As I sit almost upright on the treatment couch, listening to the disconcerting crunch of a needle penetrating the muscle fibre between my brows, I wonder how Gwyneth Paltrow felt when facing her first Xeomin jabs.
Xeomin is a rival to Botox, a brand so popular its name is frequently (and wrongly) used to describe any type of botulinum toxin used to relax facial and other muscles.
How do I know Gwyneth has this particular toxin treatment? Because she has just been announced as the ambassador for Xeomin. Let’s pause for a second while that sinks in.
Alice Hart-Davis tried out the new ‘uniquely purified’ frown-busting injection of which Gwyneth Paltrow is an ambassador. Pictured, Alice before (left) and after (right) trying out the new treatment
Gwyneth? Clean-living, healthy-eating, purer-than-pure Gwyneth, who looks so fresh and lovely and, well, natural? But here she is, not only using one of Botox’s competitor products, but advertising it in the U.S., too.
Yes, she has made a surprising decision that almost sounds like common sense: ‘Sharing pure and proven products with women is a core part of my philosophy, which is why I’m so excited to work with manufacturer Merz on this campaign for Xeomin,’ she said. ‘I want women to realise how pure products changed my life, and that they have choices when it comes to anti-wrinkle injections for frown lines.’
She wants to know, she added, what’s in a product before she puts it into her body — and that was ‘one of the reasons I started using Xeomin a few years ago’. By which point you might reasonably be wondering, “What is she talking about?”
Xeomin, pronounced ‘Zeo-min’, is a kind of botulinum toxin type A. It’s an anti-wrinkle injection for frown lines that’s approved by the FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and, according to Merz’s marketing, is ‘uniquely purified’.
Popular actress Gwyneth has started promoting the injections and said she was keen to know ‘what is in a product’ before she puts it in her body. Pictured, Alice having the new Xeomin treatment
The idea of Xeomin being ‘purified’ and free from ‘complexing proteins’ is being cited by the actress as a key difference between it and other toxin brands.
Other toxins contain a number of complexing proteins, which help to keep the product stable. Xeomin still has stabilising proteins, but has had the complexing proteins removed.
There has been some dialogue within the pharmaceutical industry about whether having more of these complexing or ‘foreign’ proteins, as they are sometimes called, in products could be a reason why, as has happened in a few cases, people stop responding to treatment.
But an important fact to know is that the key ingredient in the three main brands (Botox, Dysport and Xeomin) is the same — namely, botulinum toxin A.
As the toxins are chemically similar, branding becomes ever more critical in order to differentiate them to consumers — as Gwyneth’s hiring shows.
The FDA approved injection, Xeomin, is a kind of botulinum toxin type A and reduces frown line wrinkles and is ‘uniquely purified’
Uliana Gout, the aesthetic doctor wielding the needle over my face today, is one of the few who uses all three brands to cater to her international clientele.
She has a few patients who ask specifically for Xeomin so they can say, without telling a lie: ‘No, I haven’t had Botox…’
Actually, they don’t ask for Xeomin. They ask for ‘Bocouture’, because, just to confuse things further, in the UK, Xeomin is licensed for medical treatments such as treating eye spasms. When this toxin is used in such cosmetic treatments as relaxing wrinkles, it is licensed as Bocouture, even though it’s the same stuff. I hope you’re still with me.
Xeomin/Bocouture has been available in the UK for a decade and has remained firmly below the radar, but now that its maker has pulled off this astonishing Gwyneth-shaped coup, that will change. And if anyone can shift the stigma that surrounds women’s choice to soften their frown lines with toxin, it’s Gwyneth.
And I have to say, I applaud her for rising to the challenge of promoting the one treatment other celebrities will go a long way to avoid mentioning.
The actress cites Xeomin being ‘purified’ and free from ‘complexing proteins’ as a key difference between it and other toxin brands on the market
Back in the treatment room… As Dr Gout draws up the solution of Bocouture toxin into a series of tiny, needle-tipped syringes, I can’t help noticing there are an awful lot of them.
She says the treatment involves a lot of small injections and the fine needles blunt quickly, so she is dividing the toxin into many different doses. ‘It’s to make it nicer for you, and to reduce the bruising risk,’ she adds.
After a careful examination of my face, she decides not only to soften the lines between my eyebrows, but to give me a ‘pan-facial’ treatment. This is full-face and includes my crow’s feet, as well as making sure my lower face and neck muscles — often under tension — get a helping hand to prevent jowling, teeth clenching and tension headaches.
‘When we talk about pan-facial wrinkle-relaxing technique, we’re talking about a gentler approach,’ says Dr Gout. ‘I don’t like the “blocky” look you can get with toxins.’
Despite being available in the UK for a decade, Xeomin has not grown in popularity but Alice (pictured having the injection) thinks this will change after Gywneth’s endorsement
As she continues her careful needlework, Dr Gout explains how important it is to blend the pinpricks of toxin so that my facial movements look natural.
She also earmarks my ‘bunny’ lines at the top of my nose, the puckering lines around my lips and the muscles just under the corners of my jaw, which can make my neck look stringy. Oh, and my chin, to stop it bunching up into a cobblestone. And, while she’s at it, the masseter muscles, at the corner of my jaw.
She can see before she even asks me that I’m a habitual jaw clencher. I regularly chew my way through bite-guards I wear at night to stop me damaging my teeth. Weakening these muscles will prevent me putting so much force on them while I’m asleep.
Wow. That’s 69 injections in total — but so carefully done I don’t have a single bruise afterwards. As I don’t look like a human pin cushion, I go straight to an evening out with girlfriends, neither of whom spots anything odd about my face.
Uliana Gout, (pictured) the aesthetic doctor who performed the treatment on Alice, is one of the few who uses all three brands to cater to her international clientele
Over the next two weeks, the Bocouture settles in. After four days, I can’t draw my eyebrows together, then, the lines around my eyes begin to soften, and my chin and jaw look subtly more relaxed. I can still raise my eyebrows — just not as much as before. I look fresher, but in no way frozen.
My eyes look that little bit more open, and my lower face and neck are definitely less tense.
Xeomin is no cheaper than Botox; the cost of a treatment depends on how much product is used. Still, no wonder Gwyneth likes it — in the hands of an elite practitioner, it’s terrific, and should keep me looking relaxed until the new year.
Dr Uliana Gout is at london-aesthetic-medicine.com; wrinkle-relaxing treatments following a medical consultation cost from £360 and Alice Hart-Davis is founder of thetweakmentsguide.com.