
If you need another pack of pills urgently, and can’t reach your doctor or get an appointment in time, some states allow you to get your prescription refilled by a pharmacist, she explained. Whatever route you take to get your prescription, remember to use a backup form of contraception to ensure you’re protected in the meantime.