Fat loss injections like Ozempic are trending but are they dangerous?

With the promise of impressive weight reduction results, fat loss injections have seen a 4750% search increase online over the past 12 months, and there are currently 700 million TikTok views on videos on the topic.

Most of the discussions are around an injection trade-named Ozempic, with another popular option called Saxenda. Both were originally developed to treat type two diabetes, support weight loss, and reverse associated medical conditions such as high blood pressure in obese patients. The injections contain semaglutide, a drug that mimics a hormone (GLP-1) which is released after eating, making you feel full, so you eat less as a result. This can promote the loss of around 10 to 15% of body weight.

However, the surge in popularity and recognition of fat loss injections, particularly Ozempic, has also led to a worrying increase in unregulated online purchases, as individuals look to self-inject.

This has not only triggered concern from experts about the negative side effects for those using them untrained at home but also for the real risk of shortages for those who have been medically prescribed the injections, specifically those with type two diabetes.  

“Unfortunately, after learning about these injections online, on social media, and hearing about their use by celebrities, many are getting hold of these medications online despite not being obese, as a quick and easy solution for weight loss,” says the leading surgeon Miss Sujatha Tadiparthi, who has over 15 years experience in the field of plastic surgery. “The side-effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, tiredness and headaches, or the potential risk of developing pancreatic cancer or thyroid cancer do not seem to be putting anybody off. This surging demand has meant a severe shortage for those who are obese or have type two diabetes and genuinely need the drug.”

Furthermore, practitioners are also now seeing a rise in clients coming to clinic with signs of ‘Ozempic face’ - a combination of gauntness and lax skin around the face caused by rapid weight loss. 

“Losing up to 15% of your weight can have dramatic effects on your face, which many don’t realise,” reveals Tadiparthi. “They may have achieved their desired body weight, but the resulting loose skin can lead to psychological issues, lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. In particular, the ‘Ozempic face’ describes an empty, gaunt-looking face with lax skin after losing a significant amount of weight. This can make you look much older and may require anything from dermal fillers, thread lifts to surgery with fat grafts and face lift to restore volume and tighten.”

Individuals may struggle with sagging skin on their body too, especially the breasts and stomach: “I am seeing an increasing number of patients coming to me for changes to their breast or body with ‘droopy’ breasts that have lost their shape, excess rolls of skin over their tummies or the arms (the bingo wings!) or their thighs,” says Tadiparthi. “Several procedures may be needed including a breast uplift, tummy tuck, arm and thigh lift. In some areas such as the knees, the fat can remain stubborn, needing liposuction to contour them in line with rest of their body.”

If potential clients have tried the fat loss injections it’s important they feel they can be honest when they come into clinic, especially if they book in for consultation about an issue caused by sudden weight reduction. The worry is that they may be less likely to do so if they have purchased the injections from an unregulated online website, in comparison to clients who have undergone weight loss under the supervision of a medical professional. 

What’s more, while purchasing the injections online for what seems like an affordable price may sound like a quick fix for fat loss, clients may end up with a more costly bill over time, due to surgery required to fix the above side effects. 

“Surgery to fix the loose skin can be much more expensive that the weight loss injections and result in permanent scarring,” concludes Tadiparthi. “The injections are recommended for a maximum of two years and so it is easy for the weight to pile back on after stopping them. Using injections alone is not a long-term solution. If used, they need to be part of a calorie-controlled diet and exercise regime to maintain the weight. It can be disappointing after spending a lot of money on surgery and have the resulting scarring to put the weight back on again.”

For these reasons, practitioners who have clients presenting with weight-related image queries or questions about fat loss injections should be prepared to offer holistic support. That way they can demonstrate that a professional-led rather than at-home approach is the best (and safest approach) to weight reduction.