5 Important Botox Facts


Woman receiving injection into her forehead.
Woman receiving injection into her forehead.
Digital Vision/Getty Images

Aging is difficult in a culture that celebrates youth. Age spots, wrinkles and lines, hollows in your face where they didn't used to be -- those are all normal effects of getting older (and sun exposure), but it can be hard to look in the mirror at the face you've known all your life and see something different.

When it comes to wrinkles and lines, there's an injectable answer to making them go away: Botox. It's expensive, and the effects are temporary, but the women (and men) who swear by it say that they look less tired, less stressed and, most importantly, less old.

Since 2002, Botox has been administered in more than 11 million cosmetic procedures [source: Allergan]. But it's far from a simple substance. What is this stuff we're injecting into our faces?

Botox is Related to Food Poisoning. Sort Of.

Botulism is a paralyzing illness. One type of botulism, the foodborne strain, is contracted through eating food that wasn't processed properly. The source is commonly home-canned vegetables, although cases of illness have been caused by foil-wrapped baked potatoes and carrot juice [source: CDC]. Wound botulism is often linked to heroin injections. The bacterium Clostridium botulinum is also found in soil and dust.

The bacteria produce neurotoxins, substances that damage nerve tissue. Those poisons are what scorpions and tarantulas use to paralyze their prey and their enemies. In humans, the effects of botulism include muscle weakness, vision problems and droopy eyelids.

Botulinum toxin A is one of the neurotoxins produced by Clostridium botulinum -- and that is what Botox is made of. But in this case, paralysis is a good thing. Find out why next.

The Name of the Game is Paralysis.

There are seven botulinum toxins in all, identified by the letters A through G. Once a toxin has latched onto a nerve ending, the chemical responsible for starting muscle contractions (acetylcholine) is blocked. That's because these toxins go after the proteins that release acetylcholine.

In the simplest terms, botulinum toxins keep your body from telling its muscles to contract.

This can be very dangerous. For example, the toxin can cause respiratory failure by obstructing messages from the body telling your lungs to breathe. But what if you want to keep a muscle still?

Frown Lines are No Match for Botox.

Why inject poison into your body on purpose? Because if you can't move your muscles, you can't get wrinkles.

Botox is approved to treat the vertical frown lines between your eyebrows, known as glabellar lines. It's also often used on crow's feet around the eyes and furrows on the brow. Some people use Botox for a "jaw reduction" -- injecting the muscles around the jaw is supposed to slim the appearance of the face.

When Botox is administered to the muscles around wrinkles and lines, those muscles can't move. Once they relax, the appearance of wrinkles and lines is smoothed out . The effects are only temporary -- 3 or 4 months -- and Botox can't do anything for sun damage.

Botox Isn't Just Cosmetic.

Botox has some medical uses in addition to cosmetic ones. Injections can treat chronic migraine, overactive bladder, crossed eyes, severe sweating and various conditions that affect the muscles.

A condition such as cervical dystonia causes involuntary muscle contractions. Botox, once injected into the affected muscles, reduces or gets rid of the spasms. Someone receiving treatment for chronic migraine would be subject to 31 injections on the head and neck area, while someone with urinary incontinence issues would have the toxin injected into the bladder wall.

The effects are temporary, lasting from three to 10 months, depending on the condition.

The Risks are Very Real.

Getting Botox isn't like getting a pedicure. Botox injections are a medical procedure that should be done by a certified professional in an office, not at a cocktail party.

It's possible that someone getting Botox injections could experience side effects: bruising, headache, itching, pain. Some side effects are life-threatening, from problems breathing to the toxin spreading to other areas of the body. If something goes wrong and your health is at risk, you need someone around who can handle it.

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Sources

  • Botox. Allergan. 2011. (Dec. 9, 2012) http://www.botox.com/
  • "Botox." MedlinePlus. Last updated Dec. 10, 2012. (Jan. 8, 2013) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/botox.html#cat57
  • Botox Cosmetic. Allergan. 2012. (Dec. 9, 2012) http://www.botoxcosmetic.com/Home.aspx
  • "Botulism." National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Centers for Disease Control. Last reviewed Nov. 11, 2010. (Jan. 8, 2013) http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/divisions/dfbmd/diseases/botulism/
  • "Clostridium botulinum." Bad Bug Book. U.S. FDA. Last reviewed April 3, 2012. (Dec. 9, 2012) http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/foodborneillness/foodborneillnessfoodbornepathogensnaturaltoxins/badbugbook/ucm070000.htm