Saline vs. Silicone Breast Implant Fillers

December 18, 2013 — by Stephen Hardy M.D.
Tags: Breast Augmentation Plastic Surgery

Missoula Silicone Breast Implants vs. SalineThe results of any plastic surgery procedure depend on a number of factors, including the patient’s body type, surgeon, and specific techniques used. When it comes to breast implants, even more variables are introduced. At Northwest Plastic Surgery Associated of Missoula, we want to help you make the right decisions for your surgery, giving you the safest and most satisfying results possible.

If you are planning on having a breast augmentation or reconstruction, please consider the various advantages and disadvantages between saline and silicone implants. By understanding which technique is better suited for you, you can rest assured that your treatment can match your expectations.    

Understanding Saline vs. Silicone

Both saline and silicone are FDA approved implant materials, providing safe and effective results. While most patients are physically able to have either type of implant, the cosmetic and procedural differences between them may offer certain benefits for patients of varying body types. The two types of implants can be summarized as follows:

  • Saline implants: These implants are filled with a saline (salt water) solution inside a thin but durable silicone shell. The shells are first positioned within the breast before being filled. Although they may be used for virtually any breast size, saline implants cannot be adjusted in shape.
  • Silicone implants: These implants are made entirely of soft silicone, with a consistency very similar to that of body fat. Because they are pre-filled, the implant is already in its final shape and size before being inserted. In addition to traditional round implants, silicone can also come in a teardrop shape.

Aesthetic Advantages and Disadvantages

The aesthetic advantages of silicone tend to be the primary reasons for its use in breast implants. Since silicone is able to mimic the texture and shape of breast tissue, silicone implants generally produce more natural looking results. Likewise, teardrop shaped silicone implants can create more subtle curvature of the breast, as opposed to appearing overly stiff or spherical. Finally, silicone is less likely to allow imperfections of the skin, such as rippling or wrinkling. 

Despite the cosmetic advantages of silicone, saline implants are still a viable option for many patients. Since saline is filled after insertion, incisions can be smaller, resulting in less noticeable scarring. If patients wish to completely avoid scarring around their breasts, only saline implants or smaller silicone gel implants may be used for such incisions (at the armpit or navel). Also bear in mind that the current size of one’s breasts will play an important role in an implant’s outcome; the aesthetic differences between saline and silicone are less noticeable in moderately or large sized or breasts. 

Health Risks

With an experienced surgeon, the risks associated with breast implant surgeries are few and minor, regardless of implant type. The rate of possible complications and their ease of detection, however, may vary:

  • Ruptures: Any implant is prone to rupture at some point. Saline ruptures are generally easy to spot, as the implant will lose volume almost immediately, leading to a visible difference in the breast. Saline is also absorbed into the body without any negative consequences. When silicone implants rupture, they leak slowly and irregularly, making detection far more difficult. At the moment, there are no conclusive long-term effects of silicone entering the body, but it does not get absorbed. Instead, stray silicone may travel to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes. As a result, doctors recommend that patients with silicone implants undergo an MRI every two years to detect any hidden ruptures.
  • Capsular contracture: Some patients develop an increasing amount of scar tissue around their implants, leading to stiffness, discomfort, and an increased chance of rupture. This complication, called capsular contracture, tends to develop around 10 years after surgery. While not every patient may develop this, capsular contracture is less common in patients with saline implants, especially when placed below the mammary gland.

Additional Considerations

For most patients, saline and silicone implants are a matter of aesthetics vs. reliability. However, there are a few additional factors that may influence your decisions. First, saline implants are available to patients who are 18 or older, while the FDA has deemed silicone implants safe for those 22 and older. Regardless of implant type, the most accurate results will be achieved once a patient’s body has finished growing through adolescence.

Saline implants also tend to be less expensive, although particular prices will vary among doctors and patients’ needs. 

Make an Educated Decision

Before deciding on the details of your breast implant treatment, speak with a knowledgeable doctor who can help you achieve the results you want. Contact us to schedule an in depth consultation with Dr. Stephen Hardy or another one of our skilled plastic surgeons.

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