One of the tell-tale signs of aging is the number of wrinkles that form in your skin - especially in your face, hands and arms. Wrinkles in your skin are usually formed in one of two ways.
First, "dynamic" wrinkles are formed by contractions of certain muscles under the skin. These wrinkles are essentially folds in the skin that all of us have, regardless of our age. These wrinkles do not necessarily make a person look older. Rather, they serve to make our faces more lively and expressive.
Other wrinkles are caused by aging. Wrinkles of this type are not directly caused by muscle contractions. They are actually caused by changes in the composition of our skin brought about by the aging process that we all go through.
Our skin consists of three different layers - epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue which is the deepest layer containing fat cells which serve as insulation for the body. The outer layer of the skin - the epidermis - is connected in complex ways to the middle layer - the dermis - to allow nutrients to pass to the outer layer.
When we are young these layers form a healthy, dynamic system for protecting the body. Skin that is subjected to the elements is able to repair and replenish itself through the natural healing processes of the body. As we age however, these natural processes begin to slow down and become less effective.
One important and very visible effect of this aging process is that the epidermal cells of the outer layer of skin become thinner and their connection to the dermis becomes less robust. As the epidermis becomes thinner it offers less protection from the elements.
The result is that more moisture is able to pass through the epidermis which essentially dries it out. To compound this process, the skin is less able to repair itself as it gets older because the dermis produces less collagen.
The aging process also involves a break down in the elasticity of the epidermis because the elastin fibers connecting it to the dermis begin to wear out. The fat cells in the subcutaneous layer also get smaller as we age, making them less able to "fill in" underneath the other aging layers. The result is old, dried out looking skin that wrinkles and sags.
How Botox works - Botox works by preventing certain muscles from contracting and forming the kind of wrinkles mentioned at the beginning of this article. The type of wrinkles it is effective in combating are the kind that are created when you furrow your brow, frown, or purse your lips. These are what we have called "dynamic" wrinkles.
Botox treatments use a special chemical to inhibit the usual process involved in muscle contraction. The muscles in your face form facial expressions with the help of a chemical called acetylcholine. Every time you make a facial expression your muscles are using this chemical to contract muscles that create the wrinkles that help you express yourself non-verbally.
This is where Botox comes in. By injecting botox directly into certain muscles, the normally produced acetylcholine is blocked and cannot reach the spot where muscle contractions normally take place. The result is less dynamic wrinkle action - less furrowing of the brow, as well as fewer wrinkles around the eyes and mouth.
One popular misconception about Botox treatments is that they involve injecting botulism into the muscles and that this deadens the muscles through some kind of toxic poisoning effect. From the description above you can see that this is not the case.
What is actually injected is botulinum toxin type A or B. This chemical blocks the acetylcholine so it does not reach the muscle that normally contracts. The muscles in question are not actually "paralyzed". They just act as if they were because they are not receiving the triggers that normally make them contract.
Over time - between 3 and 5 months - new receptors are developed on the muscle and it starts receiving signals again to contract. This is why Botox treatments have to be done every few months.
As you can see from the preceding descriptions, Botox treatments do not get rid of wrinkles due to aging. What they do is decrease the effect that muscle contractions have on these aging wrinkles. This results in a generally softer appearance and helps to de-emphasize the dry saggy look of older skin.
Botox cosmetic treatments are a surprisingly effective, and safe way to reduce facial wrinkles. They are also fast, easy and relatively inexpensive. That is why this procedure has been the most widely used non-surgical cosmetic procedure performed in the United States for much of the last decade.