Breast augmentation is one of the most popular plastic surgery procedures performed. It is popular because there is a high demand for larger, shapelier breasts. The results are generally well accepted even if the procedure is imperfect. Many people may not know that all breast implants eventually “give out” or “act up” and need to be replaced. “How long do implants last?” is one of the most common questions we get from breast augmentation patients.
When a breast implant is no longer intact like when it was new, it has given out. We call this “implant shell failure.” The saline variety will leak out some of the water over time and appear smaller or deflated. The silicone implants have thick silicone gel that does not leak—it stays in place and the implant doesn’t change size. Saline implants will tell you when they are done while silicone implants keep working. It’s like a tear in your stockings that you can’t see, and you can still wear them.
Sometimes implants act up. Even after years of having no problems, you may develop a firmness (contracture) or pain (what we call “local problems”). These are signs that breast implants may have given out, and it may be time to bring this to the attention of your plastic surgeon. Silicone breast implant filler does not “leak” or “travel” from the implant itself.
If breast implants do not have an expiration date, how do you know when it’s time to consider changing them out or having them removed altogether? Simply put, there is a scientific answer and a practical answer. The scientific analysis suggests that the breast implant shell will wear out over time, not unlike the tire on your car. Evidence has shown a yearly failure rate of about 5%. This means after 10 years about 50% of implants have given out, and at 20 years it is closer to 80%. This is our best guess since the science of breast implants is imperfect.
For a practical answer, breast implants last until they do not. We do know that many patients have implants that acted up, but they live with these “local” issues because they can. This may be explained, in part, because patients are aware that just because their breast implant has given out does not mean it is going to cause them medical harm. The breast implants are worn down, but they still work. Sometimes life gets in the way and finding the right time to address implant-related issues is put on the back burner.
A common belief held by many people is that breast implants need to be changed out every 10 years. It’s a nice round number! Based on the analysis above, this means about half of these patients will have breast implants that are worn out. Why would they want to remove their breast implants when they are not having any problems and they know that worn-out breast implants won’t cause health-related problems? Again, this is a personal decision made by the patient and her plastic surgeon after discussions of the issues involved. For peace of mind, some patients may simply want them removed or replaced.
In summary, breast implants technically do not last forever. There is no expiration date associated with breast implants. If your breast implants are not acting up and you are happy you will likely leave well enough alone. If you have any issues or concerns about your implants, talk to your trusted plastic surgeon. Experience has shown that you will know when you want them exchanged for new implants or removed.
On a final note, it is not necessary to obtain special tests or studies when considering the status of your breast implants. These tests aren’t very accurate or helpful in the decision-making process. If you want to know exactly how your breast implants are doing, have your surgeon remove or replace them with an uncomplicated procedure.
If you’re wondering if it’s time to remove or replace your breast implants, I would be happy to help. We can discuss the current state of your implants and whether the time has come to make a change. At our Austin Breast Revision Center, we can upgrade your breasts, correct previous work, and give you the breasts you deserve to enjoy. If you’d like to discuss your implants with an expert, schedule a free online consultation.
— Robert Caridi, MD
Diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery
Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS)
Member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
Member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
Founder of the Austin Gynecomastia Center
When it comes to improving your life, there’s no time like the present. The decisions you make today about your skin health, your body, and your beauty will impact you for the rest of your life. For more than three decades, Westlake Plastic Surgery has made the future brighter and more beautiful for patients just like you. Schedule your consultation today to begin your aesthetic journey at Westlake Plastic Surgery.Schedule An Online Consultation