How Things Work: Botox

Botox injections are one of the fastest growing cosmetic procedures in popularity in the beauty industry, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. This “wonder” injection caused a stir in the aesthetic industry when it was introduced, primarily because it removes unwanted wrinkles and can reduce neckbands.

For the majority of users, who are between 25 and 65 years old, Botox is an effective way to gain a youthful appearance. But how exactly does this anti-wrinkle serum work?

Botox is actually the shortened term for botulinum toxin A, a therapeutic agent derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that is behind the food poisoning botulism.

The bacteria contain seven variations of the botulinum toxin — A through G — and the effects vary for each one. Paralysis is the most serious symptom of botulism; its less severe cousin, Botox, merely paralyzes smaller muscles whose contractions cause wrinkles in a person’s skin.

Botox reacts with acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that is responsible for muscle contractions. The toxin primarily blocks nerve endings, which therefore block the transmission of acetylcholine. Some toxins also attack the proteins that assist in the release of acetylcholine.

The place in a person’s body where the toxin takes effect is crucial. Because the toxins block the signals that tell muscles to contract, if the toxin attacks the heart, it can become difficult and even impossible for the heart to pump blood.

But other muscle contractions are less crucial to human life. Wrinkles, for example, are caused by repetitive muscle contractions from years of smiles and frowns.

With Botox, a muscle cannot contract, so the skin above it cannot wrinkle.

The FDA has approved the use of Botox for smoothing the lines that often form between a person’s eyebrows, otherwise known as glabellar lines.

An individual can have Botox injections on other parts of his or her body, but those that are used in other places are termed “off-label” and are neither approved nor banned.

A surgeon will typically use a microneedle when injecting Botox into a patient. This serves to minimize any possible discomfort. Common side effects include headache, flu symptoms, and nausea.

Botox has been successful at treating spasms and involuntary muscle contractions. When Botox is injected into the muscles surrounding a particular area, then the muscles in that area remain relaxed, easing spasms and involuntary contractions.

The effects of an injection can last anywhere from three to eight months. Because it is injected into the certain muscle group, Botox does not affect neighboring muscles. But if it is injected in the wrong place near the eyes, a person can end up with droopy eyelid muscles, a condition that can last for weeks.

In 1989, Botox was approved to treat two eye muscle disorders: blepharospasm (uncontrollable blinking) and strabismus (misaligned eyes).

In 2000, it was approved to treat cervical dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes severe neck and shoulder contractions.

In 2002, the FDA acknowledged that the injection was effective in reducing frown lines for up to 120 days.

Botox has become very commercialized since it was first introduced. Some users throw Botox parties that include cocktail parties, seminars, and socials.

The parties serve two functions: Friends can get the procedure done together and less expensively, because medicine is cheaper in bulk.

But Botox injections should not be taken lightly. The FDA has warned that a Botox injection is a medical procedure and it should be performed in a proper, medical setting, where an emergency situation can be handled.

Also, the ingestion of alcohol could worsen bruising at the injection site.

People who want to have the procedure done should make sure to find a certified practitioner. More and more unqualified people are dispensing Botox in hotel rooms, gyms, salons, and offices, increasing the risk of improper technique, inappropriate dosages, and unsanitary conditions.