Ozempic, the diabetes drug designed to help control blood sugar but that also can result in significant, rapid weight loss, has become almost as famous as the bold-faced names who may (or may not) be using it.
The medication — heaven sent for diabetes sufferers struggling to get their potentially fatal condition under control — has also been making headlines around the world for how quickly it allows people to shed the stubborn pounds that seem resistant to dietary changes or physical exercise alone. Celebrities such as Amy Schumer and Tracy Morgan have talked about trying Ozempic, while others have been the subject of “Are they or aren’t they?” speculation.
But while Ozempic has helped many people improve their health by lowering their A1C levels, it’s also taught us about a host of side effects. Maybe you’ve heard of “Ozempic face,” and “Ozempic butt.” Well, meet “Ozempic neck.”
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So what is Ozempic neck, and can it be treated or prevented? First, a little background.
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is a brand name for a medication known as semaglutide; it debuted in 2017 to treat type 2 diabetes in adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37 million Americans have diabetes — and an estimated 90-95% of them have type 2. Type 2 diabetes means the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or it prevents cells from interacting with the hormone, whose job it is to help regulate the body’s blood sugar levels. With insufficient insulin able to do its job, many people develop high blood sugar, which can lead to serious health issues including heart disease and kidney failure, as well as other complications.
Beginning in 2017, semaglutide has been used effectively to treat type 2 diabetes in several different ways. It helps the body to restrict the liver from producing too much sugar, and assists the body in producing insulin when needed. And—as both patients and doctors began to observe with the drug —it can result in weight loss because it slows down the process of food leaving the stomach by duplicating the effects of the hormone GLP-1, which is produced naturally by the body.
“This hormone sends signals to the part of your brain that makes you feel full and regulates how much you eat, slowing down how quickly food travels through your digestive system,” says Raoul Manalac, M.D., a Louisiana-based internal medicine physician and Senior Director at Ro, who is board certified in obesity treatment. “As a result, [semaglutide] makes you feel full faster and have less appetite, which helps people lose weight.”
Of course, that holds great appeal, as 49.1% of Americans are trying to drop pounds, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reporting that 49.1% of Americans are trying to lose weight. In 2021, the medication was approved by the FDA (at a higher dose under the brand name Wegovy) to treat obesity. Weekly injections of both Wegovy and Ozempic have become extremely popular for people looking to lose weight.
What is Ozempic neck?
“Ozempic neck” refers to skin on the neck looking loose and wrinkled after weight loss brought on by semaglutide. You may also have heard of Ozempic face (a “hollowed-out, loose-skinned, droopy appearance” of the face) and Ozmpeic butt (“the same effect,” [but] occurring around your rear end”). This is the same thing, referring to your neck.
But calling such phenomena “Ozempic” anything isn’t really accurate. These names are “catchy terms that have managed to grab headlines, but they aren’t phenomena inherently tied to semaglutide,” says Dr. Manalac. He points out that “changes in skin appearance can actually occur with any form of rapid weight loss, not just from weight loss resulting from using semaglutide.”
That’s right — the term “Ozempic neck” would have you think that the condition is exclusive to using medications that contain semiglutide, but it’s not. It is “essentially a situation where you have begun to lose weight and you can see the changes associated with your weight loss, [including] an increase in sagging skin to the neck [and/or] thinning of the skin,” says Dr. Alexander Zuriarrain, a Miami-based plastic surgeon who performs post-weight loss surgery.
It is logical, if you think about it: Your skin is “used to being stretched out over the fat tissue that used to be underneath it,” says Dr. Manalac. “With less body fat underneath, skin in some areas — sometimes the buttocks, the face, the neck or elsewhere — might appear looser or slightly more wrinkled.”
In addition, the sudden lack of fat reveals the underlying neck musculature, Dr. Zuriarrain says. And since skin loses elasticity with age, depending on how old you are, your skin might not spring back after having been stretched out.
How to fix “Ozempic neck”
There’s no simple or quick fix for sagging skin caused by rapid weight loss, but there are ways to address it before it happens as well as after.
- Nutrition and exercise. Incorporating physical exercise and a healthy diet along with semaglutide use may help prevent Ozempic neck (and face and butt) because a healthy lifestyle helps the body maintain the elastin it needs to bounce back after being stretched over fat tissue, reports the Cleveland Clinic, which also notes that a well-balanced diet with a focus on certain foods that include fruits, fish and nuts can increase your elastin. Exercise is also helpful because it increases metabolism and blood circulation, which is essential for skin health. When Ashley Koff, RD, a nutrition expert as well as the founder and CEO of The Better Nutrition Program, sees “a neck [that] looks wrinkly like a deflated balloon… this tells me as an expert that nutrition and fitness has not been optimized while on the medication.”
- Take it slow. Consulting with your doctor so that weight loss isn’t too dramatic can also be helpful. “While taking GLP-1 medications, your healthcare provider will monitor the rate at which you’re losing weight to prevent rapid weight loss that can increase the chance of the loose skin that some see as ‘Ozempic neck,;” advises Dr. Manalac. “In addition, staying hydrated, maintaining an exercise routine and getting quality sleep can all help minimize the appearance of loose skin as the fat cells shrink and take up less space during weight loss.”
- Try a non-surgical treatment. Dr. Zuriarrain notes that there are “multiple treatments from an aesthetic standpoint that can improve next skin laxity, [including] nonsurgical options such as radiofrequency with micro needling,” a procedure during which tiny needles are used to apply heat to wrinkled skin to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin.
Other Ozempic side effects
Indeed. As Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro (another diabetes medication that also causes weight loss) were quickly becoming famous, side effects became notorious. “Because these medications specifically impact digestion, the most common side effects … are gastrointestinal issues, like nausea and constipation,” says Dr. Manalac. “Most of the time these side effects are mild and resolve over time.”
But for some, the side effects of semiglutide medications aren’t mild at all. In November 2022, New York Magazine published an article about women who suffered “incessant vomiting” and alarming “heart-rate spikes” as a result of weekly injections of Ozempic. In 2023, one woman brought legal action against the makers of Ozempic and Mounjaro after suffering from “severe vomiting, stomach pain, gastrointestinal burning, being hospitalized for stomach issues on several occasions including visits to the emergency room, [and] teeth falling out due to excessive vomiting.”
“Patient safety is of utmost importance to Novo Nordisk,” a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk told USA TODAY in response to the lawsuit. “We are continuously monitoring the safety profile of our products and collaborate closely with authorities to ensure patient safety, including adequate information on gastrointestinal side effects in the label.” Novo Nordisk makes Wegovy and Ozempic. “Patient safety is Lilly’s top priority, and we actively engage in monitoring, evaluating and reporting safety information for all our medicines,” an Eli Lilly representative told the paper (Eli Lilly manufactures Mounjaro).
The bottom line: “Ozempic neck” is simply droopy, stretched out skin resulting from weight loss. If you’re thinking of trying a semaglutide, bear in mind that, “It is a long-term treatment for a chronic condition, not a trend,” says Dr. Manalac. Using the medication as a quick and easy way to lose some extra weight and then stopping the drug once the goal has been met will likely result in the weight being regained. Dr. Manalac considers medications with semaglutide to be “a great option for many patients looking to manage their weight long-term, but it’s not for everyone,” he says. “It is best suited for people with obesity [or] who have another related health concern (including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease).”
Luisa Colón is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Family Circle, USA Today and many other print and online publications. Her first novel, Bad Moon Rising, will be released in August 2023.