I Left My Birth Control In A Hot Mailbox—Is It Still Effective?

Published: July 30, 2021Updated: March 2, 2022

Summer’s here, and that means hours lazing at the pool, days spent at music festivals, and hot, hot sun. But with all the exciting activities taking you out of your house, checking your mail probably isn’t high on your priorities list. Or, maybe you grab the mail on your way out the door, where it stays in your bag or your car for a few hours.

Normally, that’s not a big deal—except when your birth control is part of the equation. Here’s what to know about birth control and extreme heat, plus tips for how to store birth control safely for max effectiveness.

How does heat affect hormonal birth control?

Let’s go back to Chemistry 101: heat, light, and humidity break down most medications. When exposed to extreme heat or light, medications undergo a chemical reaction called oxidation that affects the stability of a drug and leads to drug decomposition. 

While heat and light don’t usually make medications more dangerous, they can cause medications to become less effective or totally ineffective. Hormones are especially prone to this, so keep this in mind for birth control options like the pill, ring, or patch.

How long can my birth control be exposed to heat?

Short answer: not that long. Long answer: it depends on the manufacturer and the brand, but better safe than sorry.

Think about it this way: if you left a freshly-purchased pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream in a hot car while you run into Starbucks, the ice cream might thaw a little, but it would be mostly fine. Any longer than that, however, and you risk a totally melted, incredibly messy, and irreparably damaged pint of ice cream. So, as a rule of thumb, treat your birth control with the same care and attention as this imaginary pint of ice cream.

Can I tell if my birth control has been damaged by heat?

It’s possible. After they’ve been exposed to extreme temperature, your pills might have a change in color or smell. They might feel sticky or look chipped. For the patch, the color might change, and the ring might look physically damaged. However, in most cases, you won’t be able to visually tell that your medication has suffered from heat damage.

And a word about the ring: the ring is designed to work within our 98.6 degree Farenheit bodies. So, if you leave your ring out at these temperatures, it’ll start to release medication. 

At what temperature should I store my birth control?

For maximum effectiveness, we suggest storing your birth control at the temperatures recommended by the manufacturer. In most cases, that’s in a cool, dry place between 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which is room temperature. 

Pro tip: don’t store birth control in the bathroom medicine cabinet. Assuming you’re not a cold shower person, your hot showers cause heat and humidity to rise in the bathroom, leading to those chemical reactions we talked about earlier. 

The patch should always be kept in its original packaging at room temp—not the fridge or the freezer. Nuvaring and its generic is refrigerated before you get it. It’s good for up to four months at room temperature, but if you want to keep it refrigerated, you can (just take it out and let it get to room temp before you put it in). 

What do I do if I know my birth control was exposed to high temperatures?

If you know that your medication was exposed to high temperatures for an extended amount of time, you should use a new pack of pills or a backup method until you get your replacement—just to be safe. Or contact your pharmacist, doctor, or our care team for more support.

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