Beauty editors and writers are used to getting late-night (or early-morning or literally 24-hours-a-day) texts with zero context and burning questions. No, we don't mean of the "U up?" variety. These inquiries are about skin freak-outs, product recommendations and makeup mishaps... and we've seen 'em all. With that in mind, we welcome you to our new series, "Fashionista Beauty Helpline," where we address the beauty questions we get asked most frequently — and run them by experts who really know their stuff.
Perhaps you're someone who often furrows their brow in casual judgment — or maybe you're genetically predisposed to forehead wrinkles or crow's feet. Years ago, you'd have to invest in a top-notch anti-aging cream and play the waiting game, but now that injectables are widely available, Botox has become an option for the younger set. But how young is too young? Why, for reasons unbeknownst to us, does Botox come with the stigma of "cheating" when retinols, high-power lasers and in-office peels are par for the anti-aging course? And will you really change your DNA/ruin your face in 20 years/insert-whatever-ridiculous-myth-your-Aunt-Betty-read-on-Facebook?
First, says LA-based dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu, it's important to note that Botox, or any other injectable, isn't step one: "You never want to jump to injectables if you're not [using] regular SPF and a basic anti-aging regimen," she says. As a first line of defense against signs of aging, she recommends products with retinol and antioxidants to prevent collagen breakdown. (You can read more about a basic skin-care routine here.)
But if you're in your mid-20s and noticing what Dr. Chiu calls "etching" — fine lines that remain when your face is at rest — it could be a good solution.
"If you're starting to see horizontal forehead lines, frown lines between the brows, or little crow's feet, just droplets of tiny amounts of Botox will prevent long-term etching," she says. "I'd say people typically start seeing these early lines at rest in the mid-to-late-20s in one or more of these areas."
Of course, there's no set age this happens for everyone, but Dr. Jeannette Graf, an NYC-based dermatologist, says she's been seeing younger patients come into her office over the past few years, too — which isn't a bad thing. "I notice that people who are getting [Botox] younger and younger don't need it as frequently," she says. Rather than coming back every four months, they can stretch it to six or eight, should they want to come back. (Yep, reminder: The effects of Botox aren't permanent.)
But before you even start to see lines settle in, preventative Botox — or the practice of calming facial muscles that you work overtime to inhibit any permanent wrinkles from forming — is an option, too. "For what I call 'pre-juvenation,'" Dr. Chiu says, "it's more important to look at the genetics and habits of a patient. Some people have stronger facial muscles or expressions and need to start a bit sooner."
So what about the rumor that once you start, you'll get hooked on it — or worse, that your face will get to a point where it will actually "need" it, whatever that means? "This is a myth!" Dr. Chiu says emphatically. "Botox has been out for over 20 years now, and if anything, those who start early tend to need fewer units — and have seen lasting results, because their hyperactive muscles have essentially been retrained."
Even more, when your fine lines become deep-set wrinkles, Botox won't make them go away. "Instead, they'll then need both filler [like Restylane or Juvéderm] and Botox — so it's always better to be preventative," she says.
While the FDA has only studied Botox in those ages 18 or older, no dermatologist we spoke with would give a specific age cut-off. Still, there are some derms who'd prefer to keep those without lines out of their chair: Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, says he wouldn't treat a patient before he could see a wrinkle starting to set in. That said, his patients on the younger side also "tend to be in their mid-20s, and most commonly, I'm seeing women coming in for Botox for their 30th birthdays."
The bottom line? "Aesthetic treatments with Botox is an art, and there are no firm rules on age, but it's critical the treating physician is improving someone's confidence, and not worsening a body dysmorphia," says Dr. Chiu, who notes that social media has been a major driving force for younger patients' interest in Botox. (This is a notion we've explored before, too.)
"I also think younger generations believe in a healthy, positive lifestyle and leading their life with confidence, and Botox is often part of this anti-aging, confidence-boosting treatment, without the stigma of it being vain," says Chiu. And just, you know, maybe don't tell your judge-y Aunt Betty about it.