Harvard Women's Health Watch

Botox: Beyond cosmetic fixes

The procedure that revolutionized wrinkle treatment has myriad medical uses, many still experimental. What's the evidence?

At one time, most of us knew about botulinum toxin mainly as the source of deadly botulism food poisoning. Produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, the toxin is one of the most lethal substances on earth. Ingested, it can paralyze muscles throughout the body, including those that control breathing. Yet on a smaller scale, the same mechanism can do a body good. Injected into muscle tissue, for example, botulinum toxin can ease debilitating spasms and pain.

The many faces of Botox

Today, most of us are familiar with botulinum toxin as Botox, the popular cosmetic treatment approved in 2002 to minimize the appearance of glabellar lines — vertical furrows between the eyebrows that become more pronounced as we age. By preventing muscle contractions that cause facial lines, Botox smooths the skin and makes it look younger. It's now widely used to treat a range of facial wrinkles, including those that appear on the neck (turkey neck), at the corners of the eyes (crow's feet), and across the forehead.

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