It's been 15 years since researchers first realized injecting a neurotoxin called botulinum could eliminate eye and forehead wrinkles (the FDA approved the treatment a mere 5 years ago). But do you know the twisted tale behind the poison millions of women rely on to keep their faces wrinkle-free? MSNBC traces the history of Botox today, and the story is both hilarious and horrifying. It starts in the 1820s, when Dr. Justinus Kerner studied a "batch of improperly prepared blood sausages" that had killed several dozen people and ended up injecting himself with the poisonous sausage filler. Over half a century later, Dr. Emile Pierre van Ermengem of Belgium was asked to investigate funeral meal from which three people died and 23 were paralyzed. The cause? Botulinum toxin was in the ham! Cut to the 1940s, when the U.S. was researching using biological weapons in Word War II. One plan? To have Chinese prostitutes slip tiny toxic pills into the food and drink of high-ranking Japanese officers.
Soon doctors found that small amounts of the toxin injected into hyperactive muscles caused temporary "relaxation." In the 1960s, an ophthalmologist used it on monkeys, hoping the muscle-relaxing effects would help crossed eyes. It did, and in the late '70s the American Ophthalmological Society declared it safe for treating crossed eyes in humans. By the '80s the toxin was also found to give temporary relief for facial spasms. And in 1992, Canadian ophthalmologist Dr. Jean Carruthers noticed her eye tic patients were losing their frown lines. Coincidentally, her husband was a dermatologist. Ding ding ding! They published a study stating that botulinum-A was "a simple, safe procedure" for treating brow wrinkles. Botox Cosmetic was given the FDA approval in 2002 and last year, sales were over $1 billion. From bad sausage to $1 billion! And the coveted cover of In Touch. But are women who use Botox really fooling anyone?