No, Botox is generally safe for use, and the injectable is FDA-approved to treat wrinkles, migraines, and excessive perspiration. But proceed with caution: one recent study found that Botox can migrate away from the injection site and cause temporary nerve damage.
It’s hard to imagine a world without med spa Groupons and ageless Real Housewives—but Botox is actually a relatively new technology. It was approved by the FDA in 2002 to treat facial wrinkles. However, the drug had been used in clinical trials and for off-label cosmetic purposes as far back as 1989.
So what is it and how does it work? Well, that’s actually what makes the injectable potentially dangerous: Botox is a neurotoxic protein that comes from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This is the same toxin that causes botulism (food poisoning) with high levels of exposure. In more serious cases, botulism can lead to paralysis—but that’s how Botox works. In small quantities (i.e. a syringe), the Botulinum toxin can be used to control weak or spasming muscles.
Once injected, Botox prevents certain nerve signals from traveling to muscles in the injection site. When those injected muscles can no longer contract or move freely, the surrounding wrinkles relax. The same holds true for the nerves that cause migraine headaches and excessive perspiration. When muscle tension is alleviated via Botox, these conditions have been shown to improve.
However, a new University of Wisconsin-Madison study raises questions about the safety of Botox: researchers discovered that the injectable could move between nerve cells, potentially causing paralyzing damage that could last months. The tests were only done on animal subjects, but the research suggested that the same type of drug migration could easily happen in humans.
Want to minimize your risk? Botox is a voluntary procedure, so it’s easily avoided: if you don’t want to take a chance, then don’t have the procedure.
Unfortunately, there are presently no equally effective alternatives to Botox. But on the bright side, all the effects are temporary: good and bad. Botox wears off after three to six months, so even if the toxin does stray to surrounding nerve cells, it won’t stay there forever.
If you strongly feel that you need Botox for cosmetic purposes or other medical reasons, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. Most importantly, visit a board-certified physician for the procedure, as opposed to a salon or medical spa. Each state has different laws about who can administer the injection—believe it or not, some don’t require that licensed doctors do the job. However, a trained and certified medical professional is the only one who should be entrusted to inject this potentially paralyzing toxin into your body.
Possible short-term side effects
- pain (at injection site)
- temporary nerve damage
Possible long-term side effects
- currently unknown
Ingredients to be aware of
- clostridium botulinum
- albumin human
- sodium chloride
- softens wrinkles
- decreases sweating
- relieves migraines