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Can Botulinum Toxin Help Acne, or Does It Make It Worse?

You might think that in your lifetime, you’ll never have a use for botulinum toxin injections. You might be completely fine with the aging process and feel no need to slow it down. But it turns out botulinum toxin can do more than smooth fine lines and wrinkles.

If you’ve ever wondered whether botulinum toxin can help acne, you might be encouraged to learn that botulinum toxin can be an effective treatment for certain types of acne and acne scars.

What Is Botulinum Toxin?

Botulinum toxin is created from a neurotoxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which are often found in spoiled foods like fruits, vegetables, and seafood, or in improperly canned foods. Neurotoxins affect the central and peripheral nervous systems and can impair, damage, or even destroy certain functions.

When used incorrectly, it can lead to botulism, a rare and potentially deadly condition that can occur when the toxin is ingested. However, when used for cosmetic or medical purposes, botulinum toxin is injected in a diluted form, and the amount of botulinum toxin in the injection is just a fraction of what would be found in foods.

All this may sound unsettling, but believe it or not, botulinum toxin actually provides several medical and cosmetic benefits when used properly.

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Cosmetic Uses

As you may already know, botulinum toxin is commonly used to make skin appear smoother and more youthful. Botulinum toxin injections have the proven ability to smooth wrinkles on the forehead, around the eyes, and around the mouth — anywhere dynamic wrinkles have formed due to repetitive muscle movements. It can also be used around the lips, on the corners of the mouth, on the chin, along the jawline, and on certain parts of the neck. 

Botulinum toxin reduces the appearance of wrinkles so well because it’s a neurotoxin. It temporarily paralyzes the muscles underlying wrinkles by blocking nerve signals and acting as a kind of muscle relaxer. The result is smoother skin. 

However, botulinum toxin doesn’t work for all wrinkles. Static wrinkles from sun damage, smoking, or the natural loss of collagen and elasticity of the skin — all causes unrelated to underlying muscle activity — won’t respond to botulinum toxin treatments. 

Medical Uses

Because botulinum toxin acts as a muscle relaxer and can temporarily paralyze muscles, it offers several medical benefits in addition to the cosmetic. botulinum toxin can be used to treat neck spasms, urinary urge incontinence, overactive sweat glands, eye twitching, and a lazy eye.

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration approved botulinum toxin as a treatment option for people with chronic migraines. Studies show that botulinum toxin can significantly reduce the number of migraine days per month among migraine sufferers. Scientists aren’t sure how exactly botulinum toxin works for migraines, but they believe it blocks the transmission of pain signals around the injection site. 

Can Botulinum Toxin Help Acne?

So, what does all this have to do with acne? It turns out, botulinum toxin has one particular effect that makes it helpful as an acne treatment — reducing oil production. Excess sebum is a common cause of acne breakouts, but when botulinum toxin is injected into the face, it helps reduce the amount of oil the skin produces.  

Dermatologists typically suggest trying less invasive methods before turning to botulinum toxin as a treatment for acne. But if over-the-counter options and prescription medications haven’t done the trick, botulinum toxin might help reduce acne for people with oily skin.

Because of botulinum toxin's paralyzing effect, it’s best to start with small injections in strategic areas. For this reason, botulinum toxin is a better option for someone who struggles with breakouts in a particular area of the face, such as along the jawline, versus someone who experiences acne breakouts all over their face. People may notice botulinum toxin makes the greatest difference in particularly oily facial areas, like the forehead.

Can Botulinum Toxin Help Acne Scarring?

Unfortunately, acne itself isn’t the only problem people have to contend with. Breakouts can leave scars as an unpleasant reminder even after blemishes heal, especially if you’ve suffered from severe breakouts or cystic acne. Facial scars, in particular, tend to be very noticeable and tough to get rid of.

A small botulinum toxin injection can relax the raised skin around the scar and smooth the skin’s appearance. Botulinum toxin may also be helpful in preventing acne scars. When you have an active breakout, injections can release some of the tension around any broken open areas or damaged skin, reducing the chance of permanent scarring as these areas heal. 

One study showed that botulinum toxin aids healing after scar revision surgery, a type of plastic surgery that improves the appearance of scars. Patients received botulinum toxin injections two weeks before surgery. These injections were meant to stabilize the muscles around the scarred area and limit or prevent movement. 

All patients saw improved results from the botulinum toxin injections, which helped with wound healing and prevented complications during the healing process. 

Infographic: Can Botox Help Acne, or Does It Make It Worse?

Final Thoughts

So, can botulinum toxin help acne? The answer is... it depends.

Botulinum toxin can help prevent acne breakouts, but it’s probably not the miracle cure some clinics advertise it to be. If your acne stems from excessively oily skin, botulinum toxin could help reduce the severity by reducing sebum production. A more balanced, less oily complexion may be less likely to break out. If other factors are behind your acne, though, you may not find botulinum toxin treatments effective.

However, botulinum toxin can help visibly reduce the appearance of acne scarring and help prevent future scars while you and your dermatologist figure out the best treatment options for your acne. 

If you prefer a non-pharmaceutical treatment option, light therapy devices like the Luminance RED Acne Device use clinically proven wavelengths of light to reduce facial oil, kill acne-causing bacteria, and encourage healing.

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