My friend has been having Botox injections to "erase" his crow's-feet. Another friend says it isn't safe because Botox is actually botulism. Why would someone want to inject botulism into his skin?

You see advertisements everywhere for Botox injections. Remove unwanted wrinkles. Banish unsightly neck bands. Clear away irksome crow's-feet. Yes, it's true -- a large number of people are having Botox injections to regain a more youthful appearance.

A simple query on an Internet search engine will result in dozens of sites touting the cosmetic wonders of Botox. Although Botox has been used in this manner for years, it was only approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cosmetic use in April 2002. (It has been approved for the treatment of several medical conditions since 1989.) Botox is a trade name for botulinum toxin A. So, in a way, your friend is correct: Botox is related to botulism. Botulism is a form of food poisoning that occurs when someone eats something containing a neurotoxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

The most serious symptom of botulism is paralysis, which in some cases has proven to be fatal. The botulinum toxins (there are several -- the main types are A through F) attach themselves to nerve endings. Once this happens, acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for triggering muscle contractions, cannot be released. Essentially, the botulinum toxins block the signals that would normally tell your muscles to contract. Say, for example, it attacks the muscles in your chest -- this could have a profound impact on your breathing. When people die from botulism, this is often the cause -- the respiratory muscles are paralyzed and they can no longer breathe.

At this point, you're probably wondering why anyone would want to have a botulinum toxin injected into his or her body. The answer is simple: If an area of the body can't move, it can't wrinkle.