The maker of Botox is now targeting all your bodily flaws

While we’re at it, your chin could use some work.
While we’re at it, your chin could use some work.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Botox has become so commonplace that the wrinkle smoother is now the stuff of party favors. Allergan, the drugmaker behind Botox’s uncanny success, is betting that bra line fat, knee pouches, and cankles can deliver its next blockbuster hit.

Last year, the US Federal Drug Administration approved the drug, Kybella, as a treatment to reduce the fat of double chins. Now the company is testing the drug for FDA-approved use on other paranoia-inducing rolls, including what some refer to as “bra overhang.” On a second-quarter conference call, Allergan executives described its injectables strategy as “owning the face,” and Kybella as a “gateway to the lower face.” The company also said that in time, Kybella had the potential to be ”as large as” Botox Cosmetic, its star product.

Kybella is a synthetic version of deoxycholic acid, a bile acid the body uses to break down fat. The drug does the same thing when injected in the body, permanently destroying the fat cells that sometimes form in discrete pockets.

The drug is part of a movement in cosmetic surgery toward cheaper, less invasive therapies targeting smaller areas of the body. Similar treatments like Coolsculpting and Venus Freeze, which use frigid temperatures to freeze fat cells and tighten skin, have taken off as social media and rising incomes have driven global spending on physical appearance.

Cosmetic doctors and beauty magazines have latched on. “In the future, Kybella could be used to improve the appearance of stubborn fat pads elsewhere on the body, like bags under the eyes or so-called ‘bra bulges,'” Amy B. Lewis, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, told Allure Magazine. The drug is already being used in ways Allergan isn’t yet allowed to market. For example, one California clinic boasts its benefits for “armpit pooches, back fat, bra bulge, inner knee fat, and lower buttock fatty folds.”

Here’s how the marketing strategy that made Botox big business could also apply to Kybella:

It’s cheap and easy. Both Botox and Kybella are tailored to the mass market. Their ease of use, affordability, and painlessness make both drugs easy to sell as quick perk-me-ups that avoid going under the knife.

It treats real illnesses. Before it was approved to smooth out wrinkles, botulinum toxin was used as a medical treatment to paralyze eyelid muscles to stop spasms. Its CEO calls Botox a “pipeline in a product,” with more Botox sold for medical conditions (like urinary-control problems, spinal cord injuries, and chronic migraines) than for aesthetics. Kybella could follow a similar path. It’s being marketed as a replica of “a naturally occurring product” that our bodies used to break down fat in our digestive tracts.

It can save your marriage. Botox has become far more than the aesthetic fix it initially promised. The drug has graced the pages of beauty and health magazines for its power to treat depression, improve marriages, and boost sexual pleasure. Thanks in no small part to Botox, the “11s”—the vertical lines that develop between the eyebrows with age—have become a litmus test for happiness and self-respect. Plastic surgery has become “the acceptable face of womanhood,” according to a Guardian story about its ubiquity. Without it, “we are culpable and blameworthy for ‘letting ourselves go’,” Heather Widdows, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Birmingham University told the Guardian. Men aren’t immune to the trend, either.

It can save your job. The young minds making Silicon Valley hum have put pressure on the entire labor force to replicate youth culture, including in how we look. A recent New York Times essay that took aim at ageism in the workplace reported that male engineers in Silicon Valley are getting Botox before job interviews.