Botox Gets a Facelift

A new study from researchers at UCSD points to positive mental health effects from the use of Botox. With more data still needed, the conversation around the face altering procedure is shifting. 

Plastic surgery’s standing within society evolved from being frowned upon to more often accepted. Overall acceptance of body sizes, shapes, and boundary-pushing fashion all highlight a shift in appearance acceptance. 

In the early version of social media, the surgery of pop culture stars like Kim Kardashian and more recently, Kylie Jenner, generated massive uproar due to their altered bodies with people saying they went too far in their surgeries as well. 

Shows like “Botched” showcased the pitfalls and risks of undertaking too many changes as well. The people covered on the show either had too much surgery done to their body or the surgeon made mistakes when it came to the surgery. 

Both sources of backlash and negative coverage of plastic surgery created controversy and a lack of acceptance from society as a whole. 

Yet, in modern pop culture, the lack of care for consensus opinions from certain figures allowed for reconstructive surgery to remain an option for people unhappy with their bodies. 

Now, with the body positive revolution and the boundaries of what is socially acceptable expanding, the plastic surgery industry is growing. The procedures, as the science improves, are also improving with less complications coming as a result of the surgery. 

Recently, researchers from Skaggs School of Pharmacy released a study finding that people who received Botox for facial treatment reported an overall 22-72%decrease in their levels of anxiety. 

These results came from the FDA database, as the effects of Botox were compared to other treatments for the same conditions. 

The uses for Botox, according to the American Family Pediatrician, are focused around eliminating facial wrinkles, specifically the frown lines. Botox is one of the most frequently performed cosmetic treatments with improving patient satisfaction and very few negative effects. 

“This effect was significant for the indications/injection sites cosmetic use/facial muscles, migraine/facial and head muscles, spasms and spasticity/upper and lower limbs, torticollis and neck pain/neck muscles, and sialorrhea/parotid and submandibular glands,” the researchers from Skaggs School of Pharmacy stated. 

The focus of the study started from research about attempting to find negative side effects of Botox when a trend of improvements in anxiety levels of patients was established. The researchers then shifted their focus towards a positive effect of Botox. 

The reason why Botox reduces the patients anxiety is not exactly clear, with the FDA data not taking into account potential outside factors, but the study did highlight a few potential important factors. 

“Raising the eyebrows belongs to the expression of anxiety and is accomplished by the frontalis muscle, which is also covered by the migraine scheme and is frequently injected for cosmetic reasons, too,” the researchers from Skaggs School of Pharmacy stated. “Hence, interruption of the corresponding proprioceptive feedback may explain the reduced incidence of anxiety.”

One of the factors is the interruption of migraine due to the injections. This interruption stops an avenue for discomfort and pain which then leads to less stress and a greater sense of relaxation overall. 

The other is a boost in the patient’s appearance then leads to a greater sense of themselves. With the frowning and wrinkles being treated, the patient is left at ease that the problem is treated and that their faces look overall better. 

This study is not the only one to link the Botox treatment to an improved sense of mental health. 

Michelle Magid, a psychiatrist at the University of Texas, Austin, prescribed some of her patients with Botox as a means to address depression. Her basis for prescribing botox is centered around the connection between the physical act of smiling and the connection to the brain. 

“In addition to its cosmetic effect, the neurotoxin has been shown to have a positive influence on mood and affect,” Magid published in her study. “Several randomized clinical trials (RCTs) have examined the effect of botulinum toxin on the treatment of depression. Combining the results of the five RCTs in a random effects meta-analysis revealed that patients treated with BTX showed a more intense improvement of depressive symptoms in comparison to subjects that received placebo injections.”

Magid is one of the strongest supporters of Botox and the role it plays as the solution to depression and anxiety. 

Along with Magid, Tillmann Kruger, a psychiatrist at Hannover Medical School, led a study which found evidence that even this artificial smile can provide a boost to a person’s mental health. He points to breaking a negative feedback loop by eliminating the frowning, which provides benefits as an alternative to taking traditional antidepressants. 

The findings of these studies still remain somewhat questioned within the scientific community with many scientists questioning the validity of their claims or the means from which they generated the claim. 

One of the skeptics is Nicholas Coles, a social psychologist at Stanford University, who used similar information to the supporters of Botox, but ended with the opposite results from the data. He found there was overall harm done to the patients and urges for more solid evidence before outright adopting Botox as a solution for depression.

With other established methods of treating depression and anxiety, Coles feels as if there is a better way to treat the mental health issues than relying on a method with inconclusive data and findings overall. 

Along with Coles, Dr. Michael Lewis of the School of Psychology, Cardiff revealed a study at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference which asserted the use of Botox injections actually created more depression than patients previously reported. 

“The expressions that we make on our face affects the emotions we feel; we smile because we are happy, but smiling also makes us happy,” Dr. Lewis published his study. “Treatment with drugs like Botox prevents the patient from being able to make a particular expression.”

Dr. Lewis argues the overall limits placed on a person’s facial expression have the opposite effect to which Magid and Kruger point to, in which the limitations of the face present issues for the mental connection between the physical facial expression and the effects on the mind. 

Although the skeptics about Botox’s effect on depression and anxiety remain, the overall conversation about Botox shifted from a risky, stigmatized procedure to a potential solution to ailing mental health issues. 

Those from the UC San Diego study still feel as if more research is needed, with more data and expansive trials. Most of the researchers also feel more data and trials are needed for stronger, more conclusive results. The future of Botox as a mental health boost still remains uncertain without the expansive trials. 

A once frowned upon procedure now has a face lift, with the number of surgeries and procedures increasing every year and becoming par for the course of people with fame or just a desire for a rejuvenated face. With a mental health focused reason for getting Botox, the number of surgeries could potentially continue to grow. 

Photo Courtesy of Wind Ira of Unsplash. 

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