A Brief History of Breast Implants

Dr. Sacha Obaid, Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon Serving Dallas, Plano, Southlake, and Nearby Fort Worth, Texas

By Sacha Obaid

Female breasts have long been a potent symbol of beauty, and finding ways to restore and enhance breasts has long been an active area of research. In fact, doctors and scientists have worked for more than 100 years to develop and refine breast implant techniques. It’s that commitment and research that has turned breast augmentation into one of the most popular cosmetic procedures in the world.

While there were some difficulties in the beginning, we think you will agree that breast implants have never been better or safer than they are today. Learn about the history of breast implants!

The Early Years of Breast Augmentation

history of breast implantsRobert Gersuny conducted the earliest known attempt at surgical breast augmentation in 1889 by injecting patients with paraffin. Although efforts were made to refine this technique, it was not successful and was soon abandoned.

The first half of the 20th century saw many additional ill-fated attempts with various experimental materials, including ivory, ox cartilage, and foam sponges, but none were deemed safe or effective.

Silicone Implants Hit the Open Market

Breast implants as we know them today were not conceived of until the early 1960s. The first implant materials, developed by surgeons Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow in collaboration with the Dow Corning Corporation, consisted of silicone rubber and gel. Cronin and Gerow surgically implanted the first silicone breast implants in 1962.

The Shift to Saline

The growth of breast augmentation was rapid; thousands of breast implant procedures were performed annually within a decade of their invention.

During the 1970s and 80s, there were many advances in implant technology, as manufacturers experimented with thinner walled implants and silicone gels of various thicknesses to improve the look and feel of breast implants. Despite cosmetic improvements, however, reports of silicone gel leakage resulted in safety concerns and led to the increased use of saline implants, which had been developed in France in the 1960’s.

In 1992 erroneous media reports linking silicone implants with various illnesses eventually caused them to be taken off the market. For the next several years, most breast augmentation patients received saline implants while researchers brought silicone implants under review.

Silicone is Back – and Better than Ever

Despite several years of bad press, study after study demonstrated that breast augmentation using silicone implants was as safe as any surgery involving medical-grade prosthetics. Finally, in 2006, silicone implants were fully re-approved by the FDA as medical devices.

Since then, the range of shapes, sizes, and materials available for breast implants has continued to grow. The FDA’s recent approval of Gummy Bear implants, a new type of implant that offers greater durability and stability of shape, is just one development that speaks to the exciting evolution of breast augmentation techniques.