A Brief History Of Silicone Breast Implants

By Katie Perry

This year (2012) marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first silicone breast implant surgery. Since then, the number of breast augmentations performed each year has increased dramatically. In 2011 alone, more than 300,000 women underwent breast enhancement. Implants have significantly improved as well, having gone through years of rigorous testing and research to eliminate certain flaws and weaknesses.

Early Models

The original silicone implant was created by American plastic surgeons, Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow, who sold the rights to their invention to the Dow Corning Corporation. This breast implant model featured a tear-drop shaped, rubber envelope as an outer shell and a viscous silicone gel as filler. Several generations of models followed, featuring thinner shells and thinner silicone gel filling. These implants came under scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1988, amid reports of women experiencing deflated, leaking implants; capsular contracture; and other complications following augmentation procedures. The FDA held advisory panels over the next decade to review studies that manufacturers submitted regarding the safety of their silicone breast implants. In 1992, the FDA determined that insufficient information existed to officially deem silicone implants either safe or harmful. As a result, a moratorium was instituted on silicone breast implants for general use.

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Modern Models

In 2006, following decades of testing and research, the FDA conditionally approved two companies, Mentor and Allergan, to manufacture and distribute silicone breast implants for augmentation procedures. These manufacturers were required to continuously conduct studies that documented the safety and effectiveness of their silicone implants.

These modern implant models feature soft, cohesive silicone gel contained within a multilayer shell designed for integrity and stability. The new filler is a significantly improved version of the gel compound used in earlier breast implant models. The key difference with the new cohesive gel lies in its interlocking molecular structure. The result is a thicker, more form-stable filler, similar in consistency to a gummy bear. Unlike its predecessors, the gel in these cohesive ‘gummy bear’ implants will retain its shape, making it less likely to leak into the body in the event of an implant rupture. These features make the new models of breast implants safer than older options.

Additionally, new implant shapes and profiles give plastic surgeons increased flexibility to recommend breast implants to women with varying body types, particularly because the new models assume the shape of existing breast tissue to create a more natural-looking bust line. The lifespan of modern implants has also increased, largely due to their thicker shells, which reduce the risk of folding, wrinkling, and rupturing. Finally, the entrance of new manufacturers into the marketplace – such as Sientra, Inc. – has led to healthy competition and lower costs for consumers.

Talk to Your Surgeon About Your Implant Options

Plastic surgery professionals have learned a great deal during the past 50 years of breast augmentation. Surgeons can now offer patients a variety of implants from several different manufacturers with an unprecedented level of confidence and safety, and most manufacturers offer a lifetime product warranty. Patients should consult a plastic surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery for details regarding the newest implant types, and for expert advice on the most appropriate implant type, size, and placement to ensure the best overall results.

About the Author: Katie Perry is an online content editor in the Tampa Bay area. She posts articles about plastic surgery topics and procedures including breast augmentation,

breast implants

, and more.

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