How Does Botox Actually Work?

We know the end results, but how does Botox work to get us there?

Header image courtesy of MSN.

Many people know the end results of getting Botox and understand why people receive treatment, but the science behind Botox might not be as widely known. How does Botox actually do what it does? The way it’s talked about might make it seem like a magical procedure that rids of all wrinkles and imperfections.

While that may be the case to a certain extent, there’s so much more to it than that. Botox can come with side effects and can end up becoming a regular procedure, meaning the cost will add up over time. However, it’s beneficial for cosmetic and medical reasons — Botox has been known to be an extremely effective treatment for migraines and other chronic conditions. Before you decide if Botox is for you or make your personal pros and cons list, it’s important to understand how it works.

What is Botox?

an array of botulinum toxin vials at a doctor's office
Botox is a neurotoxin from botulinum toxin.

Botox is the trademarked term for botulinum toxin, which is caused by bacteria. As the name suggests, yes, it is a toxin. However, in small doses it is not dangerous and it can have a number of benefits.

The most common reason for seeking out Botox procedures is to reduce or prevent wrinkles. Botox works by blocking nerve signals and temporarily stopping muscles from moving. More specifically, Botox is a neurotoxin that targets the nerves that release acetylcholine, the chemical messenger that causes muscles to move. Muscles moving means wrinkles forming, but Botox stops that chemical release, therefore the muscles cease movement temporarily.

A key word here is temporarily. Most Botox injections only last for three to six months. Then, the muscles will begin moving again and wrinkles will slowly start to form. You can make Botox a regular procedure, but it can be pricey, which is something to keep in mind.

The Procedure

a woman receiving Botox injections in her forehead
Botox is quick, easy, and does not cause too much discomfort. Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan.


Before your Botox procedure, it’s important to prepare by telling your doctor if you have had injections in the last four months or if you take any muscle relaxers, sleeping aids, blood thinners, or allergy medicines.

Though the treatment does not cause much discomfort, it’s up to you to gauge your personal pain tolerance, and there are numbing agents available. For example, your doctor might apply a topical anesthetic cream, anesthetic vibration, or ice.

The injections can be administered right in your doctor’s office. In fact, some states only allow Botox to be injected by an MD, so be sure to do some research on your state. RNs, plastic surgeons, medical spas, and of course, dentists can also administer botox in most places.

During the procedure

a woman receives Botox injections in her forehead from her doctor
Your provider will use a small needle to administer the Botox injections. Image courtesy of Style Vanity.

Your provider will use a tiny needle for the injections. It usually takes just a few minutes, however the amount of time depends on how many injections you are receiving.

The number of injections you receive also determines the price — on average, Botox costs between $9 and $18 per unit. The average price range for the most commonly treated areas (crows feet, forehead wrinkles, and frown lines) is between $300 and $500.

Overall, it’s relatively painless and quick.


before and after images of a woman who received Botox in her forehead
Botox can prevent and decrease the appearance of wrinkles. You’ll see results in just a couple days. Image courtesy of Heavenly Plastic Surgery.

You should be able to return to work and other normal activities right away. Try not to rub or massage the treated areas for the first 24 hours post-procedure — this can cause the Botox to spread to other areas!

Typically, you will see results in just a few days — no more than a week.

If you choose to make Botox a regular treatment, you will probably receive the same amount of units each time, and eventually less. This is good information to keep in the back of your mind because it allows you to gauge approximately how much you’ll be spending every three to six months. If you choose to wait a little longer between visits, you might need more units injected to see results.

Side Effects

Botox can bring some side effects, though most people typically don’t experience many. Much like the procedure itself, they are relatively painless and temporary. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea
  • Temporary facial weakness/drooping
  • Bruising
  • Redness

More serious side effects to look out for include trouble breathing and any extreme discomfort. If you experience this, contact your healthcare provider right away. These side effects are unlikely, but it’s important to be aware of them.

Botox for Medical Reasons

Though Botox is a popular treatment for cosmetic reasons like reducing and preventing wrinkles, it can be very helpful for medical reasons, too! Botox is known to help:

  • Chronic migraine: People who experience migraine headaches for more than 15 days per month, for more than three months straight.
  • Crossed eyes: Those with crossed eyes who are over the age of 12 can treat the condition with Botox.
  • Severe underarm sweating: Botox also helps eliminate body odor caused by said excessive sweating.
  • Overactive bladder: Botox can reduce any overactive bladder symptoms that come with certain neurological conditions.
  • Chronic pain: Cervical dystonia is often treated with Botox — it causes neck, head, and shoulder pain.

All of these conditions are approved for Botox treatment by the FDA, but there are many other conditions that can be improved through off-label Botox injections. Consult your doctor to determine if it may help your condition!

Is Botox for You?

Now that you know a little bit more about Botox, how it works, and the details of the procedure, you can better determine if it’s right for you. Remember that the experience and prices vary depending on the results you are seeking and where you receive treatment. Contact Dr. Wakim with further questions!

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