First things first: Nothing compares to the unique wrinkle-smoothing results you can get from injectable Botox (or its competitor, Dysport).
Botox paralyzes muscles, allowing an initial relaxation of the muscles, followed by decreasing the wrinkles. Over the course of months and years (if you continue getting Botox injections), the prolonged inactivity of the muscles allows the overlying skin to "heal."
This inactivity actually allows the collagen to build up in the wrinkles. Over time, wrinkles begin to lessen.
(Preliminary research shows some promise for a topical Botox gel that wouldn't require injections, but it is still in the testing phase and will require FDA approval.)
People are always hoping for an easier route to their wrinkle-free destination (one that doesn't involve needles and can be done at home), and many beauty companies are capitalizing on this desire by marketing creams that they claim mimic the effect of Botox. Essentially freezing the muscles from the outside in, and claiming to lessen wrinkles over time.
"There is no known topical cream or serum that is capable of directly inhibiting wrinkles," explains Arthur W. Perry, M.D., F.A.C.S., YouBeauty Cosmetic Surgery Expert. "It would have to penetrate the skin and fat, and find just the right muscle to paralyze. It's a fantasy."
The creams tend to have instant result claims, which Perry says is misleading. If you use proven anti-aging skincare ingredients, like Vitamin A, B3 or B5, patience is a virtue. "You lose 1 percent of the collagen in your skin each year, and it's almost like parting an ocean to stall that effect, and even more difficult to actually build up new collagen. It takes many months to see an effect. My patients who use good skin care programs don't really see any lessening of wrinkles before six months."
So what exactly are these "Botox alternative" products?
One type fills in wrinkles like you would fill a crack in your wall with spackle. They smooth out the wrinkle, but when you wash your face, you lose the product and the effect. They're fine for temporarily smoothing out the skin, and more of a makeup than anything else.
Perry calls the other type of products "swellers." These products contain chemicals that cause cell injury and result in swelling. That swelling temporarily plumps up wrinkles and makes them look better.
"I worry that if you use them repeatedly, the swelling/settling cycles will ultimately cause you to grow more skin," says Perry. "And that will result in more wrinkles! It's not a surprise that I don't recommend those."
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