The History of Botox

Botox Timeline: From Spoiled Sausages to Sagging Eyelids

Botox didn’t just appear on the cosmetic scene and caused a sensation. It has a long and lively history.

German scientist, Dr. Justinus Kerner, in the 1820s, was trying to discover the biological basis for food poisoning after several deaths from spoiled sausages. His case studies led to a better understanding of the neurological symptoms of food-borne botulism, as drooping eyelids, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness. His suggestions for treatment and prevention of food poisoning paved the way for today’s therapeutic use of the toxin.

In the 1890s, Dr. Emile Pierre van Ermengem of Belgium, who was a student of Robert Koch (discoverer of the tuberculosis bacterium), investigated an outbreak of botulism and made a connection between botulism and a spore-forming bacterium later renamed Clostridium botulinum. Several strains of botulinum were identified.

When WWII broke out, the U.S. began researching biological weapons, including botulinum toxin (the nerve toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum), considered to be deadliest substance in the world.

In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers began focusing on the more beneficial aspects of this powerful toxin. Developments include purifying botulinum toxin type A into crystalline form, injecting small amounts into a hyperactive muscle blocked the release of acetylcholine from motor nerve endings, causing temporary relaxation, and experimenting with monkeys using the toxin’s muscle-relaxing effects to help in the treatment of crossed eyes (or strabismus). Since then, botulinum toxin type A became the toxin of choice in research labs around the world.

The ’70s and ’80s saw the birth of Botox. In 1978, ophthalmologist Dr. Alan B. Scott received FDA approval to use the toxin and published a 1981 paper asserting that botulinum is a safe and useful therapy for strabismus. More research showed the drug’s benefits went beyond ophthalmology, providing patients with temporary relief from facial spasms, neck and shoulder spasms, even vocal cord spasms.

In 1988, drugmaker Allergan acquired the rights to distribute Scott’s batch of botulinum toxin type A (or Oculinum). By 1989, the FDA approved the toxin for the treatment of both strabismus and blepharospasm (spasms of the eyelid muscle). Shortly, Allergan acquired Scott’s company and changed the drug’s name to the now famous and catchy “Botox.”