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Transdermal Patches for Weight Loss: Safe or Sorry?

weight tape measurement obesity waist thumb Any product that promises to help you lose unwanted pounds while also dropping your blood pressure, clearing your skin, stabilizing your blood sugar, and elevating your mood sounds like a great thing. Companies marketing weight-loss patches have their own test results supporting these claims, as well as loads of personal testimonies that cite the major health benefits to patch use. And considering that many American adults are overweight or obese, effective weight loss strategies are certainly needed. But do weight-loss patches really work and are they safe?

A wide variety of skin, or transdermal, weight- and fat-loss patch products are available for purchase on the Internet. In their marketing, the patches are said to influence the body’s metabolism by altering the hormones involved in weight management.

All patches contain a collection of ingredients, mainly herbal, that enter the body through the skin. Patches are usually worn on a hairless, lean part of the body like the shoulder, wrist, or ankle. A new patch is applied daily. Skin patches are designed to provide even dosing over a 24-hour period.

Unproven Safety Record

The skin patches claim to act in two basic ways: by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite. Some ingredients claim to rev up the metabolism; others put a curb on appetite and cravings. Many patches promise other benefits, including increased lean body mass, boosted energy, lower blood pressure, and improved alertness. But, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which investigates fraudulent and deceptive business practices, reports that these weight-loss claims are "bogus."

As with any herbal remedy, many weight-loss patch ingredients are classified as natural plant derivatives. This does not automatically mean that they are safe. Although the FDA keeps track of side-effects of herbal remedies, it cannot regulate them.

Since they may not be well labeled, safety issues are not readily known for many patch ingredients, but consumers using a weight-loss skin patch should be aware that they are allowing herbal drugs to enter their bodies. Therefore, it is wise to consult a doctor before using these patches, especially if you are taking any prescribed medications or have any chronic conditions.

Best Bet: Diet and Exercise

There is no shortage of anecdotal success stories from weight-loss patch believers who profess to have lost lots of weight and achieved improved health. But, is it due to the patch? Or, could it be the increased attention to a healthy lifestyle?

For those who do claim to lose weight or fat while wearing a patch, the loss happens gradually in most cases. However, most patch marketers advertise that long-term weight- and fat-loss maintenance is best achieved with a proper diet and exercise plan. No surprise there. There still appears to be no getting around the fact that changes in lifestyle, like improved diet and more exercise, are needed to keep the pounds off—and keep healthy—for good.

  • Federal Trade Commission

    http://www.ftc.gov

  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

    http://nccam.nih.gov

  • Dietitians of Canada

    http://www.dietitians.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • FTC: skin patches do not cause weight loss. Federal Trade Commission website. Available at: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2004/12/transdermal.shtm. Published December 15, 2004. Accessed October 30, 2013.

  • Kurtzweil P. How to spot health fraud. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/EmergencyPreparedness/BioterrorismandDrugPreparedness/ucm137284.htm. Published February 25, 2010. Accessed October 30, 2013.

  • Pittler MH, Ernst E. Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review.

    Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Apr;79(4):529-36.

  • Weighing the claims in diet ads. Federal Trade Commission website. Available at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0061-weighing-claims-diet-ads. Updated July 2012. Accessed October 30, 2013.