Botox can get into your head. Literally. Researchers from Pisa, Italy have been injecting rats with botox and watching what happens. The results were a little surprising.
Botox® blocks the release of neurotransmitters from specific nerves. When it is injected into the skin, it is taken up by the nerves, and over time blocks the release of neurotransmitters, shutting off those nerves.
In dermatology, we use botox to shut off the nerves that control muscles in your face, like your forehead and brow. With those nerves off, you cannot contract the muscles, so they stay flat. It is analogous to having wrinkles in your pants. While you are standing, the pants hang loosely and are smooth. When you sit, your thighs and hips crinkle the material, forming creases or wrinkles. In the same way, when your facial muscles contract, they bunch up, creasing the skin and forming wrinkles.
So what about the botox brain?
Results from this Italian study refute the belief that botox stays locally in the skin. They found that the botox injected into the rats followed the nerves back to the rat’s brain, shutting off nerves there.
What does this mean?
This is a critical question. The study was done in rats, not people. We do not know if it would do the same thing in humans. Even if some botox did get into the brain, there is no evidence at all that it has any meaningful effect, good or bad. For example, we know that smoking kills brain cells and stops other cells from developing. Does that mean that smokers or ex-smokers have any meaningful brain effects from their habit?
Botox is a wonderful and powerful drug. In treating wrinkles, there are few if any treatments short of invasive surgery that can compare to the results botox offers. It is, however, a drug and has side effects and has the potential to be misused and even abused. Botox has been used safely in millions of people, but there are risks. It is also expensive and its effects are temporary, so botox is not for everyone.
If you’re not comfortable with assuming risks of botox, or your budget doesn’t allow for it, then consider this effective alternative: Use a night cream that contains tretinoin (prescription Renova, Retin-A, Tazorac) or retinol (over the counter, ROC). No facial cream is more effective at reducing fine lines than tretinoin.
If you recently had botox and look in the mirror one morning and think that you’re ten years younger, don’t worry, it’s not brain damage, it’s just your face on botox.
Post written by Jeffrey Benabio, MD
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Photo credit: Gaetan Lee, Flickr.com