Ozempic is one of the most talked about weight loss drugs today. While celebrities and influencers rave about dropping pounds quickly with the medication, few have mentioned the downsides. Now that Ozempic has gone mainstream, at least one side effect has come to light: “Ozempic face.”
The expression refers to a lean facial appearance in those taking Ozempic, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai. To be clear, the medication itself has no direct effect on your face, but rather leads to “rapid weight loss that has an impact on the body as well as the body.” And the face,” he says.
ICYMI, Ozempic is an FDA-approved prescription drug used to treat type 2 diabetes in adults, explains Natasha Bhuyan, MD, family medicine physician at One Medical.
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Ozempic himself not FDA-approved for weight loss. But the active ingredient in the drug, semaglutide, is and it’s available in a higher dose in another drug, Wegovy, which is used to treat obesity related to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. “Some clinicians prescribe Ozempic off-label for weight loss, but physicians use careful criteria to determine whether the medication is right for an individual,” says Dr. Bhuyan, such as BMI or body fat percentage.
Meet the experts:
Joshua Zeichner, MD, is an associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai.
Benjamin Bikman, PhD, is a professor of cell biology and physiology at Brigham Young University who studies metabolic function.
Natasha Bhuyan, MD, is a family medicine doctor at One Medical.
Here’s what you need to know about “Ozempic face”, other side effects you may experience while taking the medication, and what you can do to reverse the changes in your skin.
First, what is Ozempic and how does it work?
Ozempic is a weekly injection designed to improve blood sugar control. The active ingredient semaglutide mimics the action of a hormone found naturally in the body that stimulates the release of insulin after eating, called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). The extra insulin helps lower blood sugar and prevent spikes. GLP-1 also signals fullness, helping to suppress appetite and reduce food intake.
Basically, Ozempic works by slightly increasing metabolic rate and increasing the fat burning rate of fat cells, says Benjamin Bikman, PhD, a professor of cell biology and physiology at Brigham Young University who studies metabolic function and co-founder of HLTH Code.
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Why does “Ozempic face” happen?
The name may sound new and scary, but “Ozempic face” is simply skin sagging caused by rapid weight loss, similar to what you would see after bariatric surgery and extreme dieting. “Think of your face as an overinflated balloon: If you let the air out, the stretched balloon will sag as it gets smaller,” explains Dr. Zeichner out.
The sagging is the result of a loss of fat and muscle under the skin. “As people lose weight, they tend to lose muscle mass, which can lead to sagging skin. Rapid weight loss will cause skin sagging and loss of elasticity, especially if people don’t exercise and get proper nutrition,” adds Dr. Bhuyan. “Genetics may also play a role.”
Note that the so-called Ozempic face does not happen to everyone who takes the medication. This is another reason why it’s important to have careful medical monitoring when taking Ozempic, notes Dr. Bhuyan op.
What other side effects can Ozempic cause?
The side effects associated with taking this drug are nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, headache, Dr. Bhuyan says.
The best way to avoid these effects is to talk to your doctor to make sure that Ozempic is right for you. “Only people with a certain BMI or higher should get this,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “And it’s important to understand their goals for taking this and their ability to make other lifestyle changes before prescribing this to someone.”
For those who don’t meet the BMI threshold, there are alternative ways to lose weight. “Some people benefit from meal planning, using an app to track their activity, nutritional advice, and more,” says Dr. says Bhuyan.
People with a personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma, a cancer that forms in the lining of the thyroid gland, or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 syndrome, which causes tumors to form on the endocrine glands, should definitely stay away from this drug. “There are other conditions, such as pancreatic disease, where the medication may not be safe,” adds Dr. Bhuyan. If in doubt, talk to your doctor first.
So, can you fix “Ozempic face”?
Note: Ozempic’s facial impact doesn’t really need to be “fixed,” as there’s nothing technically wrong with it, says Dr. Zeichner. But if it really bothers your skin after starting Ozempic, there are a number of dermatological treatments that can restore the lost volume under the skin.
- Injectables and fillers. “It’s not about filling a line or a crease, but about completely restoring facial volume,” explains Dr. Zeichner out. “This can be achieved with a variety of fillers, including Restylane, Juvederm, Sculptra, or Radiesse. It’s important to talk to your doctor to decide which product is right for you.”
- Facelift. If you’re 40 or older, you may be eligible for a facelift, says Amir Karam, MD, a facial plastic surgeon in San Diego, California. “People go through this kind of surgery after bariatric surgery all the time when they’re morbidly obese and lose a lot of weight,” he says. “They’re going through a full-body post-bariatric transformation, including contouring and tightening, due to all that loose extra fascia and skin not being able to re-tighten after weight loss.”
Keep in mind that these treatments are usually not covered by insurance and can be pricey. “In general, fillers cost between $800 and $1,200 per syringe. In some cases, patients may need as many as five or six syringes to see significant improvements,” says Dr. Zeichner. “But the good news is that the effects are long-lasting and can last more than two years.”
Ultimately, Ozempic may not be the safest (or healthiest) way to lose weight if you’re not a legitimate candidate for the drug. “I’ve had patients request Ozempic because they want to use it in the short term to kick-start weight loss,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “However, studies show that when people stop taking Ozempic, many regain some of the weight lost. That’s why it’s important to really understand the different aspects of the drug before taking it. It may be the right thing for some people approach, but others may not benefit.”
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelance writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She currently lives in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro and American history.