What Are Breast Implants Made Of? Do You Really Know?

Updated on: November 29, 2018

There are several types of breast implants available on the market. When you do your research on each type, you may run into terms describing the components of a breast implant. We will break them down by type of implant—saline and silicone.

Saline breast implant components

Saline implants have three parts: the shell, the fill valve, and the filler.

The shell

The shell of a saline implant is made from a silicone elastomer. Yes, you read that right. A saline implant has components that are made out of silicone. The standard saline implant manufactured by Allergan or Mentor has a single shell. The Ideal implant, on the other hand, has several layers of baffle shells as well as the full lumen shells.

The filler

A saline implant is filled with a sterile saline solution. Saline is a salt water solution consisting of sodium chloride (table salt) and water. It is sterile, meaning that all biological pathogens have been removed. Saline is harmless to the human body. In fact, you will likely have an IV of saline solution during your surgery. If the even your saline implant ruptures, your body will absorb the saline solution and process out any excess fluids, leaving the implant shell behind.

The valve

The valve is the opening at the back of the breast implant, and it is used by the surgeon to fill the implant. The sterile saline filler travels from the originating container through a small tube to the opened valve of the implant in order to complete the fill process. It is never exposed to the air in the operating room. Once filled, the tube is removed and the implant is closed. Technically, this valve can be reopened to adjust the amount of saline in the implant, but doing so increases the chance of the valve becoming weak and causing an implant rupture.

Silicone breast implant components

Silicone implants also have three parts: the shell, the fill, and the patch.

The shell

Like a silicone implant shell, the shell of the silicone implant is also made from a silicone elastomer. However, silicone implants are prefilled with a softer, viscous silicone elastomer referred to as cohesive gel or highly cohesive gel.

The fill

What exactly does the term elastomer mean? And what about the silicone gel filler used in silicone implants?

A silicone elastomer is a rubber-like material composed of the molecules silicone, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The exact formation of the material and other components are dependent on how the silicone elastomer will be used. The resulting material can be rubber-like (the implant shell), gel-like (silicone implant filler), or liquid-like (previous generations of silicone implants).

Silicone elastomers are very stable and resistant to changes in the environment around them. Silicone elastomers are stable up to 300ºC (572ºF). Chemically-stable, silicone elastomers will not affect the body substances it comes in contact with (e.g. blood, breast tissue, muscle, or skin). It is hypoallergenic, meaning it is very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. These properties together make it a material of choice for a wide range of products used in our daily lives. Silicone polymers are found in food preparation products, undergarments, shoes, baby products, and a wide range of medical devices.

The patch

At the back of the implant is the patch. The patch is in the same location as the fill valve on the saline implant, but it is not used to fill the implant during surgery. Instead, it is used to fill the implant during the manufacturing process. This process can leave behind a small ridge at the point where the patch is sealed to the implant shell. Like the implant shell, the patch is also silicone elastomer. It is considered part of the implant shell and is placed toward the inside of the body to prevent any palpable ridges. This part of the silicone implant is not one that is often talked about because it is not used past the manufacturing process.

Created September 2016

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