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Botox: Digging Deeper

It’s undeniable that Botox is popular. Indeed, statistics published in 2008 by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) state that 2,464,123 Botox procedures were performed in North America.

Not only that, but the recipients are getting younger as Botox is seen as a reasonable way to ‘prevent’ wrinkles from occurring. So is the promise of a baby-smooth complexion too hard to resist? Is the product safe and should it even be considered in the first place? To answer these questions we need to do some digging around.

What is Botox?

First of all ‘Botox’ is actually a trade name of Allergen Inc, USA and is used to market a muscle-relaxing toxin called Botulinum Toxin. An alternative to Allergen’s ‘Botox’ is ‘Dysport’ manufactured by Ipsen Group.

While both of these products have medical approval and contain the same active element, it would not be fair to say that they can be used interchangeably. (Further information would be available to the practitioner in the Product Information Document produced by each company.)

Many people will have heard of Botulism, the deadly sickness caused by the above bacteria’s toxins, and will be worried by the prospect of introducing this into their bodies. However, botulism and botulinum toxin are clinically different. The botulinum toxin used to relax muscles is produced by extracting the deadly toxin from the bacteria then purifying and modifying it to render it only mildly toxic.

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Botulinum toxin has been used clinically – under medical supervision – to relieve tension headaches, to treat excessive sweating and to help manage children’s cerebral palsy among other things.

So while we can’t conclude that botulinum toxin is without risk, if used correctly it can be both an effective medicine and a cosmetic product.

Any Pain?

Botox: Digging DeeperSonia Webb, a registered nurse from a Sydney medical spa, has treated many patients over the last five years and has also had the procedure herself. She explained that while first-time patients sometimes get worked-up about the thought of needles going into the face, most people get through it with just a bit of ice.

“Of course, we will bring out the gas and air if they need it,” she said.

Webb was referring to a stronger form of pain relief the spa provides to help clients nervous about the Botox procedure. This is often in the form of a blend of nitrous oxide and oxygen.

Tiny insulin syringes are used to inject the substance straight into the muscle and with the whole procedure over in only five minutes.

“The most painful bit is usually the muscle between the eyes – our frown lines – as the needle has to come up from underneath, close to the eye area.”

Webb added that like with any medicine, there is a range of therapeutic doses that can be used, so, the dose, frequency of treatment and outcome of the procedure varies from person to person.

Side Effects

Being such a quick and easy procedure, you may be fooled into thinking that this is no different to getting your hair done. Of course, that isn’t true as every time you inject something into the skin there is the possibility of bruising and leakage.

Leakage is a term that describes the movement of the toxin away from the injection site. It is not normal for the liquid to spread a few millimeters either side of the puncture mark but in some cases it can affect the surrounding tissue and eyes or cheeks would droop until the effects of the ‘leakage’ wear off.

In addition to that, headaches, pain, swelling, infection and nausea have been reported. (A full list of side-effects is made available by the toxin manufacturers and is printed on their literature.)

The likelihood of these adverse events happening can be greatly reduced by choosing a fully trained practitioner who operates in sterile conditions – after all, this is a medical intervention!

Is It Permanent?

The Botulinum Toxin that is used for ‘cosmetic’ procedures is designed to paralyze the injected muscle for a short time – between 3-6 months depending on your metabolism.

Its aim is to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in adults younger than 65 years of age (clinical trials were carried out on healthy adults aged between 18 & 75.)

The results of this localized muscle-relaxing technique can be seen almost immediately with optimal results within two weeks.

There is little doubt that these injections will improve the appearance of wrinkles if given in the appropriate way to suitable patients. Further to that, with ten years’ experience under their belts the practitioners using Botox and Dysport have seen enough happy faces in their time to back up the products claims.

However, every good story has its note of caution and there have been many famous faces ‘caught out’ by their overzealous use of this ‘miracle wrinkle cure’.

Is Botox Halal?

On a practical level it may be useful to talk to other people who have had the treatment, talk to your preferred healthcare professional and read up on all of the technical literature provided.

The question as to whether ‘botulinum toxin’ is Halal is not for me to answer. However, you may find the information that follows useful in this regard.

It is important to note that while the bacteria Clostridium Botulinum commonly occurs in soil and can be harvested and cultured (grown) in a laboratory ‘cleanly’ (without the introduction of animal material) the process of extracting the toxins from this bacterium involves the use of procedures and equipment that may have come into contact with animal material.

US Patent 7189541, 13th March 2007 states that “The growth media can contain significantly reduced levels of meat or dairy by-products using non-animal based products to replace the animal-derived products. Preferably, the media used are substantially free of animal derived products.”

The reason that animal material is present at all is as a source of protein (food for the bacteria), and while the patent goes on to say that vegetable sources of protein such as Soy can be used to produce botulinum toxin that is “animal product free” or “substantially animal product free,” it seems to fall short of offering consumers a 100% guarantee of being ‘animal free’.

To put this research into context, the motivation behind the above patent was to reduce the risk of recipients being exposed to prions (that can be found in animal proteins) linked to ‘mad cow’ disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, rather than looking at this from the perspective of a consumer wanting vegan, vegetarian or Halal products.

In an article on published on January 15th 2008, The Muslim Judicial Council banned the use of Botox due to similar concerns about the contamination of the product with animal-based ingredients. This ruling was also in line with the National Fatwa Council in Malaysia, 2006.


About Amanda Foxon-Hill
Amanda Foxon-Hill is a cosmetic chemist who's formulating, marketing and sales experience spans over ten years and three continents. Since leaving the corporate world Amanda has been consulting and teaching with the Institute of Personal Care Science, facilitating workshops with sustainability hub The Watershed in Sydney and bringing cosmetic science to the masses via her Realize Beauty blog, lectures and workshops.