Botulinum toxin

What is botulinum toxin?
An injectable muscle relaxant, which temporarily relaxes muscles

What is it useful for?
Softening dynamic wrinkles – ie wrinkles caused by muscle movement
Excessive sweating
Teeth grinding
Face slimming
Treating a ‘gummy smile’

Is there any downtime?
The downtime is minimal, most activities can be resumed straight away

How long does the effect last?
On average, three to four months

We’ve all heard of botulinum toxin, commonly known as ‘Botox’, which is actually a trademarked brand name. So what exactly is it, and what does it do? 

What is botulinum toxin?

Botulinum toxin is an injectable muscle relaxant, which temporarily relaxes muscles. The toxin is produced by a bacteria, which blocks the release of certain chemicals in muscles which cause them to contact, resulting in temporary muscle paralysis. The botulinum toxin used in medicine is purified, so there’s no risk of getting an infection from the bacteria which made it. 

What is botulinum toxin used for? 

In dermatology, botulinum toxin is often used to relax certain facial muscles that cause wrinkles, and to treat excessive sweating (also known as hyperhidrosis). Commonly treated sites for wrinkle reduction include the forehead, between the eyebrows, and crow’s feet. It can also be used to treat ‘bunny lines’ on the nose, a ‘gummy smile’, and the masseter muscles, for facial slimming or teeth grinding. 

Botulinum toxin is most effective for ‘dynamic wrinkles’, those seen during muscle contraction, rather than ‘static wrinkles’, which are present at rest and may be due to sun damage and ageing, rather than muscle movement. Wrinkles that respond best to botulinum toxin treatment are the creases between the eyebrows, forehead wrinkles, and crow’s feet. 

What does treatment involve?

Treatment with botulinum toxin must be performed by a qualified professional. Usually, your skin is cleaned. You will be examined, and you may be asked to pull faces (eg frowning, raising your eyebrows, smiling), to identify where best to place the injections. These sites will then be marked on your skin with a pencil or removable marker. You will lie down, and tiny injections will be placed just below the surface of the skin. They may sting a tiny bit, but anaesthetic isn’t usually required. Light pressure may be applied to stop any bleeding, the marker will be wiped off, and you will be free to go about most of your usual activities. It’s advised to avoid massaging the area or lying down for four hours after treatment, and to avoid strenuous exercise for 24 hours. 

How quickly will I see the effect, and how long does it last?

The effect of botulinum toxin becomes apparent within one to two weeks. It typically lasts for three to four months, but sometimes longer. 

Are there any risks with treatment?

Treatment with botulinum toxin is generally safe and well-tolerated. Bruising may occur, and temporary drooping of the eyelids or eyebrows, although this is uncommon. Treatment with botulinum toxin isn’t safe in pregnancy or breastfeeding, and in those with certain medical conditions. 

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Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…