Types of Breast Implants

Once you have decided to have breast augmentation, the next big decision is which type of implant to use. There are two basic types of implants approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration:

Saline is sterile salt water, which occurs naturally in the human body. It has been used in breast implants since 1965. Silicone is a synthetic compound derived from silicon, which is found in the earth's crust. First introduced in breast implants in 1963, silicone is now used in a wide variety of implants used in the body. Silicone breast implants are available in both solid and gel forms. Both saline and silicone breast implants use an outer shell or envelope made of silicone elastomer.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both saline and silicone breast implants, and certain situations may warrant the use of one over the other. Women should discuss the options with their surgeon and carefully weigh all of the facts before making a decision.

Silicone and saline breast implants differ in material, consistency, and the way they are handled. Saline implant shells are inserted empty during surgery and then filled with saline; silicone implants are prefilled with silicone gel at the factory and inserted that way, which requires a larger incision. Fans of silicone maintain that its viscosity (it's a thick fluid) closely mimics human fat and that it looks and feels more like natural breast tissue. Saline implants give the impression of being less natural, although there are techniques like overfilling and placing them under the chest muscle that can compensate for that.

Both saline and silicone implants come in several varieties. Some have a single shell and some have two shells, one within the other (called a double lumen). Some shells are smooth and others are textured. Both are also available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Breast implants can be shaped or round. Even similarly sized implants allow you to choose a higher or lower profile. The selection is mind-boggling for many women, which makes choosing an implant one of the most challenging aspects of breast augmentation surgery for some. Shape and size are personal choices, so discuss this decision with your surgeon, who is experienced in recommending what will look best. He or she should have samples of both silicone and saline implants for you to examine.

The one element that remains constant in both silicone and saline breast implants is the outer shell. It is made of silicone elastomer, a rubbery substance that is clear or translucent. This flexible shell holds the silicone or saline and, in some cases, gives the implant its shape. A double lumen implant is thought to reduce the risk of implant rupture.

Two companies provide all the approved saline and silicone implants in the U.S. They are Allergan and Mentor Corporation. Allergan owns Inamed, which bought the McGhan line of breast implants several years ago. There are still some McGhan implants out in the general population, but they are no longer manufactured under that name.

Both Allergan and Mentor, along with a third company called Silimed, are conducting clinical trials of very highly cohesive silicone gel breast implants (often called "gummy bears") in the United States. These implants are filled with a silicone gel that is much denser and firmer than what is in those on the market now. While they are in general use in other countries, including Canada, gummy bear implants have not been approved by the FDA.

Most women who have had breast augmentation (sometimes more than once) are very loyal to saline or to silicone implants. The choice of implant is should be made in consultation with the plastic surgeon who is performing the surgery. Depending on the look you would like to achieve and your body, the surgeon may recommend using silicone instead of saline, or vice versa. Saline implants and silicone implants are covered in separate sections.

When considering breast augmentation with implants, a consultation with a plastic surgeon can help determine whether silicone or saline breast implants are best for you. Also, viewing the breast implants picture gallery for patients who are similar in cup size, age and weight will help you to better understand the potential results of the breast implants procedure. Understanding all aspects of the procedure, including pre-surgical examination, cost, recovery, type of implants and expected results can help place create the proper expectations for  your body shape and bust line. Visit our sister site Refractive Surgery News to learn more about elective procedures for vision correction and to get answers to questions like “How much does LASIK Eye Surgery Cost?”


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