Anti-wrinkle injections have become so popular that people are no longer hiding the fact that they have them, and are happily sharing the details with friends and the world (thanks, social media).
It used to be secret women’s business. Taboo and undercover.
A private habit they wouldn’t disclose to husbands or partners, let alone friends. Appointments were made in whispers and consultations paid in cash. In short, getting anti-wrinkle injections was as clandestine as having an affair.
But today, injections of botulinum toxin (aka botox) and other fillers are as ubiquitous as a haircut for many, who – far from keeping it under wraps – proudly boast about their procedures on social media.
According to Sanja Maria, a registered nurse and director of Sydney skin clinic Face by SM, there is now a greater openness and open-mindedness around the topic. “It’s now more affordable and accessible,” Maria tells Body+Soul.
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“It used to be wealthy women or women in high-end roles who would have botox, but now yoga teachers, nutritionists and Pilates instructors are coming to me saying they’ve always been that person to say ‘no, no, no’ to injectables. Now they’re here doing it.”
Maria believes the increase in demand is due to a combination of prices having been reduced by as much as two-thirds, social-media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok demystifying the experience, and the rise of “Zoom face”, where all the time spent on video calls recently has made people hyper aware of their “flaws”.
“Business has tripled since lockdown,” she says. “They’re all looking at themselves on Zoom and FaceTime. They’re not going on holidays and they’re working from home, so downtime isn’t such an issue.”
And it’s not just women taking it up: Maria reveals men now make up 40 per cent of her business.
But it’s worth considering that as so many of us smooth our faces, we may also be homogenising how they look – to the point that fine lines and wrinkles suddenly shock.
Rewind to this year’s Oscars, when 36-year-old actor Carey Mulligan showed up with a forehead that had slight creases… and made news for it. What’s more, she was competing with the likes of Frances McDormand, a practical outlier in her profession for insisting on fronting the cameras and attending events with a totally natural face.
In fact, Professor Heather Widdows, philosopher and author of Perfect Me: Beauty As An Ethical Ideal, believes the normalisation of these procedures will become so routine that faces like McDormand’s will be considered unusual.
“We ‘forget’ they are medical procedures and not like make-up,” Widdows tells Body+Soul. “When [these treatments become] normal, like body-hair removal, they become invisible, and then not doing them becomes a statement.”
“We are looking at a future where we all do more, and the extremely modified face and body becomes ‘natural’, though it’s anything but.”
All this is making medical experts understandably concerned. “Particularly in young people, there does seem to be some pressure from social media to have a certain ‘look’, along with media and social media portraying a certain body type as ideal,” Dr Danielle McMullen, the president of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), tells Body+Soul.
“We do hold concerns about the impact of this on mental health.”
Clinical psychologist Gemma Sharp agrees. “We know that showing people a variety of faces and bodies promotes greater acceptance of our own appearance,” she says. “With more faces/bodies that look the same, we are less likely to accept our own looks.”
Former TV host Jessica Rowe has had injectables, and while she originally kept her botox treatments a secret from her husband, newsreader Peter Overton, she came clean after he saw a receipt.
“He thought it was ridiculous and vain, but I did it for myself,” she tells Body+Soul.
“I had young children. I was exhausted; I wanted to look brighter and fresher.” She says she’s transparent about it because to be otherwise would be disingenuous.”
“It’s your face, so you can do what you want,” Rowe says. “It’s pathetic reading pieces with people saying they look like this because they drink green juice or stand on their head or wear sunblock. No, you’re lying – you’re having injections in your face.”
The treatment’s popularity is such that younger and younger women are rushing to clinics. “We are being approached by people as young as 15 wanting botox and lip fillers,” says Dr Vivek Eranki of Cosmétique cosmetic-surgery clinic.
He is now calling for a law to prohibit those under 18 having the procedure.
“Because they’re young, they think they’re invincible. They don’t look at the pros and cons, and they’re probably not as mindful of post-treatment care.”
Still, Maria counters, “It’s not always about age, but your anatomical features. I’ve seen women of 22 have more dynamic movement in their face, and therefore more static lines, than a woman in her 40s who is less animated and more monotone.”
In other words, women age at different rates and for many of them, prevention is better than cure.
“There’s still a bit of stigma, but that’s died down. It’s so mainstream now.”
Who’s for and who’s against?
“I’m under 30 and I’ve been getting botox for years” – Kelsey Ferencak, beauty editor, 28
As a beauty editor, it’s my job to educate myself on all things beauty – and that includes putting my body on the line to test treatments.
I believed botox was preventative, until plastic surgeon Dr Jack Zoumaras quashed that theory, telling me there’s no evidence to say starting injectables early will prevent wrinkles from forming.
However, I disagree. Although I don’t have creases or deep indentations, I can see a huge difference in my skin texture pre- and post-injections. My skin is smoother and brighter, and the fine lines are softened. I call it a “sprinkling” to maintain my complexion, rather than alter it.
As I age and those fine lines and wrinkles become more apparent, I’ll double down on the injections to maintain my smooth skin, while still keeping all of my expressions, rather than “freezing” them – so I still look like me… but better.
“I am never, ever, EVER getting botox” – Adrienne Tam, senior features writer, 39
Let me preface this by saying that if you want to inject fillers into your face or some other part of your body, you are entitled to. That’s your right as an individual. Just as it’s my right to run away screaming from any injectable related to cosmetic work.
I am never, ever, EVER getting botox. Part of my refusal is cultural – I was raised in a third-world country and the thought of spending that much money on injecting a toxin into my face to “smooth fine lines and wrinkles” is absurd.
Your face is meant to have expressions. When I hear that people as young as 20 are getting botox, I’m always incredulous. They’re still babies!
Those fine lines you hate so much? They’re the mark of laughs and frowns – the highs and lows of life. They’re the mark of a life being lived, of growing up and growing older.
And despite what society would have us believe, ageing is not a bad thing. Is it arrogance that makes us forget how privileged we are to grow old? I’m old enough to know the answer to that. And my face shows it.