Botox is booming. Not just with celebs it's now Australia's number-one cosmetic treatment. So is it a dangerous toxin, the fountain of youth, or both? It is the world's worst-kept beauty secret. Is it time to talk?.
Kylie Minogue admits to doing it. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says it's no big deal; she's done it. According to beauty insiders, everyone on your TV and one or two people at your work is doing it right now.
And the numbers agree. It's estimated Australians consume more Botox per capita than any other nation (and, yes that is including the US).
According to the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australia (CPSA), Aussies are spending an eye-popping $345 million annually on non-invasive cosmetic procedures, with Botox the most requested treatment in 91 percent of clinics.Especially in these GFC-pinched times, that's a lot of Australians doing it.
"Actually, the global financial crisis has not diminished Australians' appetite for cosmetic treatments," says CPSA public relations officer Dr Gabrielle Caswell.
Dr Caswell points the finger at our much-envied sunshine. Besides its maturing effect on skin, bright sunlight also makes us squint, causing premature lines and furrows. Harsh.
But needles? Almost as despised as wrinkles are needles. With a dazzling array of anti-ageing options available (including lasers, high-tech moisturisers, peels) why is an injectable toxin at the top of everyone's beauty wish list?
"Quite honestly there's no easier, safer and more effective way to take five to 10 years off someone's face." says Sydney's leading Botox practitioner, Dr Neal Hamilton, cosmetic physician at Concept Cosmetic Medicine. "There's no downtime, discomfort and results are very reliable."
So what can we expect from Botox?
"With Botox, we treat ageing three ways," Dr Neal says.
"Firstly, to erase wrinkles like the cranky lines between eyebrows, secondly to contour and lift, raising brows for instance.
"Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, Botox is an ideal preventative: clients using it in their thirties shouldn't need to consider anything more invasive in their fifties."
How does this work? Like a piece paper, when skin is constantly folded, creases become deeper. But unlike paper, skin can fix itself.
"Prevent the creasing and skin has the ability to repopulate collagen and repair," Dr Neal says. "Also, as with muscles anywhere else, when facial muscles aren't used, they shrink. Frowns and squints can actually become less, not more prominent as you age."
Dr Neal says not
wanting to look like certain Hollywood stars is what new clients are most worried about. "Too much Botox shows; it's counterproductive," he says. "It should be about looking young for your age and as good as you can, not immobile."
Rebekah, 36, has been using Botox since her 30th birthday. "I want to look like a fresher, bit younger version of myself. Not weird," she says. "I used to spend hundreds of dollars on creams. I'm not sure they did anything besides stop my skin from flaking but I can actually see Botox working."
What is Botox?
Botulinum toxin is a purified protein that works by blocking the nerve signals triggering muscle contractions. When injected into the muscles around the eyes for instance, those muscles become paralysed, can't scrunch up and the wrinkles or crow's feet disappear for three to five months.
Approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for medical use in 1999 and cosmetically in 2002, Botox is classified as a medicine, which is not to say Botox isn't a scary, potentially lethal toxin in excessive doses. It is: just as most over-the-counter painkillers are.
But is it safe for faces? Young children with cerebral palsy are routinely treated with 1000 units. Cosmetically, the average user has 20 to 70 units. "Provided you're in good hands, Botox is extremely safe," Dr Neal says.
Interestingly, Sydney naturopath and homeopath Kylie Seaton agrees. "Botox injections are medical procedures and need to be administered safely and responsibly by qualified practitioners," Seaton warns. "There are risks with any surgical or cosmetic procedure, but at this point, results are generally predictable and there have been few long-term adverse health effects."
The needles used are diabetic ones; they are so thin, patients literally feel a pinprick. Some people also report a slight sting as the Botox goes in. For sensitive types there's ice or pain relief but Dr Neal says it's an angst-free 10-minute treatment for an overwhelmingly 90 percent of his clients.
Afterwards there may be the odd spot of bruising like a dot of ballpoint pen but anything more extensive is usually down to poor injecting. Then, gradually over the next week, wrinkles slowly, magically melt away.
"Well-injected Botox should look natural," Dr Neal says. "You want to look rested and healthy, not frozen and tight. People should notice you're looking great without being able to tell what's different."
Where it will hurt
Your wallet. Botox is priced around $15 plus GST per international unit. Dr Neal says his average client spends $500 every three months, or about $42 a week. It's a facial investment but obviously justifiable for many. "It's your face: you have to wear it every day," Rebekah says.
With so many of people trying Botox, is it the new hair dye? "It's more like the new laser hair removal," Dr Neal says with a laugh. "People aren't open about using it yet. They will be in time and we Australians are early adopters, but for the moment many of our clients appreciate our second, more discreet back-door entrance from the car park."
Dr Neal practises at the Sydney Institute of Cosmetic & Laser Medicine's Concept Cosmetic Medicine. For more information, call (02) 9811 8888 or visit www.conceptcosmeticmedicine.com.au. There are clinics throughout NSW.
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