How Have Breast Implant Materials Evolved Over the Years?11 min read
Who would’ve thought that a quest that began with surgeons trying out everything from paraffin wax to ox cartilage would lead us to the sophisticated variety of breast implant materials we have today?
The journey of breast implant materials has been a wild ride, evolving from the downright risky to the amazingly advanced options available today. Anyone considering a breast augmentation can choose from a wide array of materials, all designed to enhance the body in the safest and most natural-looking way possible.
So, buckle up as we take a quick tour through the history of breast implant materials and explore how these advancements have made it easier for patients to achieve their aesthetic dreams!
What are Breast Implants?
Simply put, breast implants are medical devices inserted under the breast tissue or chest muscles to increase the size of the breasts. They can also be used to restore breast volume that a patient might have lost due to weight loss or pregnancy.
One thing to keep in mind is that breast implants aren’t considered lifetime devices — they might require replacement during your lifetime. Some patients have them replaced every 10 years or so, but this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. It depends on the individual patient and any specific recommendations from their cosmetic surgeon.
What are the Types of Breast Implants?
There are quite a few breast implant options out there, and it’s important to pick what suits you best.
- Saline Implants: These implants are filled with sterile salt water. They can be filled at the time of surgery to allow for minor modifications in implant size, adding to their versatility. If they happen to leak, the implant will deflate but your body will just naturally absorb and expel the saline.
- Silicone Gel-Filled Implants: These implants are filled with a silicone gel and feel a bit more like natural breast tissue. If the implant leaks, the gel might stay within the shell, or it could escape into the breast implant pocket.
- Structured Saline Implants: These are a bit of a twist on the saline implant, containing an inner structure to make them feel a bit more natural.
- Gummy Bear Implants: Sounds delicious, right? Well, they’re not edible, I’m afraid. They’re actually more formally known as form-stable implants. They’re filled with a thicker silicone gel, making them a bit firmer than traditional silicone implants.
- Round Implants: These implants are just what they sound like — round! They tend to make breasts appear fuller than form-stable implants. Also, they have the same shape all over, so there’s less concern about them rotating out of place.
- Smooth Implants: Smooth breast implants are the softest feeling, moving with the breast implant pocket for a more natural movement.
- Textured Implants: Textured breast implants develop scar tissue to stick to the implant, making them less likely to move around inside of the breast and get repositioned.
A Brief History of Breast Implant Materials
Ready for a trip down memory lane? Let’s go back in time and see how breast implant materials have advanced.
The 19th Century
Our journey begins in the late 19th century, when doctors were just starting to experiment with breast implants. The first recorded breast augmentation surgery was in 1895. During this operation, Vincenz Czerny, known as ‘the father of plastic surgery’, used a woman’s own body tissue, taken from a lipoma to enhance her breasts.
After this, physicians got creative and tried to use various materials, from glass balls and wool to ground rubber. Some even tried using ivory or glass! But, as you can imagine, they didn’t go over too well. There were lots of complications and the results, to put it mildly, were less than ideal.
The 20th Century
Fast forward to the 20th century, the 1960s to be precise. Two plastic surgeons, Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow, introduced the first silicone breast implant. It was a major leap forward! This new type of implant was filled with a silicone gel that felt much closer to natural breast tissue. It was such a success that it set the standard for the implants we see today!
Then, in the 1970s and 80s, saline-filled implants became another popular choice. These implants have a silicone shell but are filled with a sterile saltwater solution, similar to the fluid that makes up most of the human body.
In the early 2000s, we saw the introduction of “gummy bear” implants, officially known as form-stable implants. These babies are filled with a thicker, more cohesive silicone gel that holds its shape even if the implant shell is broken.
Then there’s the newest kid on the block, the “IDEAL” implant, a structured saline implant introduced in 2014. It’s designed to combine the natural feel of silicone gel with the safety of saline solution.
Of course, research and development never stop, so who knows what the future holds for breast implant materials?
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Breast Implant Material?
Let’s jump in and compare the ups and downs of different breast implant materials.
- They feel more like natural breast tissue.
- They’re less likely to wrinkle or ripple compared to saline implants.
- Lots of women think they look and move more naturally than other types.
- They require a slightly larger incision for placement because they come pre-filled.
- If they rupture, it can be hard to detect (this is known as a “silent rupture”).
- You’ll need regular MRI scans to ensure they’re still intact.
- If they leak or rupture, your body safely absorbs the saline, and it’s easy to notice a size difference.
- They can be filled during surgery, so the incision can be smaller.
- They can be adjusted in size during surgery for more precise symmetry.
- Some patients think they feel less natural or more like a water balloon.
- They might be more likely to show visible rippling.
- They’re more prone to deflating over time compared to silicone.
"Gummy Bear" Implants (Form-Stable Implants)
- They hold their shape even if the implant shell breaks.
- They’re less likely to rupture or leak compared to other silicone implants.
- The thicker gel tends to feel and move very naturally.
- They require a larger incision to place because of their firmness.
- If the implant rotates, it can lead to an unusual appearance.
- You’ll still need regular monitoring for ruptures.
"IDEAL" Implants (Structured Saline Implants)
- They’re designed to feel more like natural breast tissue than traditional saline implants.
- If they rupture, your body safely absorbs the saline, and it’s easy to detect.
- They have a lower rupture and deflation rate compared to other implants.
- They’re a newer product, so long-term data is not as comprehensive yet.
- They might not feel quite as natural as silicone or gummy bear implants.
- Like all implants, they still carry the risk of complications like capsular contracture.
How to Choose the Right Implant for You
Choosing the right breast implant for you is like shopping for a new pair of shoes. You need something that fits you perfectly, matches your lifestyle, and most importantly, makes you feel fantastic.
First off, think about what you want your new look to be. Are you going for a subtle, natural boost or are you after a more dramatic transformation? This will help you decide on the size and projection of your implants.
The choice between saline and silicone, on the other hand, is more about how you want your implants to feel. Silicone implants tend to feel more like natural breast tissue, but some patients prefer the safety and adjustability of saline.
Your body type and overall health are other relevant factors. For example, if you have little natural breast tissue, a silicone implant may be recommended because it’s less likely to cause visible rippling.
Now, don’t forget about your lifestyle. Are you an athlete or a fitness enthusiast? If so, lighter saline implants might be the way to go. Or if you’re more into yoga and need to move freely, flexible silicone implants could be a better choice.
Your age and whether you plan on breastfeeding in the future can also influence the type of implant you should choose.
However, the most important part of this process is consulting with a board-certified plastic surgeon. They’ll guide you through all the ins and outs, and can help you visualize different options with the help of things like 3D imaging or sizers that you can actually try on.
And lastly, do your research, ask all the questions you have, and choose what feels right for you. After all, the goal here is to boost your confidence and make you feel fabulous in your skin!
The Importance of Breast Implant Maintenance
Just like how you regularly service your car to keep it running smoothly, breast implants also require a bit of upkeep. Here’s why it’s extremely important to take great care of your breast implants:
- Ensuring Longevity: Regular check-ups can help your implants last longer. Even though implants are designed to last for many years, they’re not lifetime devices. Regular monitoring can help spot any potential issues early and prolong their lifespan.
- Detecting Possible Complications: Implants can occasionally lead to complications like capsular contracture (where hard scar tissue forms around the implant), implant rupture or leakage. By keeping up with regular check-ups, these issues can be caught and dealt with early, before they become major problems.
- Monitoring Implant Position: Sometimes, implants can shift or rotate over time. Regular check-ups can ensure they’re still in the right position and look just as good as the day you got them.
- Checking for Breast Health: Regular examinations and mammograms are invaluable for detecting breast cancer, and this doesn’t change just because you have implants. It’s crucial to continue with regular breast health screenings.
- Maintaining Aesthetics: Over time, changes in weight, hormonal fluctuations, or just good old gravity can change the look of your breasts. Regular consultations with your surgeon can help maintain the look you love, and address any changes you’re not so happy with.
Replacing Breast Implants: Signs and Considerations
Sometimes, even after the significant decision to get implants, they might not maintain their original appearance and feel indefinitely.
First off, your personal preferences might change over time. Maybe you went for a certain look a few years ago, but now you’re feeling like a different size or shape would suit your body better. That’s totally fine! Our bodies change, our styles change, and it’s okay for our implants to change with us.
Another reason might be that you’ve noticed a change in the look or feel of your implants. This could be due to aging, weight fluctuations, or pregnancy, which can all impact how your implants sit on your chest. If you’re not loving the way they’re looking or feeling, it might be time to consider replacing them.
One more reason to think about replacement is if you’re experiencing complications like capsular contracture, where a hard shell of scar tissue forms around the implant, or if the implant has ruptured or leaked. It’s important to know these complications are relatively rare, but they’re definitely a sign it’s time to consult your surgeon about a replacement.
Sometimes, the manufacturer of the implant will recommend a replacement after a certain number of years. It’s not that the implants have a definite “expiry date,” but they are not meant to last a lifetime.
Remember, this is your body and you have to feel comfortable and happy with it. If you’re ever unsure about your implants, the best thing to do is reach out to a healthcare professional who can guide you through your options. You deserve to feel confident and fabulous, so never hesitate to make the changes you need to feel your best!
Ready to Start Your Breast Augmentation Journey? Contact Us to Learn More!
Ready for your breast rejuvenation journey! Meet us at 19500 Sandridge Way, Suite 350, Leesburg, VA 20176, or call us at (703) 574-4342 for a complimentary consultation with Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon Dr. Phillip Chang before proceeding with your nipple surgery treatment plan! If all the conditions are met, our team will help you navigate the entire process from beginning to end! Also, remember to check out our resources page and social media for more information on plastic surgery trends!
Jonathan Kaplan, MD. “Do I Need to Change My Breast Implants Every 10 Years?” American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 7 Apr. 2017, www.plasticsurgery.org/news/blog/do-i-need-to-change-my-breast-implants-every-10-years. Accessed 27 Jun. 2023.
Cherney, Kristeen. “Gummy Bear Implants: Pros and Cons, Cost, Precautions.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 13 Sept. 2018, www.healthline.com/health/gummy-bear-implants#. Accessed 27 Jun. 2023.
“Timeline: A Short History of Breast Implants.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 26 Jan. 2012, www.reuters.com/article/us-france-implants-pip/timeline-a-short-history-of-breast-implants-idUSTRE80P12V20120126. Accessed 27 Jun. 2023.
“Breast Implants.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28723027/. Accessed 27 Jun. 2023.
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