There’s *always* a new weight loss fad getting buzz. Whether it’s waist trainers or a new detox tea, there’s simply something seductive and appealing about a quick fix that will help you reach your weight loss goals as fast as possible. But, spoiler, most of the time these products are total B.S. And that’s no different when it comes to the latest fad item: weight loss patches, like with Japanese mint or green tea extract.
Still, you may not be able to help feeling at least a little curious about weight loss patches, since they’re probs all over your social media. Can’t blame ya when proponents of these patches and influencers touting the magical effects of them claim that the ingredients act like little boosters to rev up your weight-loss efforts.
But the question remains: Do these patches actually work—and are they even safe? Get the lowdown here—with input from Charlie Seltzer, MD, a weight loss physician and exercise physiologist based in Philadelphia—before you add any type of weight loss patch to your next Prime order.
First off, what are weight loss patches?
Well, they’re pretty much exactly what they sound like: large adhesive patches that you apply to the part of your body that you’re hoping to reduce (such as your belly, arms, or thighs). They’re typically available through large online retailers like Amazon, as well as on brands’ individual websites and in brick-and-mortar nutrition stores.
These patches are intended to work transdermally, which means the active ingredients go directly into the skin, bypassing your digestive system. That’s is the key difference between patches and oral supplements you’d ingest, such as in pill or powder form, Dr. Seltzer says.
Common ingredients found in these patches include green tea extract, green coffee bean extract and bitter orange (more on these ingredients in a minute).
Do the ingredients in these patches actually have any weight loss super powers?
Many of the most common active ingredients in these patches do rev heart rate or speed up metabolism—however, these effects tend to be *very* minimal. And because weight loss patches aren’t regulated by the FDA, it’s not possible to know the full extent of potential risks and side effects when you can’t gauge how much of certain ingredients are in the patch, and what other ingredients it’s packing. Weight loss products in general typically are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nor are vitamins and supplements.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t substantial research showcasing that the ingredients found in these patches are effective or have any benefit, even if they were delivered through the bloodstream,” Dr. Seltzer says. “Ultimately, no weight loss product will ever be perfect, which is why products like pills or transdermal patches won’t end up doing anything at all.”
The following are some of the most common active ingredients found in these patches:
Green tea extract: Some research has suggested that caffeine may contribute to weight loss, and green tea specifically may help with weight loss and weight management, according to a 2009 study. But as with other ingredients, it’s not a magic solution. Plus, new, more current research is lacking. Additionally, while green tea extract is generally pretty safe, some supplements have been shown to cause liver damage in rare cases (note that drinking green tea the old-fashioned way is perfectly fine!). “Potentially losing an extra ounce in a 20-pound setting doesn’t make sense to me, no matter how rare the risk of liver failure is,” says Dr. Seltzer.
Green coffee bean extract: Green coffee bean extract comes from raw coffee beans that haven’t been roasted. These beans contain chlorogenic acid, which an old study (keyword: old) showed may prevent weight gain in mice. (Any animal research that hasn’t been replicated in humans should be taken with a grain of salt, though.)
Hokuto mint: Hokuto mint (also known as Japanese mint or corn mint), contains menthol, which gives off the same minty smell that pain relief products like Bengay do. Sellers often claim that it works by blocking the body’s absorption of sugars and starches, preventing them from being stored as fat. According to Dr. Seltzer, though, there is no research behind this mint with regard to oral or transdermal administration for weight loss.
Ephedra: Also commonly referred to as ephedrine, this ingredient has a reputation for being straight-up dangerous, and rightfully so. In fact, in 2004, ephedra was banned by the FDA for use in diet and sports supplements because it showed to have serious health risks like heart attack and stroke, resulting in deaths. Physicians generally agree that it’s not a safe or effective treatment for weight loss, and for that reason alone, steer clear.
Bitter orange extract: Bitter orange extract is found in citrus fruits such as Seville oranges and contains synephrine, a stimulant with effects similar to ephedrine, according to a 2012 study. Because of this, the makers of bitter orange extract patches claim it can help to lose weight by helping to burn more calories and fat, as well as by suppressing appetite. However, the study concluded that these effects are minimal and further research is still needed.
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an ancient herb that has been shown to potentially help alleviate stress and anxiety, which can lead to mindless eating, or “stress eating,” says Dr. Seltzer. While studies have shown that it can reduce levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone), this isn’t a guarantee that it’ll help you drop pounds.
Cannabidiol: Cannabidiol, or CBD, has gained significant popularity in the last couple of years, particularly as a more natural method for relieving pain and anxiety, and it’s starting to pop up in patch form as well. CBD oil may have some appetite-suppressing qualities, says Dr. Seltzer, which is why people may be intrigued enough to try it. However, like CBD creams, these patches are usually intended for uses like muscle pain relief, and, as with most others on this list, waaaay more research is needed when it comes CBD for weight loss. (The fact that CBD is not fully legal makes carrying out this specific research extra-challenging as well.)
How do you use weight loss patches?
As mentioned above, these patches are easily applied to the skin like a large bandage. The instructions generally advise leaving a patch on for about six to eight hours and using three to four times per week.
One potential benefit to a patch-style delivery of anything is that you can avoid GI issues like stomach pain and gastrointestinal distress that can happen from oral supps. And there are certain medicines that may work more effectively transdermally (pain relief patches, for example— but this is not the case with weight loss patches).
So yeah, weight loss patches may be painless and easy to “set and forget,” but that really just might be all they’re good for.
So do *any* weight loss patches really work?
At the end of the day, Dr. Seltzer says no, these patches *won’t* work to help you slim down quickly, even if you’re exercising and eating well at the same time.
The main reason people tend to be optimistic about these patches is because of all the claims out there about trendy ingredients helping with weight loss, he explains. But from a physiological standpoint, a single ingredient (and in such small, sporadic amounts) simply can’t have an impactful effect on body fat and metabolism, he notes.
These ingredients are more commonly ingested orally, and even then, they don’t yield weight loss results, Dr. Seltzer explains. “So when you take a step away from that and put those ingredients in a transdermal patch, which has no evidence or research behind it, you’re taking something that barely works, if it all, and using it in a method that probably won’t do anything.”
Is there any harm in trying a patch?
First off, always talk to your doctor before trying any type of weight loss patches or other products, says Dr. Seltzer. While patches probably are not harmful in most cases (because, again, they won’t do anything), they’re still a waste of money, and you can’t expect what’s essentially just a large sticker to replace the true effects of diet and exercise.
“It’s easy for companies to prey on people who are stressed and concerned about their weight, but there’s no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss,” Dr. Seltzer says. “But when something is ineffectual and theoretically dangerous, it’s ridiculous to try.”
At the end of the day, it’s to save your money, or better yet, invest it in something like a personal trainer or nutritionist (who is more likely to give information to you straight and have health and best interests at heart), or a fitness app subscription, he says.
The bottom line: Do not use weight loss patches, as they are not proven to assist with weight loss and can even cause dangerous side effects.