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What is ‘Ozempic face’? Experts explain the side effect of this popular weight loss drug linked to Chelsea Handler

January 27, 2023, 8:00 PM UTC
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ozemic to treat type 2 diabetes in 2017.
Jason Bergman—Sipa USA/AP Images

The recent surge in popularity of Ozempic, a drug used for weight loss, has also led to the discovery of an undesirable side effect: a gaunt-looking face. The phenomenon has been increasingly documented across social media. 

Since the rise in these medications, Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a dermatologist in New York who used the term “Ozempic face,” told Today this week that he has seen the side effect “every day in patients.” 

What is ‘Ozempic face’?

The side effect is the result of major weight loss in a short amount of time. 

“What patients come in complaining of is, ‘My face just looks really gaunt. I’ve lost a lot of volume in my face,’” Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand, a dermatologist in Dallas, told ABC News.

It’s been described as facial deflating given that fat is lost in all areas of the face, unlike buccal or cheek fat removal, which only takes fat out of certain areas of the face. 

“When it comes to facial aging, fat is typically more friend than foe,” Dr. Oren Tepper, a plastic surgeon in New York, told the New York Times. “Weight loss may turn back your biological age, but it tends to turn your facial clock forward.”

What is Ozempic? 

A brand name for the drug semaglutide, Ozempic, along with exercise and nutrition changes, helps improve “blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM)” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ozemic to treat type 2 diabetes in 2017, while it approved Wegovy, another brand of semaglutide, to treat obesity in 2021. 

The manufacturer of the drugs, Novo Nordisk, told TODAY last year, “We do not promote, suggest or encourage off-label use of our medicines” (the drugs come from the same ingredients but dosages differ). Ozempic has been used off-label, leading to shortages, and sparking criticism that the drug was unavailable to those who qualify for its intended use.  

A number of celebrities, including Chelsea Handler, have taken the drug, though Handler says she took it unwittingly. 

Experts hope the drug is seen as a remedy for a chronic illness that has far too often been stigmatized.

“We really need to treat obesity as we treat any other chronic disease, with effective and safe approaches that target underlying disease mechanisms,”  Dr. Ania Jastreboff, an obesity medicine doctor at Yale University, told People.

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