Medically reviewed by Jenny Ingle Pappas, MSN, APRN, FNP-C on November 24, 2020
As a rule of thumb, birth control pills usually expire about 12 months after the manufacturing date. The expiration date is set by the pharmaceutical company, which is required to test the medication for stability and effectiveness over a period of time.
Usually, pills are tested for 12 months, so this is the most common expiration date for a single pack of pills. While you can take birth control past its expiration date, its effectiveness cannot be guaranteed.
Where Do I Find the Expiration Date?
The expiration date for your birth control will be printed on the package. You might find it on the printed label stuck to the plastic sleeve or on the back of the blister pack.
Often, the manufacturer will just list the expiration date as a month and a year. That means that the pills expire on the last day of that month. So, if it’s the beginning of August and your pack expires in August of the current year, you’re likely still safe to use that pack.
Can I Take Pills Past the Expiration Date?
The short answer: Yes, but doctors strongly recommend against it.
There’s a chance that if your pills were properly stored, they would continue to be effective for one to five years after their expiration date. However, pharmaceutical companies do not guarantee the pills’ safety or effectiveness beyond the date that’s printed on the package, so it’s a good idea to use a backup method like condoms if you’re going to take expired birth control.
How to Store Your Birth Control Safely
Even though birth control expires, there are a few techniques that can help your pills last longer. In fact, you should use these best practices to store your birth control even if you would never use it past the expiration date. Birth control that’s not stored properly could be damaged or start to deteriorate. This means your birth control can actually begin to lose its effectiveness even before it expires.
The storage instructions will be printed on your pill pack, but here are a few good tips:
- Keep your birth control in its original packaging until you’re ready to take it. Don’t remove pills from the blister pack, even if you usually keep all your medications in a pill organizer. If you have trouble remembering to take your birth control every day, set a reminder on your smartphone or consider another method like the shot or the patch.
- Keep your pills out of direct sunlight. A cabinet, a drawer, or even your purse is better than leaving them on the counter in a sunny room.
- Avoid exposing your pills to extreme temperatures and humidity. Ideally you should store your birth control at room temperature, or around 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
A lot of women want to keep their birth control in the bathroom, but the warmth and humidity from the shower can actually cause your pills to degrade depending on the duration of time they’re exposed to increased temperatures and humidity. While birth control can handle higher or lower temperatures for short periods of time, they should not be exposed to temps below 59 F or above 86 F for long periods. This makes the car another sub-optimal place to store your birth control. If you’re always on the run, bring your pill pack inside with you rather than leaving it in the glove box.
How to Get Rid of Expired Birth Control
If you’ve found birth control that’s past its expiration date, it’s always safest to throw it away and start a brand-new pack. But how do you dispose of a pack if it’s expired?
The old advice to flush unused medication down the toilet is not a good idea. Recent findings suggest that fish populations can be harmed by municipal wastewater containing estrogen. Instead, the FDA recommends using a local drug take-back program at your pharmacy if you can.
Some blister packs can be recycled if you separate the aluminum foil from any plastic or paper components. The sleeves the packs come in can also be recycled if they’re cardboard.
The bottom line: Birth control has an expiration date and it’s better to play it safe and dispose of your old packs. If you want to examine your options or birth control pills and beyond, contact a member of our medical team here at Nurx for additional information.