If you ever want to go down a rabbit hole of horror, do a Google Image search for "bad Botox." (Here, I'll make it easy for you.) Yeah, a lot can go terribly, terribly wrong. But the truth is, lots of totally normal people get Botox and live their lives looking, well, totally normal.
Botulinum toxin (that's the protein; Botox is the brand) procedures increased by 18 percent from 2014 to 2015, and 6,448.9 percent since 1997, making it the most popular non-surgical cosmetic procedure on the market, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. More young people are getting Botox too. Sixty-four percent of facial plastic surgeons reported an increase in patients under 30 years old last year.
That means, living and working in New York City, I probably pass countless people with Botox each day without even realizing it. (I certainly have friends whose secret Botox regimens took me by surprise.) So I decided to see what the big deal is firsthand. And in the name of investigative journalism, I visited Joshua Zeichner, M.D., dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, to go under the needle. Here's what I learned.
"Repeated facial expressions create folds in your skin," says Zeichner. "Young skin bounces back from this kind of repeated movement, but increasingly weak collagen makes it harder for skin to return to its original shape as you get older, and those once-temporary 'folds' ultimately become wrinkles." Botox freezes your muscles so you can't crease your skin any further, creating deeper lines. So even though I'm still a few years short of 30, freezing a few "folds" from time to time could reduce my overall likelihood of having severe wrinkles when I'm older. Huzzah.
It's a Low-Commitment Procedure
While other injectables (read: fillers) last a few years, Botox only lasts three to five months. At an average of $400 a pop, that adds up if you're planning on being Botoxed the whole year. But the fearful first-timer in me was comforted knowing that it would all go away soon if I absolutely hated it.
Plus, unlike laser treatments that leave your face red and require you to go into hiding afterwards (I learned this the hard way after getting lasered once at 9:00 a.m. before heading to the office—sorry, cubicle neighbor), I was able to meet with a friend for coffee immediately after without the fear of looking like one of the Real Housewives. And if you subtract the hour I spent asking Dr. Zeichner a bazillion questions, the actual injections only took ten minutes—if that.
It Makes You Sweat Less
One side effect of Botox: reduced activity in your sweat glands, says Zeichner, which is why some people get Botox in their scalps and underarms if they sweat a lot. For me, it just means my bangs no longer soak up a billion liters of sweat after a HIIT class. It's not enough of a benefit by itself, but, hey, I'll take it.
My Facial Expressions Don't Feel All That Limited
Remember: You're freezing your muscles, so a frozen face is a legit concern. (Exhibit A: Hollywood's Most Frozen Faces.) I love my facial expressions, and I was definitely afraid Botox would limit them. But it's all about placement and amount (see below). After spending about half an hour in the mirror making multiple facial expressions, I can confirm that the only face I have trouble making is "angry eyebrows." This has its upsides: A Journal of Psychiatric Research study found that Botox in the eye area has major antidepressant effects in people suffering from depression. (Facial expressions are known to affect mood, so if you can't fully express negativity, you'd theoretically feel more positive.)
No One Notices If You Do It Right
To prove this theory, I didn't tell my fiance about my little Botox rendezvous for a while. When I finally confessed, he could hardly identify the scene of injection. And in order for him to really notice, we had to compare our "angry eyebrow" faces in the mirror.
As I mentioned, placement and amount are key when it comes to a natural look. I thought Dr. Zeichner would go straight for my forehead (that's where wrinkles are usually the most severe, right?). But he didn't. "Your frontalis muscle (where your forehead is) creates the lines there," says Zeichner. Thing is, this muscle also elevates your eyebrows, and keeps them where they belong. So if you freeze it, you end up with low eyebrows and a longer-looking forehead. Instead, he injected a slight amount in the area between the brows, which had the effect of smoothing frown lines without making my face look unnatural.
Another common mistake: "Injecting too much around your eyes can blunt your smile and look unnatural too," says Zeichner.
This, ladies, is where you start to get into that "So. Much. Work. Done." look. "Injectables are just as much of an art as they are a science," says Zeichner. "The aesthetic sense of your injector determines where he/she places the product, so choose your doctor wisely."
Point taken. While I don't plan on being Botoxed all year long ($$$), I could definitely see myself doing it here and there as a preventative measure... A birthday present to myself, perhaps? I'll just make sure to save Groupon deals for the celebratory dinner afterward.