Botox: What You Need to Know

Attractive young woman is getting a rejuvenating facial injections at beauty clinic
Personal appearance can be so important to some people that they will go to great lengths to maintain a youthful look. Group4 Studio / Getty Images

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. In fact, some people are even hosting Botox® parties -- where several women and men (yes, men) gather together for cocktails and wrinkle-banishing injections.

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.)

In this article, you'll find out what Botox® is, how and why it's used and about its connection to botulism.


What is Botox?

Botox® is a trade name for botulinum toxin A. In this way, Botox® is related to botulism. Botulism is a form of food poisoning that occurs when someone eats something containing a neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum toxin A is one of the neurotoxins produced by Clostridium botulinum.

The most serious symptom of botulism is paralysis, which in some cases has proven to be fatal. The botulinum toxins (there are seven -- types are A through G) attach themselves to nerve endings. Once this happens, acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for triggering muscle contractions, cannot be released. A series of proteins, VAMP, syntaxin and SNAP-25, are essential for the release of acetylcholine. Certain botulinum toxins attack these proteins. Botulinum toxin A (Botox) affects the SNAP-25.


Basically, 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 so it's impossible to breathe.

At this point, you may be 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.


Botox in the Body

Botox® (botulinum toxin type A) is successfully used to treat blepharospasm, strabismus, and cervical dystonia -- these are all conditions that in some way involve spasms, involuntary muscle contractions.

Within a few hours to a couple of days after the botulinum toxin is injected into the affected muscle(s), the spasms or contractions are reduced or eliminated altogether. The effects of the treatment are not permanent, reportedly lasting anywhere from three to eight months. By injecting the toxin directly into a certain muscle or muscle group, the risk of it spreading to other areas of the body is greatly diminished.


Botox® Cosmetic has been successfully used to treat severe glabellar (frown) lines and is approved for use in adult patients up to 65 years of age. Also a form of botulinum toxin type A, when Botox® Cosmetic is injected into the muscles surrounding the brow area for instance, those muscles can not "scrunch up" for a period of time. They are paralyzed. So the wrinkles in that area, often referred to as furrows or frown lines, temporarily go away.

Other applications for Botox® are currently under investigation. It has been reported that spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that affects the muscles of the larynx, responds well to Botox® treatment. It has also been used to treat other dystonias, such as writer's cramp, as well as facial spasms, head and neck tremors and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). A recent study has even been conducted to observe its use in treating chronic neck and back pain.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also issued statements warning of the possible hazards of "Botox® parties." Whether used to treat medical conditions such as blepharospasm or strabismus or cosmetic concerns such as furrow lines, a Botox® injection is a medical procedure that should be performed in a controlled medical environment. According to the FDA, administering this treatment during a cocktail party greatly diminishes the gravity of this medical procedure. There is always a risk of adverse reactions or side effects after a Botox® injection, so patients need to be in a medical setting that is equipped to handle an emergency situation. And, the ingestion of alcohol at or around the time of injection could worsen any bruising at the injection site.

For more information, check out the links on the next page.