How Have Breast Implants Changed Over Time?

Wanting to look your best is nothing new. For thousands of years, humans across the globe have adorned themselves with jewelry, used cosmetics to enhance their features and celebrated idealized images of beauty in art. In today’s era, a growing number of men and women seeking to improve their image turn to plastic surgery — a field of medicine that may seem decidedly modern, but that can, in fact, trace its origins back to ancient civilizations.

One of the most consistently popular procedures performed by plastic surgeons is breast augmentation. Women’s breasts have long been seen as a potent symbol of femininity, sensuality and beauty, and surgeons have worked for more than a century to refine techniques to enhance them. Breast implants were introduced over 50 years ago and today, after much research and development, are the safest and most natural they have ever been.

The Early Years of Breast Augmentation

The first attempts at breast augmentation took place in the 1890s. In 1895, surgeon Vincenz Czerny published the first account of a breast augmentation to correct asymmetry, which he performed by moving a lipoma (a benign fatty lump) from a patient’s back to the patient’s breast. Another surgeon, Robert Gersuny, experimented with injecting paraffin into women’s breasts with disastrous results.

The first half of the 20th century saw doctors and women conduct many ill-fated attempts to augment breasts with unusual materials, including ivory, glass balls, various oils, beeswax, shellac, silk fabric, rubber, ox cartilage, goat’s milk, Teflon, glazier’s putty, sponges and liquid silicone. These procedures were neither effective nor safe.

The Introduction of Silicone Breast Implants

The first silicone breast enlargement surgery took place in the 1960s. The doctors behind the procedure were two ambitious pioneers, Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin, who came up with the idea for a silicone breast implant after squeezing a plastic blood bag and remarking that it felt similar to breast tissue. A 29-year-old woman in Texas named Timmie Jean Lindsey became the first person to receive silicone breast implants in 1962. In 2012, Lindsey told the BBC she still has her original implants and is happy to have been part of medical history. “It’s kind of awesome to know that I was first,” she said.

Silicone breast implants had distinct advantages over earlier breast augmentation methods. They felt softer and more natural, and if complications arose, the implant could be removed easily with minimal effect on the surrounding breast tissue. But there was still work to be done. The FDA called for a voluntary moratorium on the use of silicone breast implants in 1992, suggesting that more studies should be done to confirm their safety.

The Introduction of Saline Breast Implants

Saline breast implants were also introduced in the 1960s. These implants, developed by a French company, featured a silicone outer shell filled with a sterile saltwater solution. Though they looked and felt less natural than silicone implants, they could be inserted in a less invasive procedure and were safer in the event of a rupture. The key advantage of a saline implant was that it did not have to be pre-filled — it could be filled after it was implanted, allowing surgeons to insert it through a smaller incision that left a less noticeable scar. Saline implants made a large jump in popularity during the 1990s moratorium on silicone breast implants.

The Evolution of Modern Breast Implants

In the last two decades, breast implants have made tremendous strides. Silicone breast implants were fully re-approved by the FDA in 2006. Implant manufacturers have experimented with the thickness of the outer shells as well as the density of the filler material. They introduced textured breast implants and a wider variety of implant shapes and profiles, and made changes designed to reduce the incidence of capsular contracture. Over 240 styles and 8300 models of silicone gel breast implants have been manufactured in the United States alone.

One of the most notable innovations in recent years is the introduction of gummy bear breast implants. These implants contain a highly cohesive silicone gel that is “form stable” and maintains its shape in any position. Though this is the strongest type of silicone on the market, gummy bear implants remain soft and natural-feeling to the touch. Some patients prefer cohesive gel implants because they hold their shape well, are less prone to wrinkling and rippling, and are less likely to spill silicone gel into the body in the event of a rupture or leak.

Breast Augmentation Today

The shape, feel, longevity and safety of breast implants remain important areas of research that will continue to get better and better, but it’s not just the implants themselves that are improving. There have also been incredible breakthroughs in the technology and techniques used to perform breast augmentation.

Patients and surgeons today have many more options that allow each breast enhancement procedure to be customized to the patient’s goals and anatomy, including expanded choices in breast implant placement and incision technique. Imaging software helps patients envision what their results might look like before they commit to a procedure, and a tool called a Keller Funnel makes the placement of breast implants safer and easier.

We have also seen changes in plastic surgery trends. While breast augmentation was once governed by a “bigger is always better” mentality, women today often come to the Cosmetic Surgery and Laser Center of El Paso looking for subtle, natural-looking volume. The current focus on leading a healthy and active lifestyle has many women choosing modest implants that do not interfere with their ability to exercise, and some women who already have breast implants are deciding to downsize or remove them altogether.

Learn More About Breast Augmentation in El Paso

At least one thing about breast augmentation has not changed: it is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures around the world and it will remain popular as long as women want to improve their figures, boost their body image and increase their self-confidence. At the Cosmetic Surgery and Laser Center of El Paso, Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Jabor are committed to remaining at the head of developments in breast augmentation and all other aspects of aesthetic medicine. We believe our Texas patients deserve the very best and that exceptional care starts with our own ongoing education. To request your personalized breast augmentation consultation, please contact us today.

CareCredit® and Prosper are both options for financing your healthcare services. El Paso Plastic Surgery accepts both! Please visit the company websites to learn more.

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