Botox : A Shot Of Youth

The anti-wrinkle treatment has been getting a lot of buzz lately, but the real marketing blitz is just starting.

May 26, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | By Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Gordon Nelson is the first brave soul to go under the needle, surrounded by a group of curious women sipping Diet Coke or red wine and eating strawberries. He's a pleasant, fit-looking man in his late 30s whose face is relatively unlined by the standards of most of the people gathered here at the Gloria Brennan Salon and Day Spa in Pikesville.

But those pesky furrows across his forehead bother him, so he's having them injected with Botox, the hottest new weapon in the fight against Father Time.

"Curiosity drove me here," Nelson says. "I knew coming here I'd most likely try it. If I'm pleased with the results, I'll continue. If not," he says with a shrug, "it was something I tried."

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Botox Cosmetic for one specific use, to soften the vertical frown lines between the eyebrows. With that approval, people have become more comfortable with the idea of using Botulinum Toxin Type A -- the same deadly poison that might be found in a soup can with a bulging lid -- as an anti-aging drug. For therapeutic and cosmetic use, of course, the toxin has been purified and diluted to the nth degree.

"Botox is hot for good reason, but it is being hyped and marketed," says Dr. Craig Vander Kolk, director of the Johns Hopkins Cosmetic Center at Green Spring Station, who believes the drug's current popularity may fade in the next few years as people turn to surgical procedures for a more permanent solution to their wrinkles.

Getting rid of those unwanted lines with Botox, which temporarily relaxes the muscles that cause them, could cost $300 or $400 three or four times a year for the rest of your life.

Not everyone thinks that Botox could be a passing fad. Dr. James Poulton, a dermatologist affiliated with St. Joseph's Medical Center, believes the drug's use will increase markedly in the next few months and that it will have staying power.

"People want an in-and-out procedure," he says. "The two things people don't want are pain and down time."

Around since the 1980s

Doctors have been using Botox to treat serious medical conditions since the 1980s. The drug has made life bearable for people with severe eye muscle disorders, and has been injected for everything from excessive sweating to migraines and bad backs.

For about a decade, Botox has also been used legally but without FDA approval to soften wrinkles on foreheads and around eyes.

The significance of the government's recent Botox ruling is that the manufacturer, California-based Allergan, can now market the drug to the masses as an anti-wrinkle product. And it's planning to -- to the tune of a $53 million campaign with the slogan "It's not magic. It's Botox Cosmetic."

At the moment, says Christine Cassiano, an Allergan spokeswoman, about two-thirds of Botox sales go for therapeutic treatments; only one third is cosmetic. The company estimates that 2002 sales should increase by as much as 35 percent. That's not because of a projected increase in neurological disorders.

"The FDA approval provides us an amazing opportunity," says Cassiano. "We were prohibited from talking about [its cosmetic use], but now we can educate consumers by advertising to them directly."

Come to a Botox party

In just a few years, Botox injections have become part of our culture.

We've read about the drug in Newsweek. We've laughed at Patsy on Absolutely Fabulous injecting herself with Parralox, an imaginary Botox competitor. "Cheating death by embalming early," is how the television show describes the process.

Newspaper cartoons of frozen faces keep appearing, poking fun at Botox's paralytic effects.

Botox parties, where people go to a private home or a spa rather than a doctor's office to get injected, have already been labeled the Tupperware party of the '00s, which gives the events a homey feeling that isn't quite accurate.

The Botox party in Pikesville where Gordon Nelson and others are gathered isn't as racy as the name sounds. In fact, it's downright staid, which is all to the good when you're talking about injecting a paralytic into someone's forehead.

True, there is some wine and cheese, and free five-minute seated massages are being offered to calm the nerves. But the doctor in charge, Marc Hirschbein, is an ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Krieger Eye Institute of Sinai Hospital; and he's running the "party" as an informational seminar.

After a brief lecture and a question-and-answer session, Hirschbein will treat those who are interested, either privately or in front of the others.

"It's a way so it won't be frightening," he says, explaining why he decided to hold a Botox party at a spa. "People are more comfortable if they don't associate it with a medical procedure. This is a minor medical procedure."

Effects are temporary

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