Type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic and obesity drug Wegovy have exploded in popularity in recent months, leading to shortages of both. While the side effects of the drugs – which can induce significant weight loss – are usually gastrointestinal, a New York Times report sheds light on another way they can alter the body.
The phenomenon was coined «Ozempic’s face» by New York dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, who told TODAY in a Jan. 26 segment that he sees Ozempic’s face «every day at patients» since the drugs became more popular. .
How Ozempic Works for Weight Loss
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, can help manage insulin levels and induce weight loss. Ozempic is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat type 2 diabetes, and Wegovy is approved to treat obesity.
According to the manufacturer of both drugs, Novo Nordisk, the average weight loss with Ozempic is 8 to 14 pounds; with Wegovy, it’s 15% of the patient’s weight.
The maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, Novo Nordisk, previously told TODAY.com in a statement, «We do not promote, suggest, or encourage the off-label use of our medications,» which includes the use of Ozempic for weight loss.
To understand how semaglutide works for weight loss, you must first understand what obesity is, Dr. Ania Jastreboff, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, tells TODAY.com and doctor-researcher in obesity medicine. Jastreboff is a member of the scientific advisory board of Novo Nordisk and the leader of a clinical trial on semaglutide at Yale funded by Novo Nordisk.
It all starts with what she calls the «defended body fat set point.»
«Our body wants to transport energy, and it transports that energy as fat,» says Jastreboff. «He doesn’t want us to carry too much energy because we’ll be starving, and He doesn’t want us to carry too much energy because we couldn’t do all the things we do every day. There’s a candy spot, and we call it the defended body fat set point.»
Because factors that can contribute to obesity, such as highly processed foods and inactive lifestyles, are more common than ever in today’s environment, at the population level, the point of Body fat guidelines championed by the United States have increased, she said. For example, if you have a BMI of 31 in 2022, 100 years ago, it could have been 22.
About 42% of the population suffers from obesity, which means they have a chronic condition «where the body wants to transport extra fat,» adds Jastreboff.
Semaglutide works by mimicking the body’s hormones that signal to the brain how much weight you are carrying and re-regulating the patient’s defended body fat set point towards a healthier place.
“We lower their defended fat mass set point, and the consequence is that they lose weight,” says Jastreboff.
What is the face of Ozempic?
Ozempic face refers to the facial changes that patients who have lost a lot of weight sometimes experience: primarily a loss of facial fat that can leave the face saggy and looking older. It’s especially common in middle-aged and older patients, Frank said.
“One of the most common things I notice with any form of weight loss in middle-aged and older patients is that we don’t all lose it in the areas we want,” Frank said. «As we age, facial volume definitely changes and shifts. But when you lose weight so acutely and rapidly, you see more of an overall facial loss.»
«There are certain diseases that cause this, but it happens in a much milder sense with the use of these drugs,» he explained. «It’s not just a wrinkle we see in an area or heaviness around the eyes. We see it in the temples, the jaw line, around the mouth, under the eyes.»
«For most of my middle-aged patients…we see these kinds of changes in their face that make them look older,» he added.
Natasa Valocchi, who has experienced Ozempic Face Degree after losing 68 pounds since starting the drug in November 2021, described her facial changes in a Jan. 26 segment on TODAY: Getting Lean. «
«As we get older, we get skinny anyway, so I think it was just a little more over the top. People definitely noticed on my face, ‘Oh, wow, you look really skinny these days. ‘ So maybe it’s a little too much for me, and I think I could use a little more volume,» she said, adding that she notices it «mostly…in the lower jaw.» .
«Your jowls are starting to sag because there’s not really (overweight) to hold them in anymore,» she added.
Is Ozempic’s face actually caused by Ozempic?
When asked if Ozempic’s face was actually caused by the drug itself, Frank said it was «too early to tell», but noted that the weight loss in general can have this effect, whatever the cause.
Dr. Rocia Salas-Whalen, Valocchi’s endocrinologist, told TODAY.com that losing weight quickly «is definitely going to affect how the skin adapts to the new weight. And that’s why we always recommend weight loss slow, especially at first.
Salas-Whelan has worked for Novo Nordisk in the past, but on projects unrelated to Ozempic.
The recommended weight loss rate, she noted, is 1 to 2 pounds per week. Valocchi has lost weight at this rate, but other factors may also contribute to Ozempic’s face, Salas-Whalen explained. These include the natural aging process, genetics, and menopause, as lack of estrogen can contribute to wrinkles and sagging skin.
The more weight you lose, the more likely you are to see Ozempic’s facial features, Salas-Whalen said. Patients who take Ozempic to lose 15 to 20 pounds — and there are legitimate medical reasons for doing so, she pointed out — won’t see as many facial changes as those who lose 100 pounds, Salas-Whalen said. .
Jastreboff agrees that the phenomenon «is related to weight reduction rather than specifically how weight reduction is achieved.»
She adds that one of the reasons Ozempic’s face may catch people off guard is that semaglutide is «very effective» in treating obesity.
«Patients are losing weight at a faster rate than what we’ve seen with other types of obesity treatments,» says Jastreboff. «With bariatric surgery, patients also have potential changes in their facial appearance, and I think the reason that might be happening is because we’re not used to seeing that degree of change in the amount of fat carried into someone’s face with a drug.»
In fact, she says she finds it «interesting» that Ozempic’s face is even called a side effect.
«If a patient had a question about this, (I would say) the health benefits of treating obesity…are extremely important, and as you lose weight there will be changes in your appearance,» she said. “It’s really important to talk to our patients about this so they know what to expect and … to guide them through this process when they reach a weight where the amount of fat they are carrying is more. healthy for them.»
Does Ozempic affect the skin?
Jastreboff says she is not aware of any skin side effects that Ozempic might cause, except for a mild reaction at the injection site. Both Ozempic and Wegovy are given by injection, so «when you take a small injection, sometimes you may get a very small bruise or something, but that usually doesn’t happen,» says Jastreboff.
How can you treat Ozempic’s face?
Frank said fillers can be used to treat Ozempic’s face, but it’s expensive.
«When you have an overall facial volume loss, it can take a significant amount of filling. While a middle-aged person might normally spend $1,000 or $2,000, they can spend $5,000+ to plump up the face of volume loss,» he added. «(For) patients in their late 50s and 60s, volume replacement is often not enough and will require facial plastic surgery.»
For those concerned about developing the Ozempic face, Frank stressed the importance of staying in touch with your endocrinologist, dermatologist and other relevant specialists «to slowly help you through the (weight loss) journey. .»