In praise of wrinkles

April 22, 2002

CONSIDER the poor defenseless wrinkle. You know, those crinkles or -- gasp -- crevices on your face.

Each laugh line and furrow tells a story: of lives lived, of happiness and sorrow, of pleasure and pain. It's a mere assertion that our futures are right there in the lines on the palms of our hands; it's far more certain that we wear our pasts on our faces.

We must hate that. The numbers of us getting injections of Botox -- an apparently safe form of the toxin that causes botulism but also temporarily removes facial lines -- have been skyrocketing the last few years. More than 1.6 million such procedures were performed last year, making it the No. 1 nonsurgical cosmetic procedure.

With the Food and Drug Administration last week formally approving Botox for cosmetic use -- it already had been medically approved -- you can put a bullet next to this drug's name on the charts. At $400 or more a treatment repeated every three to six months, there's hundreds of millions of dollars in our beleaguered visages.

In Hollywood, directors complain Botox use is so common they're finding it hard to elicit realistic facial expressions from actors whose faces have been rendered somewhat frozen.(Botox essentially works by weakening or paralyzing muscles.)

In a society that more than worships youth, this is not all that surprising. As a nation, we underwent almost 9 million cosmetic procedures last year. Everyone knows about breast implants, facelifts and tummy tucks. But now there are pectoral implants and, shall we say, rear-end lifts. Beyond our faces, there's apparently a lot that we don't like about ourselves.

With 78 million baby boomers -- now 38 to 56 years old and bemoaning every year along the way -- we're on a collision course of vanity and medicine. Don't like those wrinkles? By all means, smooth them over. It's quick, easy and usually painless. The only thing we have to lose are the hard-won lines that tell the stories of our lives.

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