Aesthetic Dermatology Update

Botulinum toxin and depression


Botulinum toxin’s possible effect on improving depression has been discussed for some time. But confounding factors, such as medications, injection/acupuncture effect, physician interaction or touch, or other life scenarios, have made it difficult to discern botulinum toxin type A’s true effect on mood or psychiatric diagnosis. Now a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials examining botulinum toxin versus placebo provides evidence that botulinum toxin type A (BTX-A) injections are associated with statistically significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

Qian et al. analyzed all randomized controlled trials that investigated the efficacy and safety of facial BTX-A injections on patients with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder in PubMed and Web of Science from inception to June 17, 2020. A meta-analysis of the changes in depressive symptoms 6 weeks after BTX-A injections compared with placebo were the primary outcome of the report, while the safety of injections were also assessed.

Dr. Lily Talakoub, McLean (Va.) Dermatology and Skin Care Center

Dr. Lily Talakoub

A total of 417 patients from five randomized controlled trials (189 patients who received BTX-A injections and 228 in the placebo group) were deemed eligible. There was a statistically significant improvement in depressive symptoms in the BTX-A injections compared with placebo (Hedges’ g, –0.82; 95% confidence interval, –1.38 to 0.27). BTX-A injections were well tolerated with mild and temporary adverse events (headache, eyelid ptosis, and upper respiratory tract infection) reported in three of the five studies.

Limitations to the analysis include publication bias due to the limited number of studies in the analysis, the difficulty of being able to reliably blind participants because of potential noticeable cosmetic effects of BTX-A treatment, and the heterogeneity of symptom severity associated with major depressive disorder.

The authors referred to the Global Burden of Disease Study, which estimated that approximately 216 million people experienced major depressive disorder in 2015, the latest data available. MDD symptoms of sadness, fatigue, and loss of interest or pleasure, “incur a tremendous burden on health and finances,” they wrote. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that about 60% of people who commit suicide have had a mood disorder (major depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia). The high rate of suicide associated with severe depression is also a serious public health concern. While further analysis is clearly warranted, cosmetic BTX-A injections may provide an alternative option in the treatment of depression.

Dr. Wesley and Dr. Lily Talakoub are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Write to them at [email protected]. They had no relevant disclosures.

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