Botox History: From Sausages to Smooth Skin

botox cosmetic vial, dosing, black gloves

Botox, the widely recognized go-to for cosmetic procedures, has a surprisingly dark and fascinating history. Derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, the same culprit behind botulism, Botox’s journey from unexplained botulism to wrinkle eraser is a testament to scientific ingenuity and the unexpected turns research can take.

By Ashley Denam, RN 

1820s: Early Encounters with a Paralyzing Mystery

In the 1820s, German physician Justinus Kerner, investigating mysterious outbreaks with paralyzing effects, noticed a common thread among victims who had recently consumed sausages. Despite the lack of modern scientific validation, Kerner’s unconventional approach paved the way for crucial research into botulism and its toxin, ultimately leading to the identification of the true culprit, Clostridium botulinum.


(Photo: Justinus Kerner)

1895: Unveiling the Botulinum Beast

Emile Pierre van Ermengem isolated and characterized botulinum toxin from a contaminated ham, uncovering the cause of botulism. This breakthrough paved the way for understanding the toxin’s properties and dangers.


(Photo: Emile Pierre van Ermengem)

1950s: A-List Toxin Takes Center Stage

Dr. Edward J. Schantz and colleagues, along with other researchers, successfully purify botulinum toxin type A, marking a crucial step in its potential applications.


(Photo: Dr. Edward J. Schantz)

1973: Unveiling Its Relaxing Side

Dr. Vernon Brooks discovers the muscle-relaxing effects of botulinum toxin in small doses, opening the door for its therapeutic potential.


(Photo: Dr. Vernon Brooks)

Late 1970s: A Glimpse of Botox’s Potential

Drs. Alastair Carruthers and Alan B. Scott, pioneers in ophthalmology, begin using botulinum toxin A (Botox) to treat strabismus, revolutionizing treatment with targeted injections into overactive muscles. This innovation offers improved vision and clarity for patients.

Dr. Jean Carruthers, Dr. Alastair Carruthers’ wife, observes a curious side effect in some patients treated with Botox for strabismus – their frown lines soften and their faces appear smoother. This observation, along with similar reports from other researchers, sparks interest in the toxin’s potential for cosmetic applications.


(Photo: Dr. Jean Carruthers, Dr. Alastair Carruthers)


(Photo: Alan B. Scott)

1970s-1990s: A Medical Breakthrough

Extensive research expands the use of Botox beyond initial trials for strabismus. Clinical trials demonstrate its effectiveness in treating various medical conditions, including blepharospasm (involuntary eyelid twitching), hemifacial spasm (facial muscle spasms), cervical dystonia (neck muscle spasms), and eventually migraine headaches and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).

This period establishes Botox as a valuable tool in the medical field, offering relief for numerous conditions that previously lacked effective treatment options.

2000s-Present: Stepping into the Spotlight

In 2000, Botox takes a major step towards the world of aesthetics by receiving FDA approval for the treatment of crow’s feet lines around the eyes. This is followed by the 2002 approval for glabellar frown lines, officially marking its entry into the realm of cosmetic procedures.

This opened doors for a wide range of new applications, propelling Botox to become a popular choice for cosmetic enhancements. However, it’s important to remember that its medical applications remain, and continue to remain, a central focus for research and development.


While there’s a connection, it’s crucial to understand that Botox and botulism aren’t the same. Botulism stems from ingesting the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, allowing it to grow and produce the toxin within your body. In contrast, Botox uses a purified, isolated form of this toxin in precise, microscopic doses. This purified protein can’t multiply or cause botulism because it lacks the live bacteria necessary for toxin production.

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