Bizarre Things You Didn't Know About Breast Implants
It's time to take a break from the typical content the Internet offers and focus on something the world doesn't focus on nearly enough: breasts.
Jokes aside, this is a real article about fake breasts -- implants -- the saline and silicone globes that shape the bodies of cancer victims, supermodels, and reality show contestants from all over the world.
The first successful augmentation came from fat
The first documented breast augmentation wasn't so much in the stealing-fat-for-profit method as depicted in Fight Club, but instead with a patient’s own fat.
It all happened in 1893 when Vincenz Czerny, a german "Bohemian surgeon," implanted a lumbar lipoma in a woman’s breast to shape and contour it. A lumbar lipoma is a slow-growing fatty lump between one’s skin and underlying muscle layer, which can grow for years and is typically benign.
Taking about six months to fully heal, the patient’s breast -- while still tender -- was reportedly "well formed, [but] perhaps somewhat smaller and firmer than the right...”
Three years before Dr. Czerny’s success, a Viennese physician named Robert Gersuny experimented with breast augmentation using paraffin, "a colorless, flammable, oily liquid similarly obtained and used as fuel, especially kerosene." This was a bad, bad idea. Despite Gersuny's optimistic forecast ("... should be absolutely harmless...") the procedure was met with disastrous results: infection and soft-tissue defects.
Many recipients even began developing something called paraffinomas -- or wax cancers -- and by the 1920s, doctors abandoned injecting paraffin all together.
The 1920s weren't the most successful time for augmentation surgery, which doctors would typically perform by transferring fat from the belly and buttocks region into the breast, a practice that would lead the body to absorb the fat and leave the breast lopsided and lumpy. This practice was eventually abandoned by the 1940s.
Glass balls, ox cartilage, peanut oil, and goat's milk
From the early teens until around 1943, a plethora of things you should never inject into your body were *sigh* injected into the body in an attempt to enlarge the breast.
These materials included: "ivory balls, glass balls, vegetable oils, mineral oil, lanolin, beeswax, shellac, silk fabric, epoxy resin, ground rubber, ox cartilage, sponges, sacs, rubber, goat's milk, Teflon, soybean and peanut oil, and glazier's putty."
Severe infections would follow with the introduction of any and all of these materials and quack doctors eventually stopped using stuff like goat's milk.
Japanese prostitutes led the wave of silicone
Believing that American servicemen preferred women with a larger chest, Japanese prostitutes led the wave -- albeit a very uneducated wave -- of augmentation by using stolen industrial-grade silicone to inject into their own breasts.
This would lead to "silicone rot" in which gangrene formed around the injection site, as well as chronic "pain, skin discoloration, ulceration, infection, disfigurement, breast loss, liver problems, respiratory distress and pulmonary embolism, and even coma and death."
This came from the fact that these women would use industrial-grade silicone as opposed to medical-grade silicone.
Sponges, burn victims, and a breakthrough
In the 1950s, doctors experimented with polyvinyl sponges, which -- if you couldn't surmise from the name -- did not work. These synthetic sponges would harden over the time and actually caused cancer in some cases.
In the 1960s, breast augmentation surgery found its first real success with the help of burn victims. In 1960, Dow Corning developed its first medical-grade silicone that was used to waterproof the skin of burn victims.
Doctors, having drums of the stuff in their office, began experimenting in Las Vegas (where else?!) and reportedly "used silicone to inject the breasts of more than 10,000 women over a 10-year period." The method to inject the medical-grade silicone was referred to as "Cleopatra’s Needle" and apparently resembled a caulking gun. This practice eventually was outlawed as the complications from injecting liquid silicone were too great.
1963 saw the first silicone gel-filled implant by Dow Corning. By the 1970s, it is estimated that 88% of implants sold came from Dow Corning.
Sloshing, leakage, and silicone on trial
The large volume of sales from silicone and saline implants from Dow Corning and Heyer-Schulte Corporation didn’t mean they were entirely safe or sturdy. In fact, these early implants were fragile, heavy, and often had an "audible sloshing" as well as a high deflation rate.
This led to a class-action lawsuit against Dow Corning in 1988, in which the company paid more than $3.2 billion for 170,000 women. In 1992, the FDA called for a moratorium on the sale and use of silicone breast implants, allowing the use of saline-filled implants to soar.
After 14 years, however, the study linking silicone and autoimmune conditions was proven to be false. Now, silicone is back and better than ever with stronger shells and smoother material.
Gummy bears and armpits
Nowadays, the type of implants used are referred to as "gummy bear breast implants" because of how they keep their shape when they’re sliced open. These implants are actually made of a high-strength, highly cohesive silicone gel that -- unlike the silicone predecessors of the '70s and '80s -- does not leak or bleed.
So, what do breast implants and augmentation surgery look like these days? We asked an NYC-based plastic surgeon, Dr. Norman Rowe, to give us a breakdown on the procedure in the 21st century:
"If price is not an issue, silicone is the implant of choice. It’s much more natural looking and feels more natural. If a patient is starting off in the C range and wants to go to a D range, either implant saline or silicone could be used as they have a lot of breast coverage.”
These days, both saline and silicone are still used.
"Saline can be placed via the belly button, periareolar, axilla armpit, or inframammary crease. Saline comes empty therefore the incision for placement can be smaller and is filled up to the size desired on the operating room table.”
Like the choice between saline and silicone, entry points of the implants depend with each person.
"Depending on lifestyle determines the route of placement. For example, a patient that likes to sunbathe topless may opt for axilla and no scars on the breast. A patient that wears tank tops or plays tennis and has their arms up all the time may not want a scar in the armpit but rather on the breast."
To augment or not augment is obviously a highly personal choice, but either way, let's all be glad that choice no longer involves ivory balls.
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Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and is looking into testicle implants for a friend.