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Botulism, Wine and Friends: The Botox Party

Just over one week after the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Botox as an anti-wrinkle treatment, people are celebrating—Botox-style—with champagne, hor d’oeuvres and injections of the paralyzing poison.

Botox parties are taking the nation by storm. Partygoers walk in with crow’s feet and furrowed brows and leave with smooth foreheads and a new, youthful look.

The drug, “which is derived from a diluted form of the toxin that causes botulism, a potentially fatal form of food poisoning, is considered quite safe for its current cosmetic use,” according to the Los Angeles Times. But in its full-strength, poisonous form, botulinum is ranked among other biological weapons such as anthrax and smallpox.

Botox works by paralyzing facial muscles that cause expression lines like frown lines, forehead wrinkles and furrows between the eyebrows. The effect is a smoother, ironed-out look—and arguably expressionless face—that lasts four to six months.

Doctors have been using Botox for over a decade for treating crossed eyes and eyelid spasms, USA TODAY reported. And its “off-label” use included other cosmetic options even before the recent FDA approval.

But now that it has the government’s stamp of approval, doctors offering the treatments and Allergen, the drug’s manufacturer, hope the hype will continue to swell.

Allergen’s ad campaign to promote Botox is said to exceed $53 million, according to the Buffalo News.
Ellen Goodman, writing for the Buffalo News, reported that 835,000 people have already had Botox treatments.

While swank partygoers from coast-to-coast swear by the youth-producing injections, others aren’t so sure about mixing medical procedures with wine and cheese.

“I think it clearly steps over the line of what I would consider appropriate medical care,” Dr. Clark Otley, chief of dermatological surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,Minn., told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Otley said the party atmosphere introduces a strong peer pressure to receive the injections. Botox is appropriate for the right patients, he said, but it shouldn’t be sold like Tupperware.

Jeffrey Kahn, a medical ethicist at the University of Minnesota, told the Tribune, “The whole notion of informed consent doesn’t quite have the same meaning when it’s in the context of wine and cheese.”

Dr. Darrick Antell, professor of plastic surgery at Columbia University and spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, has had the treatments six times and thinks Botox is “the best thing since sliced bread.” But, he told PageSix.com, a New York online magazine, that “a quick fix at a party doesn’t sit well with me.”

“When you move away from a medical environment, you risk not using sterile technique or keeping track of—and disposing of—the needles in the right way,” Antell said. And wine and champagne are not the usual pre-surgical prep.

Botox party hosts see it differently.

“I think these parties are just fun, and ladies like to do things together,” Diane Cook, owner of Day Spa in Edina, Minn., told the Star Tribune. As for serving alcohol, “it’s more relaxed. If we give them a half glass or a few sips, that’s all it’s going to be,” she said.

Many who have been performing the procedure for years fear their slice of the pie might get smaller as other doctors cash in on the Botox craze.

“This is pure manna from heaven, and every Tom, Dick and Harry with a medical degree is going to be doing this,” Dr. Mark Gorney, medical director of the Doctor’s Company, a large medical liability insurer in Napa,Calif., told the LA Times. “There’s an enormous potential for abuse.”

And Botox isn’t without its side effects.

Face pain, nausea, flu-like symptoms and sometimes excruciating headaches are just some of the possible reactions to the injections.

“Overuse of Botox injections can result in the loss of facial expression, creating a mask-like appearance,” according to the LA Times. “Perhaps worse, an injection into the wrong muscles can cause droopy eyelids, asymmetric smiles or even drooling.”

Side effects or no, eager youth seekers are lining up for the treatments, which can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,000.

The rush for maturing adults to look younger offers another criticism of this miracle quick-fix for wrinkles.
“I think it’s a symbol of affluence. I think it’s a symbol of distaste for age,” Cornell University historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg told USA TODAY. In 21st-century Western culture, “mature women are not given a lot of value. If you happen to look extremely young at 55 or 60, then you maintain your power and attractiveness.”

Goodman asked in her Buffalo News column, “Where is the unacceptable line point on the aesthetic slope between braces and face lifts?”

She said that we all choose some form of self-improvement.

“But what happens when 50 is supposed to look like 40? Does that mean the whole standard of aging has changed?” she asked. “How long is it before looking ‘your age’ is regarded as a slatternly failure of effort?”

Jodi Mathews is communications director for EthicsDaily.com.