What Happens to Breast Implants After 20 Years?
Cosmetic surgery often comes with a painful recovery period, time off work and possible financial strain, so it's understandable that you'd want the results to last. If you're interested in getting breast implants, you may be wondering how many years they're good for and if you'll need surgery again.
We talked to experts about the longevity of breast implants and what you can expect from your implants over time.
Why people get implants
People get breast augmentation for a number of reasons, often to boost self-confidence or to rebuild breasts after various health conditions. Conditions that can impact the size or shape of your breasts include:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding. Some women may experience a deflation or lopsided size in their breasts after breastfeeding.
- Weight loss. People who experience significant weight loss may lose more weight in their breasts than they wanted.
- Breast cancer. Many breast cancer patients undergo a mastectomy or lumpectomy to remove the cancer. These surgeries can remove breasts entirely or leave them uneven.
Breast implants can also be used to affirm gender, providing people with visual confirmation of their gender identity.
Breast augmentation is associated with a higher quality of life, according to a 2022 study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery—Global Open. The results of the study suggested that women who underwent breast augmentation reported an increase in psychosocial well-being, sexual well-being and satisfaction with their breasts.
Any reason for getting breast implants is valid. It's a personal decision, and you are the only person who can decide the right choice for you.
Types of breast implants
Once you decide to get breast augmentation surgery, you then have to decide what kind of implants you want.
"There are two types of breast implants: saline and silicone," said Michelle Lee, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon and the founder of PERK plastic surgery in Beverly Hills, California. "Silicone implants are filled with silicone gel, and saline implants are filled with saline solution."
Implants also vary by texture.
"There are different types of implants, like smooth shell implants, which have a saline shell, or textured implants, which have a rough texture comparable to sandpaper," said Sean Kelishadi, M.D., a celebrity plastic surgeon and the founder of SSK Plastic Surgery in Newport Beach, California. "In the U.S., the market has been 80 to 90 percent smooth, while the opposite has been the case in Europe."
Silicone or saline implants can feel natural depending on the placement:
- Submuscular placement. The implant is placed below your breast tissue and chest muscles.
- Subglandular placement. The implant is placed between your breast tissue and chest muscles. For people without a lot of breast tissue before surgery, subglandular placement may feel less natural.
No matter the type of breast implant you decide on, breast augmentation is major surgery and necessitates a recovery period. The recovery time and levels of pain vary with the individual and the placement of the implant, but patients recover on average for four to six weeks. During this recovery period, you should refrain from physical activity and overexerting yourself.
The longevity of breast implants
Once you've recovered from your breast augmentation surgery, you're probably hoping that you're set for life. Unfortunately, your implants are not going to last forever, and will likely not last 20 years.
"Breast implants have a shelf life of anywhere from 10 to 20 years, depending on the type of implant you get," Kelishadi confirmed.
Maintaining your breast implants to get the maximum years out of them takes some work. You should take your recovery time seriously, avoid significant weight fluctuations and support your implants with a good bra. A common misconception is that getting implants means you never have to wear a bra again, but that's just not true. A good bra lends support to your implants by limiting the effects of gravity and preventing excessive bouncing or movement.
Seeing your doctor regularly is another important part of longevity.
"Breast implants are not lifelong devices," Lee said. "Women with breast implants should be evaluated by their plastic surgeon on a yearly basis. On average, implants need to be exchanged every 10 to 15 years."
It's important to accept that no matter how much you care for your implants, they will need replacement at some point.
"All implants will rupture at some point," Lee confirmed. "When you move, the implant moves with you and this movement creates friction on the implant shell. Over the course of 10 to 15 years, the implant shell will degrade and, eventually, rupture due to this constant friction."
Implant rupture may cause some pain or tenderness in your breasts, but some people may experience very minor symptoms.
"There are many women walking around with implants that are over 20 years old," Lee added. "In fact, some women don't know their implants have ruptured. The only way to tell that you have silicone implant rupture, for example, is through imaging like an MRI." Breast implant rupture can be dangerous, which is why it's so important to regularly see a doctor to ensure your implants are still in place and don't need to be replaced.
The risks of breast augmentation
Breast implants undergo rigorous testing from the Food and Drug Administration to ensure they are safe and effective. Still, all surgeries come with some risk. One major risk of breast augmentation surgery is breast implant illness, a condition that isn't well understood at this time. Some women who get implants may experience a broad range of symptoms often lumped under this illness. These symptoms can start soon after surgery or develop years later.
"When it comes to symptoms of breast implant illness, a lot of people commonly talk about fatigue, hair loss, 'brain fog' and pain," Kelishadi said. "This pain doesn't have to be in the breast; it could be joint pain. Commonly, it's a vague group of symptoms where people just aren't feeling like their normal selves."
The symptoms of a ruptured implant can present similarly to breast implant illness, so it's important to see a doctor as soon as something feels "off."
"We are still at the early stages of understanding breast implant illness," Lee said. "It can happen with both silicone or saline implants."
Other risks include general breast pain, infection, the need for additional surgeries and, as previously discussed, implant rupture.