We often judge when someone is happy or sad by looking at their face. It’s a clue to when someone is depressed: their face often shows lines associated with worry and sadness.

Rather surprisingly, a study* has showed that getting rid of these lines cosmetically – and effectively paralysing the frowning muscles – by using botulinum toxin (often referred to by the commercial name “Botox”) seemed to make depressed people less depressed. Six weeks after an injection to remove the crease low on their forehead, their depression score improved by nearly 50%, and the score seemed to improve further with time.

So what was happening? It is usually thought that sad facial expressions are the result of depression and therefore only likely to change as the depression lifts. However, it’s known that the muscles of expression are intimately linked with processes in the brain, to the extent that changing your facial expression can affect your mood. But it comes as a startling finding that this can happen when using a cosmetic procedure.

The study was small and it could be a chance finding, or there may be another explanation. But perhaps this finding may open up new avenues of research in a common and frequently disabling disorder.

*Link to study

Professor Brian Kirby, author of How to Live to 110: your comprehensive guide to a healthy life

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