Since the term “breast implants” became part of modern-day vocabulary, there’s been a debate about whether or not breast implants expire. For some, their 10th implant anniversary is when they contemplate swapping existing breast implants for new ones. Others think nothing of it.
So, should breast implants be switched just because they’ve gotten to a certain age? We turned to the experts for the truth on this highly debated question.
Do Implants Expire?
The short answer is no; breast implants don’t expire. Every set of breast implants comes with an expiration date on its box, indicating how long an implant can sit on a shelf in sterile packaging, not how long the implant lasts within the body.
According to Miami plastic surgeon Sean Simon, MD, the misconception that breast implants can expire comes from an old suggestion when implants were not as durable as they currently are and the likelihood of a rupture increased with time.
San Diego plastic surgeon Larry Pollack, MD, adds that when the FDA re-released gel implants for general use post-moratorium, there was no good information about how long implants last and chose ten years as an arbitrary number. “That does not imply patients must replace their implants after ten years. It is based entirely on the implant’s condition or the patient’s wishes.”
If there are no issues with your implants, then there’s no need to replace them. Houston, TX, plastic surgeon Henry A. Mentz, MD, shares that some patients can them for up to 20 years. “However, I always recommend patients follow up with their plastic surgeon eight to 10 years after surgery to get a feel for how the implants are doing and looking.”
The current generation of gummy bear breast implants is amongst the strongest. Grand Rapids, MI plastic surgeon Bradley Bengston, MD says they are overfilled to avoid shell failure. “You can cut the shell in half and the gel filler remains in the shell.”
Why Implants Aren’t Forever
Breast implants don’t survive a lifetime and typically last 10 to 15 years or maybe longer. “I believe the current soft touch, highly cohesive gummy bear implants should last 30 years because they are overfilled, so they cannot rub on themselves. Silicone can cut silicone if it rubs on itself long enough,” Dr. Bengston says.
Nonetheless, the more wear and tear the body endures, the greater the risk of implant changes. To make the most of your implants, Dr. Simon always recommends surgery with a board-certified plastic surgeon with a good track record and following their instructions to a T.
“See someone known for surgery with longevity, which usually means using implants appropriate to each patient.”
If cosmetic or other concerns (like changes in shape, feeling or positioning) arise, consult with a plastic surgeon to determine if further investigation or intervention is necessary.
When It’s Time for an Upgrade
Personal preference weighs heavily into the decision to trade older implants for new ones. “Typically, patients exchange them due to changes that affect their aesthetic result,” Dr. Mentz says. “For example, developing excess scar tissue (capsular contracture) or the effects of pregnancy or breastfeeding that alter the appearance, shape, volume or position of the breast.” Trauma (detected by an MRI) can also impact breast implants.
Women often opt for new breast implants if large ones were used initially, and now they desire smaller breasts. An implant exchange often utilizes the same incision, so there’s no additional scarring, and the recovery is relatively easier. “The initial implant space already exists, so creating and stretching the submuscular area is the main reason for post-operative discomfort,” Dr. Simon explains. Most primary breast augmentations result in a tight or stiff feeling in the breasts, which sit a bit higher at first after surgery.
There are instances when Dr. Pollack recommends replacing older implants with newer ones, even when an “expiration” or changes aren’t concerning. “If the implants are over ten years old and another breast procedure is performed, such as a breast lift, I usually recommend changing the implants.”
While trading older implants for new ones can make patients happier and feel more confident about their bodies, the procedure is not to be confused with an explant (removing implants without replacing them). However, one technique Dr. Mentz performs is an explant variation with implantation later. “We remove the implants for four weeks to allow the skin tissue to shrink. Then we re-evaluate for a new set,” he says. “This “shrinking” stage tightens the breast tissue and pocket to achieve a perkier result with the new implants.”