When I turned 40, I started looking in the mirror more closely. At 34, I'd started to notice fine lines on my face, and six years later, wrinkles and other changes to my skin I hadn't paid much attention to were suddenly staring back at me.
I know I’m not alone. I hear my girlfriends and patients talk about their concerns about aging. And, according to a Global Industry Analysts report, global spending on anti-aging products is estimated to reach $291.9 billion in 2015. There’s no doubt people around the world are preoccupied with aging and its telltale signs.
We all look for ways to turn back the clock, but with so many people turning to Botox as their answer, I can't help but be concerned about two things when I put my doctor hat on:
- Is Botox really safe?
- Why are we so obsessed with wrinkles and aging in the first place?
Let's take a look at the mechanics: To make a muscle contract, a nerve sends a signal to that muscle. The point where the two meet is called the neuromuscular junction. When the signal gets to that meeting point, a chemical called acetylcholine is released to make the muscle contract.
Botox inhibits the release of acetylcholine at the neuromuscular junction, which paralyzes the surrounding muscles. The result is smooth, wrinkle-free skin for three to five months as the muscle slowly regains the ability to contract again.
Sounds good, but is it safe?
The official name of Botox is Botulinum toxin type A. Though type A was approved for cosmetic usage in 2002, it's important to remember that Botulinum toxin is actually a neurotoxin, and one of the most poisonous biological substances known to man.
I first learned about the substance in medical school as a toxin found in contaminated canned foods that has the ability to damage nerves and cause paralysis and even death. So why are we injecting it into our faces? Proponents of Botox say it’s safe, and there have been several short-term studies suggesting its safety.
But I still have concerns about both short-term and long-term effects.
In my practice, I've seen patients experience drooping in their lower eyelids, uneven smiles, and other signs that their facial muscles aren't working correctly after Botox treatments. There's something that just doesn't look "natural" about a face that's been Botoxed. After all, injecting the substance freezes muscles that are, by nature, meant to move.
Furthermore, there are also concerns that Botox might cause muscles to become weaker over time, which can lead to even more sagging and wrinkles down the road.
With all this knowledge about cosmetic "answers" to aging, I ask again: Why are we so obsessed with looking forever 21 in the first place?
Yesterday, a 50-year-old patient said to me, “What can possibly be good about aging?” I reminded her of all the life experience she’s gained that has taken her to a place where she can now truly relax into her life and enjoy it. No more wondering about whether or not she’ll get married, have kids, and what she’ll do with her life. She’s already there! And she truly knows what she likes and can focus on those key areas.
In our 40s and beyond, we might have more wrinkles, but they’re all signs that we’ve been living and laughing. The most beautiful women I’ve ever known have been in their 70s and beyond. I only hope that one day I can be as beautiful as they are and wear my life experiences proudly on my face.
I’m going to take care of my skin with internal and external nourishment, but I don’t need to freeze it. With a frozen face, how would I show my joy? After all, radiance comes from within ... where the real beauty is!
So I’ll skip the Botox and smile at the mirror knowing I’m even more beautiful because of my wrinkles. I love being in my skin.
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