Breast implants: Saline vs. silicone

Wonder about the differences between saline and silicone breast implants? The risks of breast implants? What happens if an implant ruptures? Get answers to these questions and more. By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're considering breast implants, you might wonder how to choose between saline-filled and silicone gel-filled implants. Here's help evaluating the options.

What's the difference between saline and silicone breast implants?

Saline and silicone breast implants both have an outer silicone shell. The implants differ in material and consistency, however.

Saline breast implants
Saline implants are filled with sterile salt water. They're inserted empty, and then filled once they're in place.

Saline breast implants are available to women 18 and older for breast augmentation and to women of any age for breast reconstruction.

Silicone breast implants
Silicone implants are pre-filled with silicone gel — a thick, sticky fluid that closely mimics the feel of human fat. Most women feel that silicone breast implants look and feel more like natural breast tissue.

Silicone breast implants are available to women 22 and older for breast augmentation and to women of any age for breast reconstruction.

What are the risks of breast implants?

Saline and silicone breast implants pose similar risks, including:

  • Scar tissue that distorts the shape of the breast implant (capsular contracture)
  • Breast pain
  • Infection
  • Changes in nipple and breast sensation, usually temporary
  • Implant leakage or rupture

Correcting any of these complications might require additional surgery, either to remove or replace the implants.

What happens if an implant ruptures?

If an implant ruptures, the approach might vary depending on whether the implant is saline or silicone.

Ruptured saline implant
If a saline breast implant ruptures, the implant will deflate — causing the affected breast to change in size and shape.

The leaking saline solution will be absorbed by your body without posing any health risks, but you'll probably need surgery to remove the silicone shell. If you wish, a new implant can likely be inserted at the same time.

Ruptured silicone implant
If a silicone breast implant ruptures, you might not notice right away — or ever — because any free silicone tends to remain trapped in the fibrous tissue (capsule) that forms around the implant. This is known as a silent rupture.

Leaking silicone gel isn't thought to cause systemic or long-term health problems — such as breast cancer, reproductive problems or connective tissue disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Still, a ruptured silicone breast implant might eventually cause breast pain or changes in the contour or shape of the breast.

If this happens, your doctor will likely recommend surgical removal. If you wish, a new implant can usually be inserted at the same time.

If an MRI scan detects an implant rupture but you don't have any signs or symptoms, it might be up to you and your doctor to weigh the risks and benefits of keeping the implant in place or having it removed.

Aug. 16, 2012 See more In-depth