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Opinion Piece: Botox
for the Santa Barbara Independent
by Ann Todhunter Brode
Overhearing a conversation in the locker room at my gym, I was alarmed to hear that my dermatologist was promoting the cosmetic use of Botox. At my next office visit, I confided my concern whereupon my doctor perked up enthusiastically confirming that she does LOTS of Botox treatments and not just for cosmesis but also to treat headaches. I was taken aback by her animation...clearly, such treatments not only address the facial lines but the "bottom line" as well!
I have spent over forty years professionally addressing the relationships of mind and emotion and habit to muscular tension patterns. It disturbs me personally and professionally to witness the increasingly disconnected, beauty industry consumer flocking to paralysis as a solution to address age lines in the face.
Here are the facts:
Botox is Botulinum A, a neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, one of the most potent and poisonous substances in the world. What the poison does is block the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the endings of motor nerves, so that the muscles they enervate are paralyzed. Although the FDA approved Botox for cosmetic use in April, 2002, there are no valid medical benefits. However, it has been used with uneven success in medicine since 1980 for treating the excessive contractions in cerebral palsy, spinal injury, carpal tunnel syndrome as well as excessive glandular secretions.
From cocktail parties in Manhattan to spas to my own dermatologist's office, Botox treatments are simple. It is injected subcutaneously into areas of concern (the worry lines of the forehead for instance) and it works by temporarily paralyzing the muscles for 3 to 4 months. Although the toxin permanently binds to the targeted nerve endings, eventually the nerve will regenerate a new branch to the muscle and the wrinkle contraction will begin again...requiring either another injection or learning to live with a face that appears to be aging really fast.. At a cost of approximately $300 an injection, it is obvious that Botox is a multimillion dollar industry.
What are the downsides?
We haven't a clue of the long term effects of small amounts of this poison (used as a bioterrorism agent next to anthrax!) on the liver, immune system, nervous system, etc. We do know that if it gets into the blood stream, it can kill us.
With the repeated treatment protocol, there is a risk of the body becoming used to the botulinum toxin and generating antibodies to it, thus preventing its future effectiveness. For some patients the treatments render a loss of expression and a disagreeable masklike appearance. It has also been observed that people may develop new wrinkles as a result of Botox treatments. Furthermore, with repeated treatments, atrophy or thinning of the muscles occur which can produce longer lasting results. In the areas where the atrophy has eventually occurred, the skin and underlying tissue is permanently rigid and hardened. This is a startling contrast to the enlivened pliable surrounding skin
Our facial expressions are wired into our emotional tension patterns so people will unconsciously recreate facial expression in the area where muscles have been paralyzed. This causes nearby muscles to compensate and creates new wrinkles. Dr. David Becker, professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College, cautions that the popular Botox target of the area between the eyebrows can spawn future problems as "....following treatment, the muscles in the upper nose, middle eyebrow and eyelid may try to recreate the expression of scowl. Repetition of this action cause new wrinkles."
Using paralysis as a means to an end, perpetuates the disconnect from our physical bodies which can exasperate rather than ameliorate low self esteem, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviors, and depression. Last year alone over 3 million men and women used Botox, with patients as young as teenagers. It is becoming so common that many people view it on a par with a manicure!
I personally love the individualized expression that each of us cultivates through the art of aging. Each line is part of a resume we can be proud of. But, for those of you who reject this sculpting of the aging process, consider this: Using Botox to eliminate facial lines is like trying to make orange juice by hitting oranges with a hammer. The actual wrinkles you are targeting are muscle contractions which can be substantially diminished through awareness training and physical manipulation. The way to approach the lines in your face is to connect with them; explore the expression underneath these lines; increase your awareness of how and when you contract them.
AS AN EXPERIMENT squeeze your forehead to replicate the wrinkles of, say, George Bush or George Clooney. Now see if you can observe what squeezing underlies your unique facial expression. Can you soften the intensity just a bit? Can you get underneath the contraction and let there be a softer space? You might not need Botox after all.
Ann Todhunter Brode is a Certified Somatic Therapist. In practice for over 35 years, she is one of Santa Barbara's eminent body therapists and a longtime health activist.