No matter how much SPF 50 you apply or diligently slather hyaluronic acid on your forehead, fine lines and wrinkles inevitably make their appearance on all of us. If you’re ready to embrace your laugh lines as evidence of a happy, fulfilled life, go ahead, Glen Coco. But others might feel more confident with smoother, plumper skin.
For many concerned about skin aging, botulinum toxin comes to mind as the first line of defense against wrinkles. Full disclosure, no topical treatment can completely replicate the paralytic effect of neurotoxin botulinum toxin (commonly known as Botox). However, if you’re seeking a more natural, needle-free alternative to Botox, certain skincare ingredients can help fill in fine lines and wrinkles while stimulating collagen production. Here’s information on Botox alternatives and topical skincare ingredients.
How Does Botox Treat Wrinkles?
Understanding the difference between botulinum toxin and topical skincare in treating fine lines and wrinkles begins with how they form. Dynamic lines are wrinkles caused by muscle movements, such as raising your eyebrows, frowning, or squinting, to name a few.
When facial expression muscles contract, they also create wrinkles on the skin.
UV radiation (sun exposure), smoking, and general aging-related skin damage lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, reducing skin elasticity and making it more prone to deeper fine lines and wrinkles.
So, how does botulinum toxin treat wrinkles? When injected into facial muscles, botulinum toxin prevents muscle movement by blocking the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. When the muscle is forced to relax, it can no longer create dynamic lines on your skin, resulting in a smoother, wrinkle-free appearance.
Best Ingredients in Botulinum Toxin Alternatives
Let’s reiterate: no matter how fancy or expensive, no topical skincare product can do exactly what botulinum toxin does. However, some skincare ingredients have clinically proven similar effects (these topical wrinkle treatments might even be a better choice than botulinum toxin—details to follow). Here are the key ingredients to look for in over-the-counter botulinum toxin alternatives.
Peptides are short chains of amino acids, existing in various forms. Nearly two decades ago, research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed the anti-aging potential of Matrixyl or palmitoyl pentapeptide-3. It demonstrated the ability to stimulate collagen production in the skin, helping plump fine lines and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
But pentapeptides are not the only ones promoting skin growth. Hexapeptides, like Argireline, might reduce creases leading to botulinum toxin fine lines. Palmitoyl oligopeptide promotes the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid, additionally preventing damage from UV rays. Palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 is believed to reduce inflammation and stimulate skin regeneration. Copper peptides have been proven to increase skin elasticity and firmness.
While this research is promising, more independent, large-scale, well-structured studies are needed to conclusively evaluate these claims.
Vitamin A Derivatives
Whether you’re concerned about acne, dullness, or fine lines and wrinkles, retinoids and retinol have proven to be helpful. Aside from sunscreen, retinol is the most mature topical anti-aging choice. Retinol is a potent cell signaling ingredient that triggers the production of collagen and elastin, making cells behave younger and healthier. This helps keep the skin barrier youthful, especially with consistent use over time—why I recommend adding retinol and/or retinol alternatives to your skincare routine starting in your twenties.
It’s worth noting that if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, retinol and retinoids are unsafe, but there are other options like bakuchiol and sea buckthorn, which have similar but gentler effects.
Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is one of the most common growth factors in skincare products. EGF is another magical ingredient that repairs and strengthens the skin barrier, preventing signs of aging. EGF promotes the production of collagen and elastin in the skin, helping strengthen the skin barrier and prevent/reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
Yes, your skin needs hydration too. Dry, dehydrated skin can accentuate wrinkles and fine lines, making them appear more pronounced. Additionally, you might notice hollows and dark circles under your eyes. Maintaining moisture by drinking water and applying moisturizing skincare products is key to radiant, hydrated skin.
Preferred ingredients: hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both capable of absorbing moisture into the skin, instantly refreshing it.
Antioxidants and Sunscreen
Antioxidants act as a protective shield for the skin, neutralizing any damage caused by free radicals and environmental factors like dangerous UV rays or poor air quality. Some antioxidants, such as vitamin C, contribute to the production of collagen, thus being linked to reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Combining topical antioxidants with sunscreen has been proven to provide more sun protection than using sunscreen alone. If you don’t protect your skin from UV damage, all discussed in this article is futile. Sunscreen should be used during the day, regardless of weather and time of year.
Are Non-invasive Botulinum Toxin Alternatives Effective?
In short, yes—non-injectable botulinum toxin ingredients can show noticeable effects on your skin. However—and there’s always a however—they require more patience. Botulinum toxin and its counterparts (such as Dysport, Juvederm, and Daxxify) start working within about a week after injection, with your “peak” results showing about two weeks after your appointment. How long your results last depends on your individual skin, DNA, and skincare, but you typically experience smooth, wrinkle-free skin for three to four months.
Consistency is key in wrinkle treatment. You need to follow product instructions to see results. While you’ll notice the plumping effects of moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid immediately, it’s a temporary boost. You need to stick to the new skincare routine for at least a month before you start seeing noticeable results.
Home devices follow a similar logic. For example, the benefits of LED therapy become apparent over time, with frequent use (think several times a week), although you might enjoy some short-term radiance after each treatment. Microcurrent tools can provide an immediate “lift,” but it usually fades after a few hours. However, with consistent use over time, you’ll start seeing more lasting effects.
Want the bright side? In the longevity department, topical skincare and at-home devices can have an edge over botulinum toxin. While neurotoxins peak about two to four weeks after injection and diminish over time, the benefits of skincare are cumulative. So, while you have to wait longer to see results (and they might not be as dramatic as botulinum toxin), the effects will persist over time as long as you use them regularly.
Are Non-injectable Botulinum Toxin Alternatives More Expensive Than Botox?
In general, non-injectable botulinum toxin alternatives are a bit more wallet-friendly than traditional injectables like Botox. According to the latest statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the average cost of botulinum toxin injections is $466. While some medspa facilities may price botulinum toxin treatments uniformly by area (forehead, crow’s feet, lip flip, etc.), most dermatologists and plastic surgeons charge per unit. Costs include the product, their time, and their expertise.
Want hard numbers? You might see the cost per unit of botulinum toxin ranging from $10 to $20, with typical unit quantities falling between 20 and 40 (of course, depending on your facial muscles and desired look). Remember, botulinum toxin requires regular maintenance as the effects fade after about four months. Overall, the math falls roughly between $300 to $800 a few times a year.
As for skincare and wrinkle treatments, many jars and bottles can last for several months before replacement, and you can even take advantage of sales and deals. Home skincare devices (like microcurrent devices or LED therapy masks) are a one-time purchase, although you might need to occasionally buy batteries or activating gels.