No longer just for getting rid of those pesky fine lines and wrinkles when you’re over 40, Botox is on the rise in younger women. According to The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (which represents more than 2,500 facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons around the world), in 2016, 56% of surgeons saw an increase of patients under 30 asking for Botox.
Okay, so the theory goes that if you use it early, you’ll prevent the wrinkles from ever forming, but what impact is this having on your emotions? Our face is the most expressive part of our body and is responsible for showing how we're feeling; be it happy, sad, scared or exhilarated. By going under the needle, we might be losing the age lines but could we also be gambling with our ability to feel our emotions properly?
How it works on the inside
The link between mental state and facial expression dates back to 1872 with Charles Darwin. In Darwin's book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, he said that suppressing the expression of an emotion suppresses the underlying emotion as well. Now, when it comes to Botox, in some cases this could be fantastic – imagine having a huge row and, by not showing your upset on your face, you couldn't feel it inside, either? But on the flip side, what if, say, your partner proposed and your inability to show joy on your face dulled the sense of joy you felt inside?
An experiment conducted by Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has furthered Darwin's theory. He found that if your face can’t make an expression, then the area of the brain where meaning is decoded doesn’t receive the signals of these emotions. Therefore you won’t feel them as strongly. He claims that by changing how we express ourselves, we can change our inner world as well. Dr. Michael Lewis of the School of Psychology in Cardiff believes that because of this, Botox can have a huge impact on feelings: “[Botox] interrupts the feedback [the patient] would normally get from their face and they feel less sad."
I’m getting a lot more male clients coming and asking for botox for work reasons.
How it works on the outside
Your facial expressions don’t only affect how you feel internally, they also affect how you are perceived by other people. When it comes to Botox, behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings goes as far as to say that our judgement of expression has been changed. “So many people are having Botox, the way we express ourselves facially is different now," she says. "We use our eyes more and gesticulate.” She thinks that, now, we are more likely to use our words than rely on our faces to tell our story. “We are learning to adapt and read people in a different way."
Dr. Jules Nabet, a London-based practitioner who administers Botox, says he often sees how the treatment can be beneficial for this very reason. “I’m getting a lot more male clients coming and asking for Botox for work reasons,” he says. “It makes them appear more relaxed and stops them showing their stress as easily. It helps them in job interviews and when they have tricky presentations.”
Another client of Dr. Nabet's had Botox because her child was always asking her why she looked so worried and stressed. After a round of injections she appeared more relaxed, which had a positive knock-on effect by reportedly improving the relationship between mother and child, which in turn helped the mother relax more, too. But Dr. Nabet does warn about taking it too far. “You still need to keep your expression." He says that it can get like you're "speaking to a mannequin, not a human. You need a good balance between having expression but without the lines.”
Inge Theron, an entrepreneur, had her own experience of too much Botox – afterwards, she told Refinery29, her face no longer looked natural and she couldn't show her expressions properly. As a result, she quit having the treatment altogether and set up a company called FaceGym, which aims to help you look your best for your age without having anything invasive. “Botox can be very addictive,” she says. “I woke up every day looking for a change in my face. Where were the new lines that I had to deal with? When I gave up, everyone kept telling me how good I looked. Being able to smile and show your emotions contributes to the overall endorphins you release when you are expressing yourself. You release tension and can show excitement and happiness.” She now looks at her fine lines and wrinkles with affection. “They’re my war stripes, I’ve danced on enough tables to deserve those stripes!”
So it seems that yes, Botox can affect your emotions, whether it’s biological or just psychological. The lesson, as with everything, is that if you choose to do it, do it in moderation, and keep checking in with yourself that you’re still feeling and communicating in the way you want to. And always, always make sure you are going to a registered medical practitioner.