It promises instant youth – erasing wrinkles, frown lines and facial creases. Given its hype as a fountain of youth, it’s hard to understand why a fast growing segment of Botox’s consumer base is our youth. That’s teens from ages 13 to 19 to be exact. In a culture that focuses disproportionately on physical appearance, young people are seeking Botox injections to cure ills ranging from furrows to “gummy” smiles to double chins.
The controversy over Botox and teens was recently reignited when 18-year-old Filipino singer Charice Pempengco had Botox injections to prepare for her appearance on Glee this Fall. Glee is aimed at teen audiences and dramatizes the plight of New Directions, a modern high school glee club. The petite singer stated “I wanted to look fresh when I appeared before the camera.” From interviews on Philippine TV, it seems that Pempengco’s intention was to reshape her lower jaw, reducing its bulky, square appearance, a move to look slimmer for American audiences. This type of cosmetic procedure is not uncommon in the Philippines.
Adrian, a 15-year-old from Hatboro, Pa. can understand Botox’s appeal. In fact, she had her first Botox injection at age 14 to relax what she feels was a large crease in her forehead. Adrian is preparing for her next injection. “It was something that I could not really see,” says her mother Judy, “But Adrian was so self-conscious about it. I think she’s gained confidence as a result of the injections.”
Like Adrian, teens are clearly flocking to doctors for cosmetic Botox treatments. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, botulinum toxin, sold under brand names Botox and Dysport, was injected into teens, ages 13 to 19, nearly 12,000 times in 2009. This represents an increase of 2% from 2008. The figures do not reflect teens who have had multiple injections or who had Botox injections for medical reasons such as Strabismus (crossed eyes), Hyperhidrosis (abnormal sweating) or migraines. Botox does not have a labeled indication for those under 18 when treating cosmetic conditions.
Although there are a number of disturbing facets of Botox use for teens, perhaps the most consideration is whether they are seeking a “cure” for intolerable physical imperfections, or whether appearance concerns are a projection of other sources of inadequacy, such as emptiness or poor self-worth. Botox is not a magic bullet that will resolve these ills. Dr. Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions agrees.
“If your daughter is begging for Botox, believe me, an injection is not the cure,” Dr. Borba writes on her parenting blog. “There’s a much deeper issue at stake and I’m betting it’s self-esteem. Say no to that injection. Address her feelings of ‘inadequacy’ and not her need to cover up a so-called wrinkle.”