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Dr. Constance Barone

From Sponges to Saline : A Short History of Breast Augmentation

By Constance M. Barone, M.D. on April 21, 2017

The quest to achieve larger breasts has a long history. As far back as 1890, doctors tried injecting paraffin into the breasts; in the 1920s and 1930s doctors tried transferring fat from other parts of the body into the breasts, and in the 1950s a variety of materials were surgically placed into the breasts, including sponges, wool, and ivory balls. Fortunately, breast augmentation has come a long way, providing women with a safer way to get shapelier, natural looking and feeling breasts. Here's a brief history of breast augmentation, to give anyone considering the procedure a sense of its origins, and just how far the practice has come.

Early Breast Augmentation

The early stages of breast augmentation begin with Austrian doctor Robert Gersuny. In 1890, Dr. Gersuny injected paraffin, a type of wax, directly into the chests to increase their size. At first, the results proved successful, but eventually patients' breasts would become hard and lumpy and infection rates were extremely high. By the 1920s, paraffin injections were no longer performed and the switch was made to transplanting fat from the buttocks or abdomen to the breasts. Fat transplantation didn't provide lasting results because the body often reabsorbed the transferred fatty tissue or caused the breasts to become asymmetrical. Doctors and researchers continued their search for lasting solutions.

Silicone Injections

Silicone injections are tied to a specific era in history: they were used by Japanese prostitutes in the 1940s while trying to attract the attention of American soldiers fighting in World War II. The silicone injections seemed to work and were soon offered in the United States. However, infection, including gangrene, and skin discoloration soon caused silicone injections to lose favor.

Experimental Implants

By the 1950s, well-endowed starlets, like Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield, were popular, and many women desired a larger bust line. Bra-stuffing with “falsies” became popular, but many women wanted something more permanent. Surgeons in the 1950s began experimenting with different types of materials, including wool, ox cartilage, and ivory balls, to implant within the breasts. One of the most popular was the polyvinyl sponge. Unfortunately, the polyvinyl sponge would often shrink and harden shortly after surgery and led to high infection rates.

The First Silicone Implant

Breast augmentation as we know it didn't occur until the 1960s. After squeezing a bag of blood, surgeon Frank Gerow realized it felt like natural breast tissue, which led to the creation of the first silicone implant. Dr. Gerow then placed the prototype implant in a dog, named Esmeralda, and removed it after a couple of weeks. Dr. Gerow and fellow surgeon Frank Cronin implanted silicone breast implants into a woman in the spring of 1962; this is known as the first silicone implant breast augmentation procedure.

Modern Breast Augmentation

Since Dr. Gerow and Dr. Cronin's success with silicone implants, breast augmentation has advanced, making it safer than ever before with better, more natural looking and feeling results. Breast augmentation is now highly customizable and there are multiple implant options, including saline and silicone implants, teardrop and round shaped implants, as well as different incision types and ways to place implants within the breast tissue. My personal favorite is the ideal implant, which achieves the natural look and feel of soft, supple breasts, and gives patients the safety of only saline inside. It also comes with a lifetime warranty. The Ideal Implant is truly ideal: it has the lowest rate of capsule contracture or scar formation around the implant, and the lowest rupture or deflation rate for primary breast augmentation. Feel free to book a complimentary consultation to hear more. At my surgery center in San Antonio, we use the newest, safest, most cutting-edge technology in the industry, and can find a natural-looking choice to enhance the look of any patient.

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