The first question you may be asking is, “How could a cosmetic treatment possibly cure a mental health condition?”

We know, it sounds a bit crazy. But some researchers are looking into the potential of Botox as a way to help alleviate the symptoms of depression. And frankly, the studies are showing promising results.

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects 300 million people around the world. People who suffer from depression experience feelings of hopelessness and sadness, and they are prescribed antidepressant medications. Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, followed by anxiety and schizophrenia. In the UK, a 2016 study reported that 19.7% of Britons aged 16 and over showed symptoms of depression or anxiety. The percentage was higher among females at 22.5 percent, than males at 16.78 percent.

With these facts in mind, let’s take a look at Botox and its potential in helping people who suffer from depression.

But first, what is Botox?

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Botox is one of the most popular treatments worldwide. It stands for botulinum toxin, and is used to temporarily paralyze muscles in order to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Botox is commonly used to erase forehead lines, frown lines, and crow’s feet. Aside from its cosmetic benefits, Botox is also used to help with migraines, excessive sweating, bladder incontinence, and muscle spasms.

Botox continues to be a phenomenal success in the cosmetic industry. While it used to be a ‘secret procedure’ undergone by celebrities to have flawless faces, Botox is now increasingly becoming mainstream, and people who had it are even promoting it on social media. It’s even one of those so-called ‘lunch hour treatments’ which people can have during quick breaks – since a session only takes a few minutes and people can go back to work immediately after.

So how does Botox help people with depression? Taking the facts into context, Botox is a treatment that improves someone’s appearance, leading to an increase in one’s self confidence. This confidence possibly translates into an improved mood in people, even in those who don’t have depression. However, the studies further explored the link between emotions and Botox.

What does the research say?

Dr. Eric Finzi, dermatologic surgeon and author of The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Mood and Relationships, is one of the pioneers in discovering the connection between Botox and depression.

A little side story: according to a Pacific Standard article, Finzi grew up gauging his mother’s emotional temperature through her forehead and expression lines on her face. His mother suffered from depression, which worsened when his father died years later. At this time, Finzi was already an expert surgeon. It was then he began to wonder, if you ‘froze’ the muscles that enable an expression, such as a frown or scrunched brows, would emotions such as sadness and anger be soothed? Could there be a connection between facial expressions and feelings? Could eliminating the lines that make the facial expression, eliminate the emotions that go with it?

To answer this question, Finzi conducted an experiment published in 2006 which involved administering Botox in subjects suffering from moderate to severe depression. Botox paralyzed the muscles in the brows, which create the expressions of sadness, fear, and anger. Two months later, 9 out of 10 participants no longer had symptoms of depression. The 10th participant, although having retained some symptoms, reported an improved mood. These results are astonishing in itself, but more researchers dived into the pool.

A 2012 study on 30 people revealed that Botox has a noticeable effect on depression in as few as six weeks, with the subjects reporting a 47.1% decrease in depressive symptoms after just one injection. A 2013 study supported this, noting that the maximal effect of Botox on a depressed person’s mood occurred within the first 8 weeks after treatment.

In 2014, another study reported that depressed people who had Botox stated improved symptoms even after 24 weeks since getting the cosmetic procedure. This result suggests that Botox may have lasting effects on the improvement of one’s mood, even if the cosmetic effects last only between 12 to 16 weeks.

The bottomline

While some researchers hypothesized that the antidepressant effects of Botox may be stemming from the improvement in one’s appearance (leading to improvements in one’s mood), a different explanation has been found.

It actually has something to do with an ancient theory called the “facial feedback mechanism”. When you ‘wear’ a certain facial expression, this sends feedbacks to the brain, therefore connecting with your emotions. For example, randomly smiling can make you feel happy. On the other hand, frowning and furrowing your brows can make you feel angry. And because Botox temporarily paralyzes the muscles that cause frowny, scared, and angry facial expressions, these emotions are less triggered.

A friendly reminder

Although the research looks very promising, keep in mind that Botox is not an FDA-approved treatment for depression. So if you do have mental health problems, it’s best to consult your psychiatrists first.

On the other hand, Botox is a safe and medically-approved treatment.  However, it should still be administered by licensed professionals. Avoid getting dodgy fillers and sessions outside a dermatology clinic. Make sure that you’re getting Botox only from the experts.