When people hear the word “Botox,” they often think of frozen, expressionless faces. Botox, a drug made from a toxin that causes food poisoning, has been used to paralyze the muscles under wrinkles, smoothing the skin, for decades— usually among older women.
Lisa Pecot-Hébert, Director of the Journalism Master of Science Program at USC, whose specialty and research focus is gender, body image, and the media said, “back in the day, it was for people that had money. You couldn’t go literally to your dermatologist, or you know, whatever on the corner. You couldn’t go on your lunch hour and hit the Botox special because it didn’t exist. It was less attainable.”
But in recent years, the muscle-paralyzing injection has gained traction among people who are barely out of their teens in a new trend called “baby Botox.”
In fact, a recent study of USC students found that 65% of respondents who participated would plan on getting Botox between 20 and 30 years old – and 58% of which said they’d actually considered getting it. Most college students aren’t even 23.
Karina Sanchez, a junior studying Business Administration at USC, conducted the study as part of a marketing assignment for her class. The assignment was to market a product to an audience that is not typically targeted—Sanchez chose to promote Botox to girls in their twenties.
This procedure has become increasingly popular as it offers a more natural-looking reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Traditional Botox injections involve injecting 20 to 30 units of botulinum toxin into one area, typically targeting brow furrows or deep forehead lines. With baby Botox, only 20 units are injected throughout the entire face. This is particularly appealing to younger individuals in their early twenties who want to refresh their appearance without losing facial mobility.
Pecot-Hébert identifies that the trend has led girls to believe that “I won’t wrinkle because if I do Botox, before I have to do Botox, then I will always keep the same youthful look.”
This disturbing trend of getting botox before wrinkles highlights the pressure that young girls face to maintain a youthful appearance – and even a specific look. The idea that Botox is “necessary” can be traced back to various factors, with one major one being the prevalence of it on social media.
Alix Earle, a well-known influencer and student at the University of Miami, has shown herself getting Botox and various other cosmetic injections on her TikTok. At only 22 years old, her fanbase is comprised of many young girls who have yet to even graduate high school.
The popularity of Botox has been driven by social media, which has made it easier for people to learn about cosmetic procedures and has helped to destigmatize Botox. However, social media has also created unrealistic beauty standards through the normalization of filters that alter nose shape, face structure, and erase wrinkles. This can lead to increased pressure on young people to undergo cosmetic procedures like Botox, even if they are not necessary. Professor Pecot-Hébert explains that Botox has “become less stigmatized, which means it sort of becomes part of people’s beauty regimen almost like a night cream.”
While Botox may improve self-esteem and confidence by removing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, it is important to recognize that it is not necessary to have it, or any other cosmetic procedure. Despite any possible benefits of Botox at a young age, Pecot-Hébert identifies that “the downside, of course, is you’re putting all of your happiness into superficiality, of how you look.”
Women tend to feel more pressure than men to maintain a youthful appearance due to societal and media messaging that prioritizes physical perfection and emphasizes young women as the ideal beauty standard. On the flip side, men tend to be perceived as more attractive when they age due to societal ideals of masculinity, which prioritize traits such as maturity, wisdom, and experience. This is often referred to as the “silver fox” phenomenon, something that women experience the complete opposite of.
From 2010 to 2018 there has been a 28% increase in Botox injections among people aged 20-29. There is a cultural obsession with youthfulness which has grown stronger in recent years. Young people now feel more pressured than ever to conform to societal expectations of what is considered attractive and youthful, leading to a spike in Botox. Young college-aged girls who feel pressured to conform to these societal standards will often get Botox under the guise of preventative Botox, when in reality it is to keep up youthful appearances.
It is possible to become dependent on Botox injections, even at a preventative level, and to feel insecure when access to them is not available. While Botox is generally safe, there are potential risks and side effects. Bruising at the injection site is the most common side effect, and it usually resolves on its own, but it can be more severe in some cases. Headaches, flu-like symptoms, and temporary eyelid drooping are also common side effects. Less common but more serious side effects include allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, and nerve damage.