Breast Implant Removal Guide: Frequently Asked Questions

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Sheila Nazarian in May 2016

Breast implant removal is an invasive procedure that’s performed when a woman decides she no longer wants her implants.

The surgery can address a variety of concerns, including implant malfunction, capsular contracture, and dissatisfaction with breast size. If a woman chooses not to replace her implants, a breast lift can be performed to address skin that may have been stretched. 

As breast augmentation becomes more popular, so does breast implant removal. If you’re considering the procedure, you probably have a lot of questions. We’ve drawn on the expertise of doctors and the RealSelf community to give you answers to those most commonly asked.

In This Overview:

Is Breast Implant Removal Right for Me?
How Much Does It Cost?
Will Insurance Cover It?
How Do I Choose a Surgeon?
What Happens During the Procedure?
What Can I Expect During Recovery?
What Results Can I Expect?
What Are the Possible Side Effects?
What Else Do I Need to Know?

Is Breast Implant Removal Right for Me?

Breast implant removal is commonly performed on women who have experienced sagging due to aging, pregnancy, or weight fluctuations, or are simply no longer satisfied with the look and feel of their implants. Removal is also frequently performed on “patients who develop complications because the implants have deflated or ruptured,” says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Sheila Nazarian. “There are cases, too, when patients have breast procedures with doctors who are not highly experienced and trained. When the patient is displeased with their result or is suffering from complications, breast revision or implant removal is an option.”

As with any cosmetic surgery, you need to be in good overall health to be considered for breast implant removal. If you have a heart or lung condition, or a neurological disorder, you may not be a good candidate. If you smoke, your doctor will likely advise you to stop smoking for at least six weeks before and after surgery, as nicotine impairs the healing process. Meet with a board-certified plastic surgeon, who can help you determine if implant removal is right for you. Back to top

How Much Does Breast Implant Removal Cost?

While the average cost of breast implant removal is listed at just over $4,000 on RealSelf, the price can vary widely. Many factors affect this range, including the experience of the surgeon, length of the procedure, location of your doctor, and additional fees associated with anesthesia, surgical facility, prescription medication, and post-op appointments. Perhaps the biggest factors in determining cost are whether or not capsules need to be removed due to capsular contracture (see more on that here) and if additional procedures such as a breast lift are being performed. Though every plastic surgeon has his or her own policy, you may be able to get a discounted rate if you return to the surgeon who performed your initial augmentation. Back to top

Will Insurance Cover Breast Implant Removal?

Breast augmentation, revision, and removal are typically considered elective cosmetic procedures and not medically necessarily. For this reason, implant removal is not likely to be covered by insurance. In most cases, the only breast surgeries that are covered are those that are deemed necessary as part of treatment for breast cancer or reconstruction following a mastectomy.

Discuss your options with your plastic surgeon and insurance provider. If coverage is not available and you can’t pay out of pocket, payment plans may be available through a financing company. Back to top

How Do I Choose a Surgeon for Breast Implant Removal?

When it comes to elective procedures, the most important factor in choosing a doctor is experience. If the surgeon who performed your initial augmentation is trained, experienced, and certified, many doctors on our site advise returning to them for your removal, as they’re likely to have the best knowledge of your surgery and individual needs.

If you don’t feel comfortable returning to your original doctor, experts recommend having at least three consultations with board-certified plastic surgeons before making a new choice. Expect to have your breasts examined for size, shape, breast tissue, skin quality, and placement of the nipples and areolas. Be prepared to discuss your current implants, the complications or dissatisfaction you’re experiencing, your desired results, and past and present health conditions or medications. Most plastic surgeons will request to speak to your first surgeon or at least request the operative records.

If you’re looking for a licensed and qualified plastic surgeon to perform your breast implant removal, use the Doctor Finder. We’ve also provided you with a checklist of 20 essential questions to ask at any cosmetic surgery consultation. Back to top

What Happens During a Breast Implant Removal Procedure?

Breast implant removals typically take between one and three hours, depending on doctor’s technique, if capsules need to be removed, and whether or not a breast lift is being performed. This can be done under general or local anesthesia. Once your surgery is over, you’ll be taken to a recovery area for a short period of observation. Unless your doctor thinks otherwise, you should be able to go home in your dressing and surgical bra or wrap that same day.

Removal Only
Your surgeon will most likely use the same incisions as your original procedure to extract the implant and then close the wound. If you’re suffering from capsular contracture, your doctor will remove the hardened capsules to facilitate healing.

Removal With Breast Lift
If your skin has been left stretched or saggy, a breast lift can be performed at the same time. This involves removing excess skin and tightening the tissue to provide better support. Your surgeon may also resize your areolas to better fit the breasts’ new shape.

There are three major kinds of breast lifts, depending on incision types:

  1. The donut, Benelli, or circumareolar technique achieves a lift by making a donut-shaped incision around the areola. The amount of lift is limited, so the technique offers mild correction to sagging.
  2. Lollipop or vertical incisions circle the areola and extend downward. This option is rapidly becoming more popular and can be used for moderate to severe sagging correction.
  3. The anchor technique starts with lollipop incisions, then adds a horizontal incision along the breast crease. This older technique is particularly helpful in more extreme cases of sagging.
Lift Incisions

Learn more in the RealSelf Guide to Breast Lifts.

If your implants are saline, you may be able to deflate them without undergoing surgery. This occurs in a doctor’s office under local anesthesia before any final decisions about replacement or breast lift are made. The implant’s bag is safe to leave in place and the body naturally absorbs the saline.

“Once a saline implant is deflated, the patient can see how much of her breast size is her own tissue, as well as whether she has enough extra skin to be a good candidate for a lift,” says Nashville plastic surgeon Dr. Melinda Haws. “The important thing to remember is that once we puncture an implant to deflate it, it’s destroyed and is no longer eligible for any warrantee. If you deflate your saline implant knowing you want to replace it, it is then possible to try on sizers and make your decision about size in an educated fashion.” Back to top

What Can I Expect During Breast Implant Removal Recovery?

While recovery varies from person to person, most doctors on our site agree that recovery after breast implant removal is much easier than your initial surgery. “The procedure is associated with minimal pain and short recoveries since the muscle is undisturbed,” explains Omaha plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Bruneteau. “Patients usually don’t require narcotics for longer than 24 hours and are able to return to work the following day as long as no heavy lifting is involved.” If capsules need to be removed due to capsular contracture, expect more discomfort and recovery time of about a week.

Those undergoing a breast lift along with removal can also expect a week’s recovery time, with your breasts likely feeling heavy and tight for up to several weeks. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid exercise or lifting anything over 10 pounds for the first six weeks following surgery. After this time, you should be able to resume all normal activity; however, it may take several months for your breasts to settle into their new place. Most women report minimal discomfort after breast lift surgery and are able to return to work in about five days.

As with all cosmetic procedures, it’s critical to follow the instructions given to you by your surgeon. These will include information on wearing any compression garments, taking pain medication, and avoiding certain activities. Your surgeon will explain the types of symptoms you can expect. If you think you’re experiencing something abnormal, call your plastic surgeon’s office right away. Back to top

What Results Can I Expect From Breast Implant Removal?

Once the implants are removed, the breasts will initially look deflated, with a bit of a caved-in appearance. “It takes about two to three weeks for the breasts to ‘fluff’ back out,” says Dr. Haws. “The breasts will actually regain 10-15% of their volume once this central area fills in and the skin retracts. It’s important to remember that the ‘weird-looking’ breasts seen immediately after removal will not be your final look.”

This caved-in appearance should not occur if you’re undergoing a breast lift. You can expect your breasts to be higher and perkier immediately after surgery, but with swelling that may take months to fully resolve. Your scars will heal and fade over time but never fully disappear. (Read more on scarring here.)

It’s important to note that you will not go back to the way you looked before you received breast implants. “The weight of the implants causes changes in the ribs and stretches out the tissue,” says Dr. Nazarian. “It’s important to understand this before getting breast implants as part of the informed consent.”

To get an idea of the kind of results you can expect, take a look at three of our most viewed breast implant removal before and after photos. Back to top

Removal 1Breast Implant Removal
Photo courtesy of Bay Area plastic surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Slass Lee

Removal 2Breast Implant Removal and Lift
Photo courtesy of Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Sheila Nazarian

Removal 3Breast Implant Removal and Lift
Photo courtesy of Seattle plastic surgeon Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Breast Implant Removal?

When performed by an experienced plastic surgeon, breast implant removal surgery has a very high success rate. The risks involved are similar to the risks for placing the implants, but less severe. Potential side effects include infection, bleeding, hematoma, scarring, adverse reaction to anesthesia, and unsatisfactory results that may require yet another surgery. Minimize these risks by following your surgeon’s post-op instructions closely. Back to top

What Else Do I Need to Know?

What Is Capsular Contracture?

The body naturally forms a thin inner membrane or “capsule” around a breast implant, which it views as a foreign object. Capsular contracture occurs when this membrane constricts or thickens. The result can be a deformed or hardened implant that may cause pain. The most effective treatment is to have the implant removed and (if desired) replaced.

According to Dr. Lu-Jean Feng, research has shown that the capsule may not "disappear on its own" when the implant is removed. "If you have pain around the implants, it is usually due to the pulling effect of the scar on surrounding muscle and tissue," she says. "If you have health problems that could be from the presence of the implants, removal of the capsule is critical in improving your health." 

Learn more about the procedure that removes capsules with our capsulectomy doctor Q&A.

What Will My Scarring Be Like After Surgery?

Implant removal scars typically heal very well and can often be inconspicuous, but healing comes in stages. “Every wound gets harder and more reddish or purplish for about three to four months,” says Dr. Nazarian. “After about four months is when the wound starts to soften and lighten. [This maturation process can continue] for up to year. Don’t get anxious or consider scar revision surgery before that first year.”

During this time, Dr. Nazarian recommends keeping your scars out of the sun, as UV light can cause them to heal darker than they would otherwise. She also suggests using silicone sheeting or creams to further minimize the appearance.

Dr. Nazarian warns patients against certain products that are commonly considered to have healing benefits. “Things like vitamin E, which everyone thinks is so amazing, can actually be harmful to a scar. Vitamin E weakens collagen cross-linking and can actually lead to a flat, but wider scar.”

Discuss your options for scar management with your plastic surgeon.

What If I Decide I Want Implants Again After Removal?

As long as you’re in good health and are still considered a candidate for surgery, you should be able to get implants again at any time after removal. Some women may remove implants before having children and then choose to replace them once they’re done with pregnancy and breastfeeding (though in most cases this isn’t necessary). Some women simply have times in their lives where a B-cup works better a C-cup, but it’s possible for the C-cup times to come again.

Have a question we didn't answer in this guide? Ask an expert plastic surgeon.

More to Explore:
See more before and after photos
Read reviews from real patients
Find plastic surgeons offering this treatment

NazarianThis guide has been medically reviewed for accuracy by Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Sheila Nazarian. Dr. Nazarian is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and trained in cosmetic, plastic, and reconstructive surgery. She completed her undergrad at Columbia University and holds a medical degree from Yeshiva University. She spent her plastic surgery residency at USC, where she continues to serve as an assistant professor. Learn more on her RealSelf profile.

Disclaimer: This content is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare professional. Your reliance on any information or content provided in the guide is solely at your own risk. You should always seek the advice of your physician or healthcare professional for any questions you have about your own medical condition. RealSelf does not endorse or recommend any specific content, procedure, product, opinion, healthcare professional or any other material or information in this guide or anywhere on this website.

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