Sunday, April 21, 2002

Botox approval adds a wrinkle to growing older

        Remember the movie Fatal Attraction? Michael Douglas is a married guy who has a fling while his wife is away for the weekend. He wants it to end right there; his paramour, who is a lunatic, has other ideas.

        Great movie. But here's something I never understood: Douglas' wife was played by Anne Archer who, as middle-aged actresses go, is very easy on the eyes. His fling was with Glenn Close, who is a fine actress. Why would Mike risk it all for Glenn when he already had Anne?

        One of the things that made Ms. Archer sexy in Fatal Attraction was her natural beauty, wrinkles and all. Ms. Close, on the other hand, appeared to have been created by Madame Tussaud.

        This comes up now because the Food and Drug Administration has approved Botox for use on wrinkles, specifically brow furrows. If you frown a lot, and the space between your eyes looks like a ditch, you can get a shot of Botox and within two days look 21 again. It's better than fat cream for the thighs.

        Botox is the latest manifestation of our obsession with looking young. For between $250 and $400 a pop, a doctor will stick a needle in your brow, your forehead or your crow's feet, inject a fraction of a teaspoon of Botox and eliminate those pesky creases.

        Botox paralyzes the muscles that cause the wrinkles. Possible side effects include droopy eyelids, limited facial expression and permanent resemblance to Cher.

        It's very popular. On both coasts, Botox parties are raging. Groups of 10 to 12, mostly women, gather for champagne, truffles, brie and Botox. Doctors can do 10 faces an hour. At no less than $250 a face, the doctors are not worrying about their own frown lines.

        “We have certain designated days,” says Dr. Devinder Mangat, a professor of facial plastic surgery at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Mangat is in private practice, too, here and in Vail, Colo. On certain days, he clears his schedule of other appointments and does nothing but Botox. “Just a whole bunch of Botox. Twenty to 25 patients. These are people who feel good. They want to look as good as they feel,” he says.

        I don't know. I'm a regular at the Blue Ash YMCA because I like the rush of endorphins that comes from pumping up and running in place. Also, because it makes the shirts fit better.

        But Botox?

        It comes from botulinum toxin, a poison you find in spoiled cans of food, usually meat. If you've got a can of meat that's rounded enough to pick up a 7-10 split, chances are there's botulism inside.

        Botox is “a very, very diluted form” of botulism, says Dr. Mangat.

        Still . . . A needle in my forehead? Filling me with poisoned meat product extract? Couldn't I just get a bad can of Spam, crack it open and have a facial?

        Botox has to be repeated every three to six months, which, if you're a regular, is one heck of a lot of Spam. And because the muscles are paralyzed, when you raise your eyebrows, your forehead won't wrinkle. You can't frown, either. It's creepy.

        I guess it's good we live in a country where the worry quotient is such that wrinkles are a major preoccupation. And it is amusing to watch older Hollywood types on TV and know that if their faces were lifted any higher, their chins would be greeting their hair lines. I mean, Dick Clark's mug is wound tighter than a two-seam fastball.

        But at what point do we say we're comfortable in our own skin? Wrinkling is OK. It means you're getting older. That's a good thing, given the alternative.

        Face creases? I prefer to call them “character lines.”

        And I'd still take Anne Archer over Glenn Close.


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