“Does my face look different?” asked my twentysomething friend, turning her face from side to side and wiggling her jaw. A set of small, dark, barely there bruises peeked out from both sides of her face. “I got Botox,” she whispered, beaming. Uh, what? Not only does my friend already look a good three years younger than she is, but her skin also has zero fine lines, zero wrinkles, and certainly nothing worth Botoxing. But as I promptly pointed out these basic facts, she stopped me. The Botox wasn’t for wrinkles, she said, it was to slim down her face. Or, more accurately, her jaw.
The process, as I found out, is called a masseter muscle injection. The masseters, which are the major muscles responsible for chewing, grinding, and, for anyone who has ever been under a 6 p.m. deadline, clenching, take a beating as we live our insanely chaotic lives. “After years of use, or simply because of genetics, they can become thick and prominent, giving some women a square, wider-looking face,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. And since you can’t just refrain from using your jaw for a year or two, your options for slimming down have historically been either surgical or, well, acceptance. And then came Botox.
“By injecting a small amount of Botox into the muscle along your jawline, you can actually relax the muscle until it thins out and appears smaller,” says Ziechner. “It’s basically a vacation for your muscles.” Still, I was skeptical. But as I simmered in doubt, I watched my friend’s face slowly transform. One week later, her jawline appeared softer and more rounded, as if someone had sanded her angles down by just a few degrees. She looked as she had hoped: Like she had just returned from a long, diet-and-cleanse-filled vacation …and then maybe drank a bit from the fountain of youth. And if I hadn’t known about the Botox—or hung out with her in the same zip code for a week—I would have believed it, too.
Turns out, the youthful glow wasn’t just in my head. “Young faces tend to be widest near the eyeline and narrowest at the jaw and chin,” says Zeichner. “But as we age, our faces square off, or grow wider at the jawline. So by slimming the jawline, you’re naturally going to appear younger.” Which, to someone going through their quarter-life crisis and doesn’t get carded anymore, sounds freaking awesome.
Of course, Botox is not a permanent solution. Though it can take effect in as little as a week, the muscle vacation only lasts for up to five months. And because it only works on your muscles, not your bones, “it won’t do much for patients with naturally wide, strong-looking jaws,” says Zeichner. But before you think of cutting corners and finding a shady “doctor” on Google who promises cheap injections, think again. “If done incorrectly by an inexperienced physician, which can actually happen quite easily, since this is considered an off-label use of Botox, the muscles in your jaw can weaken and atrophy,” he says. Translation: Have fun eating pudding for a year because you tried to save a few bucks.
Scary stuff aside, though, most derms agree that using Botox to slim down your face is extremely effective, and the before-and-after photos speak for themselves. As for my friend? Her bruises have long disappeared, but her happiness—and newly infantilized jaw—has not.