What exactly is in breast implants? Have you ever truly seen the chemical component list?
Doctor Answers 1
Implant components and platinum
It is understandable that you would want to know how implants are made and what is inside them if you are to decide having them placed in your body.
All implants are made of 2 major components: a silicone elastomer shell and a stable filler which can either be silicone gel or saline solution.
To understand the components, we need to know what silicone is. Silicone is an element found in silica (i.e., sand) and it has to be extracted through hydrocarbons to create a chain that is made of silicone-oxygen backbone and carbon-based side groups. Specifically, it is made of a mixture of semi-inorganic polymeric molecules composed of varying length chains of polydimethylsiloxane [(CH3)2-SiO] monomers.
To make it clear, while plastics have a backbone of hydrogen and carbon, silicones have a backbone made of silicone and oxygen along with hydrocarbon side groups. These side groups provide silicone with plastic-like characteristics. Silicone is often used for baby nipples and the same material is used to make implant shells.
The difference between silicone polymers comes due to the length and cross-linking of the chain. For example, leaves are made of the same glucose that starch and glycogen are made of, but the different style of cross-linking (i.e., beta-linkages) is what makes leaves indigestible.
So when there is little cross-linking, silicone can appear in liquid form such as the gels used to treat scarring. The more cross-linking there is, the more viscous (thick) and sturdy it becomes. After extensive chemical cross-linking, silicone becomes solid and this is called an elastomer which is flexible and rubberlike.
Now it is true that when liquid silicone was first injected into the breast without a shell in 1961, it caused infections, chronic inflammation, and even necrosis. However, the practice was abandoned very soon due to the problems. That was when companies started developing thicker shells to hold the filler.
By then implants were also being filled with saline solution (salt water) because technology to make better silicone gel had not developed yet.
Now the shells of implants, especially the new 5th generation implant shells are made of multilayered silicone elastomers that has made them resistant to leaking or gel bleeding. Even if, hypothetically, the gel bleeding does occur, the new silicone gel filler is not the same as the liquid silicone that was used in 1961. The silicone gel is now more cohesive and viscous making it less likely to diffuse into surrounding tissues.
The shell manufacturing process is what requires use of different chemicals, and very little of these chemicals actually ends up within the shell. For example, chemicals used could include sodium chloride (salt), sugar, platinum, etc.
Now platinum is used a catalyst in the manufacturing of the breast implant shells. As small amounts of platinum remains in the product, there have been concerns about whether this causes adverse effects. In 2000, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published its report on the safety of silicone breast implants. The report concluded that the evidence suggested that 1) platinum is present only in the zero valence elemental state which is not toxic, 2) there are no high concentrations in implants, 3) there is no significant diffusion of platinum out of implants, and 4) there is no evidence of platinum toxicity in humans.
FDA continued its evaluation until 2006 and it did not find evidence that platinum present in silicone gel breast implants causes illness in women with breast implants.
Hope this information helps clear any misunderstanding.
These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.