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The Unexpected Benefit Botox May Have on Oily Skin

It's an off-label use, but it's gaining popularity.
Photo: Imaxtree 

Photo: Imaxtree 

Botox may be best known for smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles, but since it was approved by the FDA for cosmetic use in 2002, the injectable has evolved from a purely reactive measure to a preventative one, too. At a basic level, Botox inhibits muscle contraction by blocking signals from the nerves to the muscles — and in the 16 years since it was green-lit to treat forehead lines and crow's feet, it also got the stamp of FDA approval as a tool for both hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and migraines. Now, a fourth use is cropping up, if only off-label for now: treating oily skin.

Yep, good news for oil-slicks everywhere: A few injections to the forehead could decrease oil production enough to calm a shiny T-zone, albeit subtly: "While it's not FDA-approved to treat oiliness, we find that this commonly happens as a side effect when we treat our patients' wrinkles," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital's Department of Dermatology. He says he's been seeing more and more patients that hover around the age of 30 — which means they're dealing with more incidents of oily skin. "Patients may also experience less sweating in those areas as well: If muscles aren't activated, they won't constrict. If glands aren't activated, they won't make sweat or oil." That can result in less makeup-slippage, which is usually a summer-induced problem for those with normal skin, but remains year-round when you're cursed with an oily complexion.

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If you think about it, it makes sense: While the sebaceous glands (the source of oil production) are different from sweat glands (those that control sweat), they react similarly to a Botox injection, which can diffuse from the injection point under the skin, says Dr. Zeichner. And one 2013 study in the Journal of Dermatological Science confirms this notion: Even if a dermatologist administered two small injections between your brows, the surrounding area — like the upper region of your T-zone — may reap some of the oil-reducing benefits.

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"Botox typically migrates about one centimeter from where it's injected," says Dr. Zeichner. "This diffusion explains how it gives parallel effectiveness in treating both oil and sweat glands as well as muscles under the skin."

Still, it's not a perfect solution: Botox's main mechanism is muscle paralysis — which can look natural if administered correctly in the forehead, but less so if it's injected into somewhere like the cheek. "Tiny amounts of Botox can be injected any place you have oil glands, including the nose, chin, or even scalp," explains Dr. Zeichner, who cautions about administering it elsewhere for the sake of oiliness. "But you may relax muscles in those areas, too. Areas like the scalp or nose aren't as concerning, but muscles in the chin control your smile, which may be inadvertently affected if you administer too much Botox. The same is true of your forehead: While the goal may be only to lower oil production but you may end up relaxing the muscles as well."

And if the idea of going off-label to stave off a little oil doesn't sound fun, Dr. Zeichner has a couple pieces of advice: There are always clay masks and salicylic acid peels.

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