It’s been all over the internet, magazines, and in the news. If you haven’t heard yet, Botox injections may do more than paralyze muscles to promote wrinkle reduction. New research suggests the paralysis-inducing treatments may also turn back the clock on skin as a whole, by increasing its natural ability to stretch and recoil.

Botox treatments seem to promote production of elastin and collagen, the dynamic duo of proteins that make younger skin tight, firm and flexible.

“We found if we treat people with Botox using standard techniques, we see an increase in elasticity, which is what you’d see in people with more youthful skin,” Dr. James Bonaparte, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa in Canada, stated. “We’re actually seeing evidence that we, for some reason, are getting more elastin and collagen in the skin,” Bonaparte said.

As people age, repeated facial expressions cause fine lines, deep lines, and wrinkles of the face. Additionally, the levels of elastin and collagen decline in the skin, causing it to sag. Sun exposure and lifestyle lead to excessive aging as well, as sun exposure accounts for 80% of skin’s aging.

Botox is made from the same bacterial toxin that causes botulism – onabotulinum toxin A – and is used to paralyze facial muscles to smooth the skin’s surface.

However, some experts have noted that areas of skin that have been treated with Botox appeared to regain some elasticity and pliability – an effect not fully explainable by merely paralyzing muscles.

To examine this more closely, Bonaparte and his colleagues gave 48 women, average age 55, their first-ever Botox injections, treating the skin between the eyebrows and around the eyes. The following four months, the team followed the women to see how the injections affected the skin’s elasticity.

Their findings show that Botox increased the elasticity of the women’s faces, causing changes in composition that make the skin more youthful in appearance. The researchers found this effect to be similar to the results of radiofrequency skin tightening, an aesthetic procedure that uses radio waves to heat skin tissue and stimulate collagen production.

The effects last roughly as long as round of Botox injections do – about three to four months.

“It’s temporary, but it’s not a byproduct of swelling, and it’s not a byproduct of muscle contraction. It’s something that’s intrinsic to the skin itself,” said Dr. Catherine Winslow, an Indianapolis plastic surgeon who wrote an editorial accompanying the new study.

There isn’t a concrete understanding or reason why Botox has this effect on skin’s collagen and elastin. It is believed that the cells that produce elastin and collagen may contain a receptor that somehow responds positively to Botox. If this proves to be true, future drugs could be created to target that receptor with even better results than those produced by Botox.

“We may be able to develop some medications that don’t require injection, that you can apply topically and get the same skin rejuvenation effect as Botox,” Bonaparte said.

Additionally, Winslow believes that Botox might promote and antioxidant effect on the skin. Muscles of the face produce waste products as they are engaged and are believed by Winslow to damage the collagen and elastin. By paralyzing these muscles, she suspects Botox gives the skin a chance to heal itself from this damage, and ward off future damage from accumulating.

Dr. Scot Glasberg, a New York City plastic surgeon and president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, thinks that the answer may be even simpler: The paralysis caused by Botox gives the collagen and elastin fibers a chance to recover from repetitive facial motion.

The research team will move forward in their investigation, determining whether extended use of Botox can have long-term benefits for the face or not. Prior studies have shown consistent use of Botox may prolong the treatment’s efficacy, reducing the amount of doses over time and increasing the length of time between treatments.

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