Francis has tried all of the usual remedies — gel, hair spray and moisture-wicking headbands. She even tried a prescription recommended by her dermatologist. But after repeated and frustrating failures, the 27-year-old stumbled onto another solution: Botox, injected directly into the perimeter of the forehead.
“It was the best $400 I’ve ever spent. It really was life-changing,” the Air Force veteran told The Washington Post. “I felt relieved and was definitely more comfortable in my own skin.”
Black women are worried another hair-care brand could abandon them
Battling sweat with Botox
Botox, or botulinum toxin, is better known for temporarily reducing wrinkles in the face. But for years it has also been used as an effective treatment for excessive sweating after being injected into a person’s underarms or hands. It blocks the nerve signals responsible for producing perspiration and paralyzes the sweat glands.
And now doctors say they have been increasingly administering the injections to Black women who want to prevent the hair around their face, once straightened, from getting sweaty and returning to its natural, curly texture. There aren’t any definitive numbers on how popular this use of the shots has become, but beauty experts say it illustrates the lengths to which some Black women are willing to go for hair maintenance. Last year, Black consumers spent more than $2 billion on hair care, according to NielsenIQ, more than any other ethnic group.
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The treatment isn’t cheap. It can cost $300 to $500 to administer enough Botox to treat the edge of a woman’s hairline. Numbing cream isn’t used. The procedure stops sweating in the area for three to six months, experts say. Some adherents get the procedure only during hotter months, while others get it more often because they work out often.
“The needles are so small that you barely feel them, and it takes five to 10 minutes,” said Jill Horne, an aesthetic nurse practitioner. “You just feel little pricks.”
While Botox is generally considered safe, some people develop small bumps at the injection site that look like bee stings. They usually go away within the first hour. After the procedure, patients are advised not to lie down or go to a sauna for four hours.
A helpful fix or an extreme beauty hack?
While some Black women are heralding the Botox treatment as a much needed, if temporary, solution to a common annoyance, others call it another extreme, and potentially harmful, beauty hack.
“Some critics argue that the trend reinforces the pressure on Black women to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards and reinforces the idea that natural hairstyles are not acceptable,” said Alpana Mohta, a dermatologist and medical adviser for BetterGoods.org, a website that analyzes the ingredients in beauty and personal care products.
Women of other ethnicities have been receiving Botox to prolong their blowouts for years. In 2017 and 2018, Us Weekly, Allure, Popsugar, and Town & Country all published articles calling the treatment “Blowtox” and touted it as the secret to making blowouts last longer. But the stories didn’t mention people with textured hair.
And the treatment has just recently gained momentum among Black women, Mohta said.
“I know of a few doctors who are working in South India that are performing this procedure off-label because the hair texture of women in South India is pretty similar to the texture of Black women, which is very curly and coarse hair,” Mohta said.
Michelle Henry, a Black dermatologist in New York City, said she’s injected women with Botox to stem sweating around their edges hundreds of times. But it’s only gained popularity among her Black patients with curly hair over the last five years, she said.
“There are so many women, particularly Black women, who are not working out or not doing what they can do to best promote their cardiovascular health because they feel the constraints of always keeping their hair a certain way,” Henry said. “After they get Botox in their edges, I get reactions like ‘This has not only changed my ability to work out, but it’s changed my work life.’”
Doctors warn that this use of Botox is not FDA-approved and repeated use could have unintended consequences, such as hair loss.
Black women are already at a higher risk for hair loss, and when they manipulate their hair — sometimes daily — with hair products, as well as hot tools, they can experience further damage. Hairstyles that pull the hair too tightly, such as high ponytails and braids, can also contribute to hairline thinning, also known as traction alopecia.
A popular styling practice
Though celebs such as Lori Harvey and Zendaya have recently mainstreamed “edge art” on the red carpet, the styling practice has been around for decades.
Performer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker was known for the swooshed hair that framed her face and popularized the practice of people with coarse, textured hair laying down their edges, according to Essence Magazine.
In the ’80s and ’90s, stars like La Toya Jackson and Chilli from the group TLC flaunted their baby hairs. More recently, Kim Kardashian’s daughters, Chicago and North West, filmed themselves using edge control to style their hair for TikTok. There are hundreds of tutorial videos online teaching people how to lay their edges.
Tippi Shorter, the global artistic director for the hair-care brand Mizani and hairstylist for celebrities such as Rihanna, Serena Williams and Jennifer Hudson, said that when more Black women stopped using chemical relaxers in the mid-2000s, it created a larger conversation about problematic edges. “People are becoming more style shifters and are trying to keep their edges smooth on a day-to-day basis and prolong their blowouts,” she said.
Davlyn Mosley, the co-founder of Namesake Skincare, is considering the Botox treatment. Last month, she recorded a five-second TikTok video showing off her straight hair after a blowout, with text on the screen that read, “when you tell your dermatologist you want Botox around your hairline so your edges stop frizzing up.”
Many of her followers were enthusiastic: “the code has been cracked” and “I need to do this ASAP,” some wrote. However, when another creator shared Mosley’s video on Twitter, the response was much different. One user wrote, “This is sick.” Another said, “Striving for perfection will leave you miserable and broke.” Some suggested Mosley should just chemically relax her hair.
“I was really surprised by how huge the divide was and how strongly people felt about both sides. People on Twitter were really, like, disgusted by the concept,” she said.
The videos posted on TikTok and Twitter received more than 1 million views.
Mosley says the high cost of the treatments could turn off some women. “It’s not a magic solution, because you can still get rained on or get your hair wet in the shower,” she said. But for Black women, she said, “it’s nice to know we have a plethora of options to choose from.”
There are some risks. A 2016 study of five women who complained of a receding hairline after getting repeated Botox injections for wrinkles found that they developed frontal hairline alopecia.
Jewel Wicker, a culture writer, received Botox injections at her hairline to treat migraines. Last year, she says, she noticed the hair around her face was falling out.
“I didn’t realize immediately my hair was gone until I tried to do a pull-back hairstyle. I was, like, ‘Wait a minute. Where is my hair?’” Wicker said. After Wicker’s doctor switched her Botox injection sites, her edges started to grow back.
Botox for migraines was taking my hair out around my edges but I told my doctor and she started switching up the injection sites. My hair is finally growing back babyyyy.
— Jewel Wicker (@jewelwickershow) April 23, 2022
Experts stressed the importance of going to a board-certified dermatologist or specialist.
“Someone really needs to know the anatomy of the scalp itself and how deep the sweat glands are, where the muscles are, and where the blood vessels are,” said Lynn McKinley-Grant, a dermatologist and also Mosley’s mother.
McKinley-Grant said people can also try an alternative such as a heavy-duty antiperspirant.
For Francis, the Air Force veteran, the Botox treatment began to work after one week. And now, Francis says, she can’t wait to get more treatments. “I’m excited for summer. I have my appointment in March, so I’m starting it early this year,” she said.
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