Aesthetic Dermatology Update

Facial lipoatrophy with semaglutide-related weight loss


Ozempic and Wegovy are two prescription drugs that have transformed the management of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Both are a form of semaglutide; the Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic for treating type 2 diabetes in 2017, followed by Wegovy in 2021 for weight loss in adults with obesity or those who are overweight and have least one weight-related health condition, such as hypertension or hypercholesterolemia. Ozempic is not approved for weight loss, but it has been prescribed off label for that purpose.

An effective treatment, participants with overweight or obesity in one study experienced almost a mean 15% drop in body weight with subcutaneous semaglutide administered once a week versus about 2% with placebo after 68 weeks.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

In 2022, high demand and global supply constraints gave rise to shortages of both medications. The FDA reported a Wegovy shortage in March 2022, followed by an Ozempic shortage in August. Social media attention and increased off-label prescribing, with some patients purporting to have had significant improvements with weight loss and their quality of life, including having their clothing fit better and being able to bend over and tie their shoes, increased attention on these medications to the point that off-label prescribing of both drugs for weight loss resulted in some patients with type 2 diabetes unable to receive their medication on time. In late January 2023, NBC reported that Ozempic prescriptions had “tripled from 2021 to 2022,” based on data from the prescription drug discount company SingleCare.

Semaglutide is designed to mimic a hormone that signals to the brain when a person is full and promotes the release of insulin. In turn, the medications can result in lower blood glucose levels, appetite suppression, and reduced caloric intake. Injected once weekly, the medication, a glucagonlike peptide–1 receptor agonist, specifically, activates GLP-1 receptors in the brain, increasing insulin secretion, decreasing glucagon secretion, and delaying gastric emptying (acting as an incretin mimetic).

‘Ozempic face’

Common adverse events with semaglutide can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation, and injection-site reactions. Rare, but more severe adverse events may include thyroid C-cell tumor (in animal studies), medullary thyroid cancer risk, hypersensitivity reaction, anaphylaxis, acute renal injury, chronic renal failure exacerbation, pancreatitis, and cholelithiasis.

A less severe but noticeable side effect that has gained attention is facial wasting and aging, reportedly coined “Ozempic face” by a dermatologist interviewed for an article published in January in The New York Times.

As of Feb. 9, TikTok videos from individuals describing their personal experiences, health care professionals, and others with the tag #ozempicface had 4.8 million views.

Weight loss in the face is not specific to Ozempic or Wegovy, but may occur with any weight-loss treatment as fat loss affects the entire body, including the face. Theories as to why noticeable facial changes occur with these medications include: accelerated loss of facial pads that already tend to diminish or shift with normal aging, as well as the inability of skin elasticity to keep up with the loss of volume (fat), resulting in more prominent hanging skin and the appearance of “jowls.” Wan and colleagues have described the fat pad distribution in the face and the facial aging that occurs as a result of the loss and shifting of these fat pads over time.

In the same way that we use facial fillers to help treat and correct volume/fat loss associated with photoaging, facial fillers may be used to help restore volume where it’s been lost after weight loss. The sagging skin or loss of elasticity often associated with Ozempic-related weight loss or with rapid or noticeable weight loss in general, may or may not also require other interventions that include treatment with tissue tightening devices – such as radiofrequency energy, high-focused ultrasound energy, threads, and/or surgery – such as a face lift. The potential high cost of both off-label prescribing of these medications (especially without use of prescription health insurance) as well as treatment to correct any facial wasting has also received attention in news media and social media discussions of this topic.

Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. Write to her at She has no relevant disclosures.

*Correction 1/28/23: An earlier version of this story misstated the approval date of Wegovy. It was in 2021.

Recommended Reading

Surgeon’s license suspension spotlights hazards, ethics of live-streaming surgeries
MDedge Dermatology
Do collagen supplements benefit the skin?
MDedge Dermatology
Picosecond lasers for tattoo removal could benefit from enhancements, expert says
MDedge Dermatology
Buccal fat pad removal
MDedge Dermatology
Camellia japonica
MDedge Dermatology