Evolution of Breast Implants: From Lipoma to Silicone Implants

Matthew C Camp, MD
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

Breast augmentation, the surgical procedure aimed at enhancing the size and shape of the breasts, has a long and storied history dating back centuries. Throughout the centuries, various methods and materials have been used in attempts to achieve desired results, leading to a fascinating evolution of breast augmentation techniques.

1. Lipoma Injections:

One of the earliest documented methods of breast augmentation dates back to the late 19th century when physicians experimented with injecting substances such as lipoma (a benign fatty tumor) into the breasts to increase their size. While these injections could temporarily increase breast volume, they often resulted in complications such as infection, migration of the injected material, and the formation of hard lumps.

2. Paraffin Injections:

In the early 20th century, paraffin injections gained popularity as a method of breast augmentation. Paraffin, a mineral oil derivative, was injected directly into the breast tissue to augment size. However, this technique was fraught with complications, including inflammation, infection, and the formation of granulomas. Long-term complications such as migration of paraffin to other parts of the body and the development of cancer were also reported, leading to the abandonment of paraffin injections for breast augmentation.

3. Silicone Gel Implants:

The modern era of breast augmentation began in the 1960s with the introduction of silicone breast implants. These implants consisted of a silicone shell filled with silicone gel. Silicone implants quickly gained popularity due to their natural look and feel compared to previous methods. However, concerns arose regarding the safety of silicone implants, particularly regarding the risk of rupture and the potential for silicone leakage into surrounding tissue. In the 1990s, silicone implants were temporarily banned in the United States while further studies were conducted to assess their safety. After extensive research, silicone implants were reintroduced to the market in the early 2000s, with improved designs and safety profiles.

4. Saline Implants:

As an alternative to silicone implants, saline implants emerged as a popular option in the 1980s. Saline implants consist of a silicone shell filled with sterile saline solution. One advantage of saline implants is that in the event of rupture, the saline is harmlessly absorbed by the body. However, saline implants are often criticized for their less natural feel compared to silicone implants.  When saline implants rupture, the effect can be referred to as a “flat tire” because the some of the breast volume has been lost. 

5.  Solid Silicone “Gummy Bear” Implants:

Today’s solid smooth silicone “gummy bear” implants have a proven record of safety and deliver natural feeling and predictable results.  At my practice, we provide all of our patients consulting for breast implant procedures with a folder full of information about both the benefits and long-term possible implications of today’s silicone implants.

Throughout its history, breast augmentation has undergone significant advancements in techniques and materials, leading to safer and more effective procedures. Today, silicone and saline implants are the most commonly used methods for breast augmentation. However, ongoing research and innovation continue to drive improvements in breast augmentation techniques, ensuring that patients have access to the latest advancements in aesthetic surgery.