Over the past week, there’s been a flurry of major news outlets talking about “Ozempic face.” The New York Times, People magazine, and the The Independent were among the media organizations to report on the phenomenon.
What is Ozempic face? It’s a side effect of the remarkable weight loss caused by new type 2 diabetes drugs, including semaglutide (Ozempic), which have become incredibly popular outside of the diabetes community. To put it simply, people using Ozempic can lose so much weight that they also lose healthy-looking fat from their faces, which can result in a saggy, aged appearance.
There is no evidence that Ozempic or any other similar drug directly affects your facial appearance. Ozempic face is purely caused by weight loss.
Ozempic, which was developed to treat diabetes, is among the most effective weight loss drugs ever created. During the past year, the weekly injection has become a celebrity weight-loss sensation, leading to global shortages. Many people with type 2 diabetes have been unable to get their hands on their important glucose-lowering therapy because so many nondiabetic patients have snapped up the supply.
Ozempic is not the only new diabetes drug that causes significant weight loss. Here’s a rundown of the most promising and popular related drugs:
semaglutide (Ozempic) is probably the most popular diabetes/obesity drug out there. In a recent 6-month trial, people with type 2 diabetes lost an average of 7.2 percent of their total body weight when using Ozempic. People without diabetes lost even more: 11.8 percent.
semaglutide (Rybelsus) has the same active ingredient as Ozempic, but it’s a daily pill rather than a weekly injection. It appears to be equally effective for weight loss.
semaglutide (Wegovy) is the same drug as Ozempic; it’s named Wegovy when it is labeled for weight loss rather than diabetes. It’s available in a slightly larger dose than Ozempic, which may grant more weight loss.
tirzepatide (Mounjaro), the only dual GIP/GLP-1 receptor agonist on the market, may be the most effective weight loss medication of them all. Experts anticipate that it will earn many billions of dollars once the FDA approves it for sale as an obesity medication.
liraglutide (Victoza) causes somewhat less weight loss than semaglutide, but still enough for it to be marketed specifically as an obesity drug. When liraglutide is labeled for weight loss rather than diabetes, it is named Saxenda.
Why are so many people without diabetes taking Ozempic instead of Wegovy? For one thing, Wegovy has also experienced shortages, due partly to its popularity and partly to manufacturing issues. Mounjaro, too, has faced shortages. This is where the story gets a little bit controversial.
Insurers will typically not pay for Ozempic or Mounjaro prescriptions for patients who do not have diabetes, which means that these shortages have largely been driven by people willing to pay the exorbitant full prices for their new weight loss medication. As of this writing, Ozempic costs over $900 per month off the shelf, and Mounjaro costs over $1,000. These new drugs are out of reach of most Americans, but their popularity with the upper class has prevented some people with type 2 from getting the drug therapies that their doctors believe they need.
Which brings us back to Ozempic face, a concern perhaps mostly limited to the one percent. The Times article name-drops Kim Kardashian as a rumored Ozempic use and assures us that in the rarefied air of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, “everybody is either on it or asking how to get on it.” The article goes on to detail the expensive cosmetic surgery with which the afflicted are adding fat back into their faces.
Readers with diabetes, most of whom have more critical health concerns than the status of their cheek fat deposits, can be excused for finding the whole story revolting.
The bottom line for people with diabetes? Ozempic, like other GLP-1 and GIP/GLP-1 receptor agonists, really can trigger impressive weight loss. The phenomenon known as Ozempic face is proof of its efficacy. If you have type 2 diabetes, weight loss is usually a very good thing, because it so often leads to comprehensive metabolic benefits, including lower fasting blood sugar and A1C. And, yes … if you really do lose a ton of weight, Ozempic might make your face look a little bit flabbier, too.