To Botox or not to Botox?

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It all started innocently enough. 

I had an ongoing eye twitch related to a medical condition. We tried everything to fix it.
“Surely there’s a pill I can take for this?” I demanded with frustration to the eye specialist.

“Well, we can try Botox in your eyelid,” she replied without hesitation, before proceeding to tell me it was perfectly safe and this was, after all, Botox’s original intended use: “to paralyse muscles that spasm”.

I started grinning widely and irrationally, which was a strange response for someone who had thus far eschewed Botox, fillers and everything, really (the most I’d ever had was the occasional old-school facial).

But here was a serious doctor; a thoroughly practical, sensible, trustworthy woman telling me that Botox was safe.

So I tried it. And it was no big deal. It didn’t even really hurt. It opened the floodgates.

I began discussing Botox with everyone around me – friends, colleagues and family.

It seemed many of them were also considering it, or had used it.

“Oh, my GP just does it for me every three months,” said a mum friend from school, casually.

“I don’t tell my husband, though.” Another friend in her mid-forties with two children admitted, “I’m not sure why I’m holding out. I’m thinking about it. I just don’t want to look fake.”

A teacher I knew in her late forties saved religiously so she could have Botox every four months.

“I’d rather do it than spend the money on a new dress,” she reasoned.

Some, on the other hand, were dead against.

“I resent that I have to conform to someone else’s idea of ageing,” railed a colleague.

“I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t have Botox.

My friend even pushed a doctor’s card across the table at me, but I just think, ‘No!’” I pondered my own resistance to Botox.

I’d always prided myself on being ‘natural’ and not being one of ‘those women’ – you know the type: puffy, over-filled, wonky, weird.

Yet it was all a question of degree; I happily coloured my hair regularly, packed on the fake tan, applied false lashes and make-up each day.

I was also in my forties, and felt a little worn out after years of interrupted sleep and juggling work with family.

And for the first time I felt I looked it. I wanted to look good. It seemed extreme to inject myself with a needle to look better.

Then again, maybe I was vain and didn’t really care anymore. Not to mention I was a diminishing breed.

My colleagues were doing it, and many looked subtly great.

“I’m just sick of people telling me I look tired all the time,” said my fortysomething boss.

“And I wanted to look refreshed.” Another journalist friend in the same age group told me she’d been using injectables and having various other treatments for about 10 years.

“Oh, darling, I was exactly the same as you – I was never going to change my face.

But once your chin starts sagging and your eyes are drooping… well, I got myself into that chair so fast and told them to back the truck up!” I decide to take the plunge and ask around for recommendations (targeting fans of subtlety), then find myself in a back room of Face Today Mediclinic in Chatswood, in Sydney’s north, holding a friend’s hand and sucking back on happy gas.

I am nervous.

Nicole Belle, the clinic’s founder and a 17-year veteran ‘facial artist’ is not.

“The worst thing you can have is a non-artistic injector,” she says.

“You have to understand the muscles of the face, and less is more. You don’t want a forehead like a plasma screen; you may as well get a tattoo saying you’ve done it.

“By the way, I really love your skull,” she raves.

Then she asks me what I don’t like.

I explain I’m happy with my face but just want to soften my crow’s-feet, not eliminate them.

I ask for the minimum amount, or the smallest dose.

It’s not really painful and I find the session interesting and in-depth, then return to work.

Nobody notices (although I get a few generic compliments).

But I do. And I like it. No, I love it. I still have crow’s-feet, but they are diminished.

Like I’ve gained back a few years and had a good night’s sleep.

There was no swelling or bruising, only a slight feeling of heaviness.

I tell my husband; he’s worried.

“I don’t want you to get addicted. I don’t like it.”

Botox can take up to two weeks to settle.

By the time I go back for my second consult to reassess, I’m feeling overly confident (in hindsight, this is my mistake).

Belle is pleased, and asks if I want the bump on my crooked nose (an old injury) straightened using Botox (she does non-surgical rhinoplasties – who knew?) and my gummy, crooked smile corrected with a tiny hit of the stuff above my lip.

And the scar on the left side of my face filled in while we’re at it.

I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, so I say yes.

“This is my inner ugly duckling wanting to make everyone feel beautiful,” she explains as she works on me.

“I was teased so terribly about my nose and my looks, and I just feel that no one should have to endure that.”

Her walls are filled with success stories: palsy and paralysis sufferers with lopsided faces come good, ruined noses corrected, deformities fixed.

She agrees Botox has become more acceptable.

“It’s a graduation in the grooming process. It used to be a big deal to wax or colour your hair, then everyone started getting manicures and complicated facials.

“Botox was definitely a secret, there was a lot of judgement and that comes from bad work or having too much.”

She goes on to tell me the difference between Botox for men (‘Boytox’) and women.

“Men suit a T-shape brow, women suit a Y shape – that’s where Shane Warne’s gone wrong; someone’s given him a female brow.

“I called the TV network to let them know…” she shrugs.

But this time the session is longer and more painful.

For the next few hours afterwards my lips feel like they are growing by the second.

My nose feels bulbous and sore. It’s confronting; I feel like my face has changed, and I am unhappy. I panic.

I’ve crossed a threshold that I shouldn’t have.

And even though no one can really tell, and I go back to work, I notice.

That night I call a friend, who reassures me it’s only temporary.

I grapple with guilt, feeling ashamed and worried.

Thankfully, after the weekend, the slight swelling completely subsides and my face is fabulous.

I’m relieved and I feel happy.

There are those who aren’t on the bandwagon.

New father, fashion designer and long-time Botox advocate Tom Ford for one: “I’ve decided to age,” he proclaimed recently, adding: “Since we had [son] Jack, I haven’t had a Botox injection or a filler.

I haven’t had time.”

Celebrities – from actors Emma Thompson to Gwyneth Paltrow – aren’t fans, either.

“I won’t do Botox again, because I looked crazy,” Paltrow, 42, has said.

Thompson, 55, calls it “crazy”, too.

There are also chatrooms filled with people discussing adverse results.

It is not without risk, which is why a doctor must prescribe it.

Scientist Richard Parker, from Rationale skin care, is cautious about Botox, saying the key lies between education and expectations.

“Women who are looking to erase deep lines and wrinkles around the eyes and forehead will be disappointed with creams, while those seeking a natural appearance will not be pleased with Botox.”

He adds: “Before women think about doing anything, they need to get their skin in top condition.

“I have seen so many women fix their skin – which makes them look a lot more like their younger self – then stop before they go down the injectables route.

“Conversely, I’ve seen plastic-surgery junkies have Botox and filler but not address their sun-damaged skin, and they just look hard. And not in an attractive way!”

He concedes Botox “works for dynamic (movement-based) wrinkles, and it’s safe. All of this is scientifically indisputable. ‘Natural nuts’ denounce it as the devil but remain alarmingly ignorant of the facts.”

GP and TV commentator Dr Ginni Mansberg agrees that Botox is “super, super-safe”.

“It’s pain-free, successful and has a long heritage in being used to treat cerebral palsy in children, let alone adults. It temporarily paralyses the nerve so muscles can’t contract.

“It’s a natural substance and it passes naturally after three months.

“There is no way it can stay permanently.”

You’re far more likely to get an injury from laser hair-removal or eyelash tints than Botox
According to Mansberg, the big risk is not Botox itself, but who is injecting it.

“You hit a wrong nerve, and you get a droopy eyelid, which does eventually go away as the Botox wears off. The other issue is when people use too much.

“It’s an unregulated area – there are no [legal] requirements other than a doctor must be on site.

“That said, there are some nurses who are far more practised and experienced at injecting than many doctors are.

“[For example, nurses like Belle can actually train physicians.] If you’re worried, stick to a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon.

“Really, though, you’re far more likely to get an injury from laser hair-removal or eyelash tints than Botox.”

She also agrees anecdotally it is becoming far more acceptable and common.

“It’s getting rarer for women in their forties not to have considered Botox, which is interesting given the cost.” (Prices are dependent on the number of units an individual needs, with an average eye treatment starting at $300.) “And the courses for injectables are full – the job demand for someone experienced in injectables is really high.” Mansberg hasn’t used Botox but “only because I haven’t gotten around to it!” she laughs.

“I’m 46 and I’d consider it. I have no drama with doing it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

“Why should women be pilloried for wanting to look the best they can?”

For me, the bottom line is: be careful, do your research, go to an expert and do it sparingly (stick to your guns about this).

The cheapest price does not mean the best results.

And don’t ever take in a picture of another person’s eyes or nose and try to make it fit your face – you’ll be disappointed if you try to look like someone else.

I really like my results. I still eat well, exercise and try to get sleep but, yes, I want to halt my ageing a little, just not to the extent where I don’t look like myself.

I still have wrinkles and I can still move my face as I always have.

And while I’m cautious, I feel sure I will do it again.

As Belle tells me, “Something happens to your heart and soul when you look in the mirror and feel fresh.” Amen.



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