A new contraceptive gel that is applied directly to the skin could offer women an alternative to the Pill, a study out today suggests.
The clear gel is put on once a day and works by delivering a dose of hormones to prevent pregnancy.
Women using the gel have reported none of the typical side effects associated with the Pill, such as weight gain and acne.
It is also suitable for women who are breastfeeding, who are often warned not to take the combined Pill because its hormone levels interfere with milk supply.
The gel can be applied to the abdomen, thighs, arms or shoulders and is quickly absorbed, with no residue.
Experts hope to bring it to market if clinical trial results continue to be positive.
Dr Ruth Merkatz, director of clinical development of reproductive health at the not-for-profit Population Council research centre in New York, led the latest study on the gel, which involved 18 women in their 20s to 30s.
Over the course of seven months, none of the women fell pregnant and the gel had “very high acceptability”, she said.
The research found the optimum dose was the small amount of 3mg a day.
“They only need to use a small quantity, once a day,” Dr Merkatz said. “From this small study we found it was effective.”
Dr Merkatz, who is presenting the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), said the gel could enhance the choices women have.
She added: “It is really helpful to have different ways of administering contraception.”
The key drug in the gel is Nestorone, a new type of progesterone. The product also contains a type of oestrogen that is chemically identical to the oestrogen produced by a woman’s body.
Both these hormones play an important role in pregnancy and the gel works by interfering with their normal patterns of production.
Dr Merkatz said Nestorone does not appear to have any of negative effects seen in oral contraceptives, such as weight gain.
“This could be a reason why women might choose it,” she said.
“It’s in early stage development but if we move on, we will obviously test it in many, many more women.”
The drug is being developed with drug firm Antares Pharma.