Can Botox cure depression?

A dermatological surgeon claims freezing your face muscles reduces the risk of depressive symptoms.

New York-based doctor Eric Finzi specialises in dermatological surgery. Growing up with a mother who suffered depression (then entering a career that’s all about face value), he’s spent plenty of time analysing the way our facial muscles mimic our emotions.

In 2003, and later in 2006, he collaborated on studies to test his hypothesis – that Botox could have a positive effect on people suffering depression. Despite 9 out of 10 patients claiming their depression disappeared during the original study, it was essentially laughed off.

The early belief that getting Botox was purely an act of vanity cast doubt over the study, but the 2006 follow-up gained traction within the medical community.

It found that 47% of patients had reduced depressive symptoms after getting Botox. Now his theory has returned to public attention with a Pacific Standard article. The author, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, suffers clinical depression and decided to test out the Botox cure, 8 years after it rose to prominence.

As Brodesser-Akner explains, “Finzi began musing on the facial feedback hypothesis, which holds that physical expression is an integral component of emotion. You can feel sad or angry without moving your face, but, the theory holds, those emotions will not be as strong or persist for as long if your face is not moving in the expected manner.”

“Put another way,” she continues, “relative to emotion, the face and its muscles are a privileged area of the body. Whatever you do with your face transmits feelings back to your brain.”

In the writer’s experience, she said people felt more comfortable approaching her when she didn’t express her negative emotions on her face. So while it did help detach from the depressive symptoms she was feeling, it equally detached her from any positive feelings.