Happy Birthday, Botox!
From its humble beginnings to worldwide infamy as the not-so-secret chemical weapon in the war on aging, Botox® is a truly versatile little toxin. On the 17th anniversary of its approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cosmetic use, we pay tribute to the treatment that introduced the term “injectable neuromodulator” into the lexicon of ladies who lunch.
From Sausage Poison to Medical Miracle
European doctors in the 1800s traced outbreaks of sometimes-fatal muscle paralysis to contaminated pork products, naming the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, from the Latin ’botulus’, meaning ‘sausage’. It eventually led to the 1940s and U.S. government researchers’ unsuccessful attempts to weaponize botulinum toxin type A, after theorizing that just two cups of the crystalline form of the bacteria could kill the entire world.
Instead, in the 1960s, American scientists began experimenting with the therapeutic potential of botulinum toxin, injecting it between the brows of monkeys to treat crossed eyes and observing that the substance significantly reduced wrinkling in the vertical frown lines between the eyes.
30 years later, in the 1990s, pharmaceutical company Allergan licensed the drug and christened it Botox®, subsequently receiving FDA approval to treat a variety of medical conditions including migraines, muscle spasms like cervical dystonia, and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).
The Dawn of Botox® Cosmetic
On April 15, 2002, Allergan received the thumbs up to market Botox® as a frown line remedy, marking the first FDA-sanctioned cosmetic use of the drug. Other cosmetic procedure approvals followed suit, with Botox® Cosmetic receiving the FDA’s blessing to alleviate both crow’s feet and forehead lines. Along the way, botulinum toxin has made its share of headlines in the war on wrinkles. Here are the highlights:
January 2003: Cornell University’s Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology Dr. David S. Becker declares that Botox® can actually cause wrinkles. Don’t look so surprised: Becker’s theory that other muscles will move to compensate, thereby creating wrinkles in adjacent areas, seems logical. The simple solution? More Botox® treatments (just kidding).
August 2006: Then-41-year-old supermodel Linda Evangelista reveals to Vogue, “I use Botox® and I'm not afraid to say it, though I do like to keep some movement in my face.” A smart standard if your job depends on being able to emote.
March 2009: The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology reveals research that indicates reducing the glabellar, or frown lines, with anti-aging Botox® injections simultaneously decreases feelings of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, nobody can tell whether the patients are happy about it.
April 2010: Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University discover that after two years, patients can cut their Botox® use in half while still maintaining the full benefits. Allergan, which sponsored the study, did not express concern regarding the potential profit loss.
February 2014: Hollywood remains stone-faced after actress Robin Wright outs A-listers’ Botox® habits in an interview with The Telegraph: “Everybody f— does it. I suppose I can’t say ‘everybody’ because I don’t know for sure, but come on…Perhaps it’s not wise to put that in a magazine? But I ain’t hiding anything.”
October 2017: Iconic luxury wellness resort Canyon Ranch – historically known for its holistic approach – adds Botox® to the list of offerings at its new, in-house aesthetic center. The move begs the question: is Botox® organic?
January 2018: 12 contestants in a Saudi Arabian beauty contest are disqualified for receiving Botox® to enhance the look of their lips, nose, and jaw. The catch? They’re camels.
January 2019: Two men walk out of a downtown Los Angeles medspa without paying for thousands of dollars-worth of non-invasive treatments, including Botox® and filler injections. Local news sources broadcast their before-and-after photos hoping that someone will recognize and report the so-called “Botox® bandits.”
From humble sausage poison to internationally-recognized superstar, you've come a long way, Botox®. Happy Birthday – may you stay forever young.