A Breakfast of Botox


“Whenever I say ‘Botox,’ I smile. Why do I smile? Your face is your own accessory you use every day—and you want to wear it well,” says Dr. Jeanine Downie. An extremely attractive woman with prominent cheekbones and flawless skin, Downie has been a proponent and personal user of botox for several years. To sell Botox to her patients, however, a bit of sugar-coating is involved. “I don’t call it a toxin,” confesses Downie of the product, whose technical name  is, indeed, Botulinum Toxin Type A. She prefers the word protein, or “small bacteria.”

Downie was speaking at a recent breakfast in Chelsea hosted by Allergan, the maker of Botox, to introduce its new product to the fashion and beauty media. The FDA had approved the dermal filler Juvéderm for “contouring and volumizing” facial wrinkles and folds, and though the actual product release date is still uncertain, a preview of the injectable gel, along with a reintroduction into the wonders of Botox and the rest of the Allergan family, was in order.

According to a survey of 1,000 Botox users and from what Downie observes in her own practice, most consumers are women aged 35-50 (“working mothers,” both Downie and the Botox pamphlets informed). Downie sees a growing interest among men, particularly those with a certain career. “A lot of politicians are coming to see me,” Downie announced, “because they want to have their ‘game face’ on.”

And Botox is affordable. “It breaks down to just $3 to $5 a day,” she assured, sounding like a Sally Struthers ad. “Just cut back on a latte or two, and you can have your Botox.”

The second speaker, a serious-looking and comely woman doctor, Ava Shamban, introduced the new product Juvéderm. Unlike Botox, Juvéderm’s function is to fill in sunken cheeks and lines around the lips. It’s made of hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring polymer in the body that cushions joints; Juvéderm’s particular type of hyaluronic acid is responsible for producing results that last up to six months longer than other hyaluronic acid dermal fillers.

The third physician, Jessica Wu, attested to how much her patients love the results—’soft and natural,’ is, according to her, a frequent response. Wu already has about 200 people on the waiting list—”It’s like being on the list for a Birkin bag!,” she exclaimed. “People want the latest and the greatest.” And the latest and greatest need to be used not in lieu of Botox, but in conjunction with. Wu likened Juvéderm to a new pair of shoes you merely “work into the wardrobe”.

“Sometimes friends and family will try to discourage” patients from receiving Botox or another non-invasive procedure, Wu admitted. (We imagine everyone fears their loved one looking like an early-stage David Guest.)  But “if I’m doing a good job,” added Wu, “nobody will be able to tell.”

Cue the test subject: The image of Eva Lowry, a 42-year-old woman from Southern California, pops up on the screen. Lowry is an assiduous exerciser with a stunning, toned body for her age—film of her jogging in a sports bra, wearing an open shirt, and even posing in a waterfall, wearing nothing but a bikini, flashed across the screen—”but she felt like her face didn’t match her body.” Close-ups of Lowry’s face around her mouth and of Lowry frowning replaced the full-body photos. To be honest, they looked to us like any normal 42-year-old woman’s face would look—granted, Lowry had spent some time in the sun, but her face was nothing if not beautiful. Still, Lowry was dissatisfied. She hated the lines around her mouth, and “every time I look into the mirror, I see this ’11′” she complained. (This is what the frown lines between the eyebrows are called in Botox-speak. Using Botox would apparently give the “11” a “time-out.”)

A few minutes into the film, Lowry was in Wu’s office, receiving an injection of Juvéderm near her mouth. “Here you go!” said Wu, passing a mirror to Lowry so that she could view the results for herself. Lowry’s hand went up to her mouth, and she started to shake. “I’m going to cry!” she mumbled, and her eyes started to well up. The film ended shortly after this, and all eyes moved back to Wu, still at the podium.

Then, in a scene that could have been ripped straight from an episode of The Swan, the curtain behind Wu parted, and the flesh-and-blood Lowry emerged, beaming. “I feel so fabulous inside,” she bubbled, “it reflects on the outside.” But Lowry had a message for the audience too. “I really want to emphasize, it’s so important to choose the right doctor. They should also be an artist.” Everyone applauded. “Thank you for sharing my journey,” she said.

A Q&A followed, which included one reporter-type demanding to know if the panelists had been compensated by Allergan, a confirmation that was about as shocking as learning a Hot Pocket takes two minutes to cook, not one.

Not that we weren’t shocked by something else we saw at the breakfast: before and after photos of Lowry. The “before” showed her frowning. In the next pic, taken after the Botox, Juvéderm, collagen and other assorted members of the Allergan family were pumped into her face, Lowry attempted the same expression, but only got as far as an aborted wince.

“She’s trying to frown, but cannot.” Wu gushed. “But she can still smile.”