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A breast implant is a prosthesis used to change the size, shape, and contour of a person's breast. In reconstructive plastic surgery, breast implants can be placed to restore a natural looking breast mound for post–mastectomy breast reconstruction patients or to correct congenital defects and deformities of the chest wall. They are also used cosmetically to enhance or enlarge the appearance of the breast through breast augmentation surgery.
There are three general types of breast implants, defined by their filler material: saline solution, silicone gel, and composite filler. The saline implant has an elastomer silicone shell filled with sterile saline solution during surgery; the silicone implant has an elastomer silicone shell pre-filled with viscous silicone gel; and the alternative composition implants featured miscellaneous fillers, such as soy oil, polypropylene string, etc. Composite implants are typically not recommended for use anymore and, in fact, their use is banned in the United States and Europe due to associated health risks and complications.
Types of breast implants
Saline breast implants
Saline breast implants are filled with sterile salt water. Should the implant shell leak, a saline implant will collapse and the saline will be absorbed and naturally expelled by the body.
Saline breast implants provide a uniform shape, firmness and feel, and are FDA-approved for augmentation in women age 18 or older.
Structured saline breast implants
Structured implants are filled with sterile salt water, and contain an inner structure which aims to make the implant feel more natural.
Silicone breast implants
Silicone breast implants are filled with silicone gel. The gel feels a bit more like natural breast tissue. If the implant leaks, the gel may remain within the implant shell, or may escape into the breast implant pocket. A leaking implant filled with silicone gel will not collapse.
If you choose silicone implants, you may need to visit your plastic surgeon regularly to make sure the implants are functioning properly. An ultrasound or MRI screening can assess the condition of breast implants.
Silicone breast implants are FDA-approved for augmentation in women age 22 or older.
Gummy bear breast implants
Form-stable implants are sometimes referred to as gummy bear breast implants because they maintain their shape even when the implant shell is broken.
The consistency of the silicone gel inside the implant is thicker than traditional silicone gel implants. These implants are also firmer than traditional implants.
Shaped gummy bear breast implants have more projection at the bottom and are tapered towards the top. If a shaped implant rotates, it may lead to an unusual appearance of the breast that requires a separate procedure to correct.
Placement of gummy bear implants requires a slightly longer incision in the skin.
Round breast implants
Round breast implants have a tendency to make breasts appear fuller than form-stable implants. Higher profile options can achieve even more projection.
Because round implants are the same shape all over, there is less concern about them rotating out of place.
Smooth breast implants
Smooth breast implants are the softest feeling. They can move with the breast implant pocket, which may give more natural movement.
Smooth implants may have some palpable or visible rippling under the skin.
Textured breast implants
Textured breast implants develop scar tissue to stick to the implant, making them less likely to move around inside of the breast and become repositioned.
Texturing offers some advantage in diminishing the risk of a tight scar capsule.
Implant manufacturers occasionally introduce new styles and types of breast implants, so there may be additional options available.
Whether you choose saline or silicone implants, it is important for you to monitor your breast implants and follow-up with your plastic surgeon for appropriate checkups.