Dr. Katie Beleznay

Vancouver Skin Care Specialist

Dr. Katie Beleznay is a leading medical and cosmetic dermatologist specializing in the latest treatments to repair and rejuvenate the skin

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Say Cheese: The Power of a Smile

There has been a great deal written about the benefits, from happiness to health, of smiling. Studies have shown that forcing ourselves to smile tricks our brain into thinking we are happy. The simple act of smiling spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness while serotonin is associated with reduced stress. So a forced smile is certainly better than no smile at all.

Research has also been done that demonstrates the power of a genuine smile. This genuine smile is referred to as a Duchenne smile, named after French physician Guillaume Duchenne who studied the physiology of facial expressions in the nineteenth century. In one long-term study,  photos of young women were reviewed and those with a Duchenne smile were significantly more likely to report higher marriage satisfaction and overall well-being up to 30 years later. One could conclude that those who smile regularly and sincerely are more likely to lead happy lives.

Can you tell the difference between a genuine smile and a fake one? Studies have shown that even at young ages children can tell insincerity with facial expressions. When you look at the two images below, the smile on the right portrays two hallmarks of a Duchenne smile: contraction of the zygomatic major, raising the corners of the mouth, and the orbicularis oculi, raising the cheeks and producing crow's feet around the eyes. Since contraction of the orbicularis oculi happens naturally when we smile but cannot easily be faked, the absence of crow’s feet can signal an insincere smile (or the result of being “over frozen”).

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For patients undergoing treatment with neuromodulators (Botox, Dysport, Xeomin), preserving the natural smile is essential. Patients who receive too large a dose of a Botox in the crow’s feet may appear to have a fake or insincere smile even when they are genuinely happy. Don’t get me wrong, I think a small amount of neuromodulator for crow’s feet is a wonderful option to soften lines and prevent wrinkles. Also receiving cosmetic treatments can help patients to feel better about their appearance overall, increasing confidence and happiness (resulting in more smiles!). Choosing the right injector will make sure that your emotions continue to show and your face doesn’t appear “frozen.” One of my guiding principles as an injector is to make sure patients achieve natural looking outcomes. Understanding the facial anatomy and ensuring that injections to lessen the appearance of crow’s feet do not eliminate the appearance of that natural, genuine Duchenne smile is very important!

Botox Basics

Some of the most frequent questions I get asked are about Botox and how it works, so I wanted to share some basic information for anyone thinking about getting botox treatment. Botox can be used for many things, including treatment of migraines and excessive sweating, but this post will focus on cosmetic Botox treatments for reducing wrinkles.

Botox is a brand name for botulinum toxin A, a neurotoxin that causes the condition known as botulism. The type of botulism most people have heard about is food borne and can be very serious if not treated as it can spread through the blood stream. In the use of injectable Botox, botulism occurs in a contained location, specifically where it is injected in the face. Here the botulinum toxin attaches to nerve endings. Once attached to the nerve endings it inhibits the release of the neurotransmitter responsible for triggering muscle contractions. 

Essentially Botox “freezes” the muscle, thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles as muscles remain relaxed. The effects of Botox will last for 3-6 months.

One of the most common uses for cosmetic Botox is to treat the hyperdynamic lines, often called “worry lines” or "frown lines" found in the upper third of the face. These lines are formed due to repetitive muscle action in specific areas. A specific area of use is the glabella, where Botox is used to treat the “11s” (the lines made when you furrow your eyebrows). Botox can be used to treat horizontal forehead lines, “crow’s feet” and "bunny lines." We also use Botox to provide a lateral eyebrow raise, to help with dimpling of the chin, and to minimize large masseters (the muscle on the lateral face that we use to chew). There is a large list of areas that can be treated with Botox but these are the most common.  

Many people think of wrinkles and assume Botox is the best treatment. However, it’s important to understand that Botox works to treat dynamic wrinkles, not static wrinkles.  Dynamic wrinkles only appear when you make facial expressions, for example when you furrow your brow, frown, or smile, so you don't see them when your face is still. Static wrinkles, on the other hand, are wrinkles you have even when your face is at rest. For example, if you have 11s in between your brows without moving your face, those are static wrinkles. 

If Botox were to freeze the muscles around a static wrinkle, it wouldn't make that much of a difference in the appearance since the wrinkle would still be there with or without any muscle contraction. However, with long term use, Botox can help prevent shallow static wrinkles from growing deeper. 

The bottom line is that Botox can help reduce wrinkles in motion, not wrinkles at rest. Botox will not help for lines that are deeply etched in your skin. For these static wrinkles we often need to consider soft-tissue fillers.

Obviously the decision of whether or not Botox (or any other cosmetic treatment) is right for you is one that deserves careful consideration and should include consultation with a dermatologist trained in the use of injectables. My hope with this post was simply to provide a better understanding of how Botox works. For additional information, there is a good post on Real Self that addresses some common myths about Botox.