Silicone vs. Saline Breast Implants
Not all breast implants are made from the same material. Here's our guide to the two types of materials used in breast augmentation and their respective pros and cons.
What's the Difference Between Silicone and Saline Breast Implants?
Silicone vs saline is completely a personal decision. While both have advantages and drawbacks, you will need to decide which factors are most important to you. Most providers will offer both silicone gel and saline implants, so will be able to help you weigh up your decision without any undue bias.
Mr David Floyd, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital, details the key differences between silicone and saline breast implants:
"There’s quite a difference between different types of implants. The most common one we’ve had in this country for many years has been the silicone implant. Silicone is a gooey plasticky clear liquid, and the silicone implant is quite squishy. It has the sort of feel of a natural breast.
In the 80s there was a big issue with the fear that silicone was unsafe and in America, they got very nervous about using silicone implants and they stopped using them, and they moved to using saline implants.
A saline implant is essentially a clear shell, a bit like a balloon filled with salt water. It feels like a bag full of water, it doesn’t have a squishy texture to it at all, and actually, the implant is put in through a smaller hole and then is pumped up once it’s in place."
Mr David Floyd, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital
Smaller insertion scar
Rupture immediately detected
Less realistic feel
May lose shape over time
More realistic look & feel
Holds shape for longer
Rupture doesn't always affect appearance
Rupture may go unnoticed
The original breast enhancement technique, which is still available today, is the saline solution. It uses a silicone "shell", made up of a variety of elements, the main one being silicon. The shell is filled with a salt water, with the salt making up just under one percent of the total solution, giving it characteristics of both a liquid and a solid.
The alternative is the silicone gel implant. This also uses a solid silicone shell, but it is filled with a silicone gel. Today's procedures use what is known as the fifth generation implant, also known as the "gummy bear" model. That name comes from the fact that the silicone gel used is much thicker today than in the past, strongly reducing the likelihood of any leaks even if the implant ruptures.
Look and Feel
Most experts in the field and patients believe silicone gel implants look and feel better than saline implants. That is partly because the consistency of the silicone gel is closely matched to human fat and in turn the appearance and feel of breast tissue. The saline implants are more likely to look obviously artificial; they are also more likely to lose volume ("deflate") over time and even wrinkle.
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Silicone gel implants usually involve a larger incision scar because they are implanted in their finished form. Contrastingly, with saline, the empty shell is implanted into the breast and then gradually filled with the saline solution, leaving a smaller scar.
Most of the risks of breast enhancement are the same with both types of implant, such as scar tissue, breast pain and a temporary change in sensitivity levels in the breast and implant. In principle, the risks of the implant rupturing (that is, the silicone shell being damaged) are the same in both cases, but the consequences differ.
With saline, the breast will change shape and size as the implant deflates. Your body should absorb the saline solution without any ill effects, but you will need surgery to remove, and optionally replace, the implant.
Silicone gel material is thick enough that even with a rupture, leakage is not an issue. It will be contained within the breast tissue that forms around the implant, and this is not known to cause any serious health problems. You may not notice a rupture unless you feel any pain, the size and shape of the breast changes, or it is picked up on a scan such as an MRI.
The exact price ratio between saline and silicone gel implants will vary from provider to provider, and you may not always be able to make a precise comparison. Silicone gel is almost always more expensive and as a rough rule of thumb the extra cost will be several hundred pounds.