Three Last-Ditch Attempts at Avoiding Botox: What Alternatives Really Work

botox alternatives

I turned 26 years old in May, and between deciding to move out of my stupidly small apartment to something more adult and chastising myself for not saving enough cash for a house deposit yet, I also decided it’s time to start taking this antiaging business seriously. I’m more than halfway to 50 is how I see it.

A few of my friends have been quietly doing “preventative Botox” every six to eight months with the hopes of staving off wrinkles for life—and while that method certainly seems to work and dermatologists continue to tell me it’s safe, I can’t help feeling weird about the idea of injecting toxins into my face. I have the same thoughts on fillers too—as someone who obsesses over whether my green smoothie’s organic, willfully adding anything unnecessary to my body in the name of vanity just feels hypocritical. So I visited my dermatologist, spoke with holistic health experts, and started testing out three very different, less invasive techniques that can help fight the signs of aging in your 20s. Specifically: pigmentation and the fine lines around my eyes, forehead, and between my brows. Here’s what worked and what didn’t.

Acupuncture Face-Lift

Cost: Approximately $125 per session
Downtime: None

The most natural treatment I tried, acupuncture actually gave great results—despite the fact none of the dermatologists I spoke with recommended it. I visited Gabrielle Francis, a Manhattan-based naturopathic doctor, chiropractor, acupuncturist, and licensed massage therapist for one of my treatments, and Hamptons Acupuncture in New York for a second treatment. Each session took about an hour, and Francis began by inserting more than 20 minuscule needles all over my face, which I promise you is not painful, and immediately relaxing. I even fell asleep.

While pushing the needles into my forehead, cheeks, and chin—including directly into my fine lines and traditional points that are tied with lifting the muscles and toning the skin—she told me that everyone sees a noticeable difference in their complexion after one visit, and you can see Botox-like results after about 10 sessions in five to 10 weeks. “A cosmetic acupuncture treatment will concentrate on points and muscles of the face in order to improve elasticity of your skin and general overall appearance,” Francis said. She also addressed some points on my legs and body that she says helps to “balance and harmonize your inner elements,” before agreeing to take a photo of my needle-filled face. Here it is:

%name Three Last Ditch Attempts at Avoiding Botox: What Alternatives Really Work

That’s a lot of needles. @jasminegarnsworthy

The reason acupuncture’s so damn relaxing is that your brain essentially enters a meditative state during the treatment. “The nervous system comes out of fight-or-flight and goes into relaxation mode. This is where the body can restore and regenerate,” Francis told me. I honestly think my complexion was visibly more radiant and glowy after just one session, and although the lines around my eyes stayed fixed, my forehead was smoother for at least the next couple of weeks. Alternative-medicine proponents like Francis say acupuncture reduces these signs of aging by increasing the elasticity and moisture of your skin, upping blood circulation in your face, lifting and enhancing facial muscles, stimulating collagen production, and reducing inflammation and acne. Unlike Botox, however, you don’t lose the natural expression of your face through acupuncture. I’ve already booked my next appointment.

facial acupuncture Three Last Ditch Attempts at Avoiding Botox: What Alternatives Really Work

Afterward, the lines around my eyes did not improve; however, I felt as though my forehead was visibly smoother.


Cost: $1.200–$1.500 per session, depending on the region treated.
Downtime: Technically up to seven days, however it took closer to 10 for my skin to return to normal.

I probably didn’t think hard enough about the fact Fraxel essentially involves burning off a layer of your skin before I booked my appointment—and I certainly wasn’t expecting the treatment to be quite as painful as it turned out to be. I literally shed a tear during the treatment, it hurt that much. However, multiple skin experts recommended laser as an alternative to botox when you’re only dealing with slight pigmentation and fine lines, so I booked an appointment with Dr. Eric Schweiger, a Manhattan-based dermatologist who I’d read great things about on cosmetic treatment review site RealSelf.

MORE: 101 Ways to Get Perfect Skin

He started by applying a thick layer of numbing cream all over my face and let it set for about an hour, which looked a little something like this:


I can’t feel my face…

Next came a warning that my face would feel sunburned straight afterwards, but the pain should subside within several hours leaving my skin pink for about five days, and possible “bronzing” that lasts for up to two weeks. “Then the dead surface skin cells will then begin to flake off as the newer skin begins to replace it,” Dr. Schweiger explained.

The actual laser part of this treatment lasted between 10 and 15 minutes, and, like I said, utterly sucks. At one point I was close to asking him to stop, but Dr. Schweiger assured me we were nearly done, so I pushed through. Straight afterwards my face was swollen, and felt burned and raw even with the numbing cream.

I applied SPF and moisturizer religiously for the following week, mostly avoided makeup, and wore a wide-brim hat at the doctor’s recommendation. Even after three days my skin was red and felt rough and uneven (though not painful anymore), particularly around my cheeks—by this point I’d started applying a light tinted moisturizer to try and cover up the redness, but it didn’t do much to help. Next came the bronzing, which essentially just looked like my skin was severely pigmented, and finally a terribly breakout around my chin.


My skin three days after Fraxel.

It took 10 days before my skin to return to normal, and now the fine lines around my eyes are visibly smoother, and the light acne scarring I had on my cheeks has lightened a little, though not dramatically. In saying that, I haven’t seen much difference to the fine lines on my forehead. I have friends who love laser, and swear it makes their skin wrinkle-free and radiant, but I’m not sure I could justify going through something that severe again.


Cost: $20 (Tazorac is partially covered by my insurance.)
Downtime: My skin was unusually dry and flakey for the first couple of weeks.

I originally started using Tazorac gel—a potent, prescription retinoid—to help with a breakout of adult acne several months ago. My dermatologist advised I keep using at-home retinoids (a derivative of Vitamin A) to not only keep acne under control, but also boost collagen production and minimize the appearance of wrinkles in the long-term. “This is a topical medication commonly used as an acne treatment, but functions to boost collagen production and remodeling in our skin,” explained Dr Brown, a New York-based dermatologist, adding that it’s actually absorbed by the layer of skin where collagen production occurs. While I’m personally using a prescribed retinoid, you can buy over the counter retinol products—which are slightly less potent than retinoid—without consulting a doctor.

I apply a pea-sized amount of Tazorac every two or three days, and it took my skin about two weeks to get used to the gel and stop drying out and flaking. It’s not something you see immediate results with, however retinoids are a well-researched, noninvasive way to slow down the signs of aging in your 20s.

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