The Convoluted History of Botox

Botox has a convoluted and interesting history dating back to the early nineteenth century.

In the 1800s, the Botulinus bacteria was discovered to cause food poisoning in humans. After a series of studies were completed, seven strains of botulinum toxin were identified and labeled A through G. Four of them, A, B, E, and F, were found to cause sickness in humans.

In 1946, Dr. Edward J. Shantz and his colleagues were able to purify botulinum toxin type A (BTX-A) into a crystal form. Shortly thereafter, in 1953, physiologist Dr. Vernon Brooks found that injecting extremely small amounts into a hyperactive muscle caused a temporary relaxing effect.

In the ’60s, eye doctor Dr. Alan B. Scott began using BTX-A injections on monkeys. He demonstrated that its muscle-relaxing properties could be used to treat crossed eyes (strabismus). It wasn’t long before BTX-A became the most used toxin in research labs around the world.

In 1978, Dr. Scott was given permission by the FDA to start testing the botulinum toxin on humans, and soon after, results began to be published. He demonstrated in 1981 that small doses of botulinum toxin “appeared to be a safe and useful therapy for strabismus.” Further studies showed that the drug’s usefulness extended beyond the eyes, providing patients with temporary relief from spasms in the face, neck, shoulders, and even vocal cords.

In 1988, major drug manufacturer Allergan bought the rights to distribute Dr. Scott’s BTX-A, or Occulinum, as he had named it. One year later, the FDA approved it for treating both crossed eyes (strabismus) and eyelid muscle spasms (blepharospasm). Not long thereafter, Allergan purchased Dr. Scott’s company, and changed the drug’s name to the more memorable and instantly recognizable “Botox.”

Research continued into the ’90s, and the botulinum toxin was successfully used to temporarily treat writer’s cramp, bladder spasm, excessive sweating, and even cerebral palsy in children. The most startling discovery however, which would go on to become the most popular use for Botox, was made entirely by accident.

Canadian eye doctor Dr. Jean Carruthers happened to notice that the frown lines of her blepharospasm patients were beginning to fade. In 1992, along with her dermatologist husband, she published a study revealing the safety and usefulness of using BTX-A to temporarily treat brow wrinkles. By ’97, dermatologists across the country had taken notice of this “off-label” use, and demand for the drug spiked so quickly the country actually ran out.

With the dawning of a new millennium, yet even more uses for botulinum toxins, also known as neuromodulators, were discovered and approved by the FDA. Its various forms have since been approved for the temporary treatment of cervical dystonia, or the painful, involuntary contraction of the neck muscles, as well as to treat frown lines between the eyebrows.

It has also been approved to treat severe underarm sweating, and spasms of the elbow, wrist, and fingers in adults who have experienced stroke, traumatic brain injury, or multiple sclerosis. It can also treat chronic migraines, urinary incontinence, and relieve upper limb spasticity (ULS). Lastly, several forms of the toxin have been approved for the treatment of crow’s feet.

With this wide range of safe and efficient medical benefits, it’s not hard to understand why Botox, and other similar treatments, have become the number one non-surgical cosmetic procedure in the United States.