Why Carey said no to Botox: (I'm only 25!)
But, as Sharon Walker reveals, many other young women are turning to the treatment
I first tried Botox when I was nudging 40 and working for a glossy magazine. We wanted to do a story on a Botox virgin because the cosmetic jab used for ironing out facial wrinkles was all the rage among ladies who lunched and bankers' wives.
As the features editor, I approached a number of authors: none was prepared to test the treatments and, in the end, the task fell to me.
Even six or seven years ago, the clandestine world of "non-surgical enhancements" felt pretty alien -- though I am happy to report that the shopping spree was a success. I had Botox for a deep frown line between my brows; the filler Restylane in the nasal-labial folds (the lines that run from the nose to the corners of your mouth); and another drop of Botox to weaken the muscles that depress the corners of the mouth (mine had developed a droop). Some lip-plumping dealt with the "smokers' barcode" on my top lip.
I'd seen only the best in the business and emerged without the shiny forehead and tell-tale Dr Spock eyebrows of the over-Botoxed. Instead, friends commented on how well I looked, asking if I'd just been on holiday. My husband didn't notice a thing, which I took as a good sign. Most surprising, though, were the people who confided in me.
One friend, a music business mum in her forties, revealed that she had been seeing a certain renowned doctor since her early thirties, thus solving the mystery of her Peter Pan prettiness. "I don't spend money on designer clothes, or go on holidays abroad," she said. "I invest in my face. And I don't consider it a luxury; I consider it a necessity."
When a dermatologist had told her she was well on her way to developing the tram-lines across her forehead that had developed in her mother by the age of 43, that had tipped the balance. She had told no one except me.
Things are different today. Irish women -- and some men -- have embraced Botox to the point that it is regarded in certain circles much like dyeing your hair. It is not even a D4-centric obsession: Dr Paul Munsanje says he has treated over 1,000 clients with Botox in Advanced Laser Light clinics in Cork, Limerick and Dublin.
"Irish women have become very au fait with it," says Dr Danielle Meagher, medical director for DermaDental FACEClinic in Dublin.
So perhaps it wasn't surprising last week to read that the 25-year-old British actress Carey Mulligan (An Education; Pride & Prejudice) had been offered Botox to treat fine lines under her eyes by a doctor in LA. She resisted, saying: "Only in LA would someone try and give you Botox when you're 25."
Yet her experience isn't so unusual. Especially not in the States where, of the five million people who had Botox last year, almost 30% were under 30. In Ireland, according to figures from Aesthetic Surgery Ireland, 20,000 Botox treatments were administered in 2009. Although the number of cosmetic surgery procedures dropped last year, the demand for Botox and dermal fillers rose by 20%.
Mulligan isn't the only Hollywood star under pressure to maintain her youthful profile. In the States, there's even a catchy name for it. Lindsay Lohan and Hillary Duff are among the so-called "Botox Babies", twenty-somethings who are rumoured to have had the Botox jab.
In July, the 18-year-old star of the TV series Glee, Charice Pempengco, was reported as saying she wanted to have the procedure, "to look fresh on camera", while in September, reality star Kim Kardashian was bombarded with angry comments after trying Botox. "Did she want her face frozen in time at 29?" one website asked incredulously.
Most cosmetic doctors in Ireland say the earliest time to start Botox is around 30. Dr Munsanje calls it "the first line of defence" against future ageing but says the youngest person he would have treated with it would be in their very late 20s.
"In LA it's a different culture and people are under more pressure to look younger. I think the idea that someone aged 25 would get that recommendation reflects the huge impact looks have on someone's employability there."
Dr Danielle Meagher was 28 when she first had Botox herself.
"In our clinic, we wouldn't treat someone under that age with Botox. The only situation where it is used in a younger person would be if they had migraines. People who suffer from them get great relief because it treats tension headaches."
The UK Medicines Regulatory Agency approved Botox for use in the treatment of migraines earlier this year.
While Dr Meagher advocates the less is more attitude, she says "lite-Botox" can be applied to someone who is starting to see the first lines. "I was 28 when I first had Botox," she says, "A chatty, expressive person gets hammered for the lines and a few units of what I would call a baby Botox, a diluted version, can keep on top of them."
Botox works by relaxing the underlying muscle so that the overlying skin smooths out. Dr Jane Mulrooney, who runs The Clinic at Sandymount Green, Dublin, with her sister Katherine, feels 25 is too young to start worrying about, well, worry lines.
"Around 30 is the right age to come for consultation," she says. "At 45, you will have developed static or rest lines, and as Botox is about freezing movement, it's not going to work as well on those.
"Then if you come at 65 and get a lot of Botox it's not going to look right. The upper face won't match the lower face and then you have to do other treatments there to get it all looking right. It's like if you paint one wall, then the one opposite that hasn't been painted looks dirty."
Not everyone in the beauty business is in awe of Botox. Dermatologist Dr Nicholas Perricone, author of three bestselling books on anti-ageing, says he doesn't believe in injectables. Not at any age.
"I am firmly committed to researching safe, non-invasive technologies. I look for nutrients and antioxidants that maintain skin in its supple, youthful-looking, healthy and most radiant state."
After my own shopping spree, the magazine declared me a "Botox junkie". It was only the prohibitive costs (starting at around €250 a pop) that made me go cold turkey. Then two years ago, at 43, I started again.
Two weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen for a couple of years. He said that last time, I'd looked my age; now I could pass for a girl of, ooh, 20. Was he exaggerating? Well, maybe a bit. But do I wish I'd had access to these things at 25? Yes, probably.
Additional reporting by Susan Daly.