Aesthetic Treatments

I’ve Been Getting Injectable Wrinkle Reducers For Years — This Is What It Feels Like to Me

Cheryl Kramer Kaye
Cheryl Kramer Kaye

Joslyn Blair for SPOTLYTE

From the pre-shot prep through the post-treatment tweaks, here’s what to expect when your doc’s injecting.

I’m sitting with an ice pack across my forehead to numb it a little while my dermatologist, Dr. David Bank, preps the syringe. I can see the skinny needle at the tip and a clear liquid in the chamber. “Hello, old friend,” I think to myself. 

My first experience with injectable wrinkle reducers in my face for temporary improvement in my wrinkles was more than a decade ago. I was in my early 30s, working as an editor with a 40-something boss who wanted to try them. I went with her to the office of a dermatologist I trusted, and after hearing the derm’s explanation of how the prescription facial wrinkle reducers could temporarily smooth my lines, I wanted in!

The fact is, I had been looking permanently concerned: The muscles that pulled my eyebrows together, creating “eleven” lines, were always engaged, no matter my mood. That made me a good candidate for injectable wrinkle reducers to smooth the appearance of lines. And so it began.

Now, Dr. Bank studies my face, and gives me directions as if I’m in an intro acting class: “Look angry,” says Dr. Bank. “Scowl for me. Scowl again. Now look surprised for me. Relax. Look surprised again. Relax. Now give me your biggest cheesiest smile.” As I dutifully pose, I think how far these wrinkle reducers have come since I’d started. Some uses for injectable wrinkle reducers include the lines between the brows, the lines across the forehead, and crow’s feet—and I’ve tried them all.

“We’re not actually injecting the lines; we’re injecting the muscles that are causing the lines,” explains Dr. Bank. “The best way to do that is to have the patient make facial expressions to see where the muscles are pulling from. Everybody’s ‘pull’ is unique to them; there is no one-size-fits-all.”

After a thorough examination of my scowl, Dr. Bank’s physician assistant wipes the injection spots with an alcohol pad and the doc comes toward my brows with the needle. I don’t even flinch. On a pain scale from one to 10, I’d give it a wimpy one. “Is it in yet?” I joke. But Dr. Bank warns me not to get too cocky: “Some spots might be more sensitive,” he says. (But for me, none of them is.)

Then, there is a flurry of little injections around my brows and across my forehead. After, his physician assistant leans in wipes away the spots of blood that sometimes pop up at the injection sites.

Cheryl Kramer Kaye

 “You’re a little asymmetric,” Dr. Bank says as he passes me a large hand mirror. “See how your right eyebrow is ever-so-slightly higher than your left?” He’s right. I never noticed that before!

“People don’t notice these asymmetries before you treat them, but afterward, they think any lopsidedness is because of the injections,” he explains. “I like to point them out ahead of time so that we can take them into consideration and make informed decisions.”

Next up are my crow’s feet. I’ve had them injected before, and I actually kinda missed them: They make me look happy and smiley and maybe even a little worldly. But Dr. Bank’s plan is to inject the teeniest amount of product to give some subtle smoothing. It’s the kind of understanding that comes from having an ongoing relationship with your doctor.

After 15 minutes total, I’m done, and Dr. Bank asks me to come back in two weeks if anything seems uneven, like an eyebrow that raises higher than the other.

“I tend to be conservative,” he says. “You can always inject more later, but you can’t take it out.”

As I ice my forehead a little longer to quell any potential bruising, Dr. Bank gives me the advice he’s been giving me for years: For the next six hours, don’t rub your forehead, don’t bend over head first (bend at the knees as if you have a bad back), and don’t exercise.” And with that, I’m on my way.

Since I’ve been getting wrinkle reducers for so many years, the effects happen quickly—I usually see less movement in the injected areas after just 24 hours. But man, I remember the first time I had it done: I really started to notice the changes in about five days. I felt a sneeze building and tried to scrunch up my face—and couldn’t. Sneeze droplets went flying all over the place! But after a few rounds of treatments, I no longer have moments when I feel like I’m not in control of my muscles. These days, I have to look in the mirror to see if it’s happening.

From my experience, I can’t say that wrinkle reducers take effect in an orderly manner. During the first week, I’ll notice one area of my forehead looks smoother than the other. Or my eyebrows will shoot up like Spock’s for a few days before settling in. That’s why it’s important to wait two weeks before going back to your provider; you want to see what your face is going to end up looking like before you make any tweaks. But if any adjustments are needed, your doctor should take you through the same steps as the first session. As for me, I typically look less tired and smoother at the injected spots for about three more months. And when people start to ask what I’m worried about, I’ll know it’s time to head back for more.

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