Silicone Injections: Safe or Suspect?
Liquid silicone has been injected into women all over the world to plump faces, breasts and bottoms, as well as the backs of hands and other body areas. However, it’s made the news on multiple occasions as a dangerous substance that can spread throughout the body, cause nodules, inflammation and deformity, and even death. Are silicone injections safe? Are they legal?
Silicone comes in various forms, from liquid to solids, and is used primarily for industrial purposes, as it can be stronger than plastic yet more flexible than glass, depending upon the heat used to solidify it. For example, the shell of breast implants are made of silicone, and Silly Putty was originally meant to be a commercial silicone rubber. During World War II, silicone in liquid form was used as insulation in electrical transformers and, surprisingly, Japanese “women of the night” were injected with liquid silicone to enhance their breasts in an attempt to make the women more “Westernized” and, therefore, more attractive to American servicemen. This practice spread throughout Asia, because silicone injected into the breasts was thought to avoid the pitfalls of the available alternatives of the time, which were petroleum jelly and paraffin wax.
Silicone was first used for medical purposes in 1955, after Dow Chemical created a silicone shunt, called Silastic-S-9711, to drain excess spinal fluid in hydrocephalic children. It came to the attention of plastic surgeons when Dr. James Barrett Brown sought to use silicone as a filler for parts of the body that were damaged in the war, or for patients with congenital deformities. Although skin grafting was an acceptable practice for burn victims, there was, at that time, no material to fill in the missing tissue beneath the skin grafts. The idea was ultimately expanded to use hard silicone plastic for cheek, nose and chin augmentation, softer silicone in bags for breast augmentation, and injected silicone to fill scars and wrinkles. It was envisioned that large injections of silicone could provide a substance for major volume loss, whether in the face, body or breasts. Unfortunately, the primary emphasis on studies about silicone were on industrial uses, with medical applications getting short shrift. Dow had little interest or facilities to study the effects of silicone on the human body, so very little testing was done. Dow was the sole supplier of the silicone, which was used in “black market” procedures, primarily on women in the entertainment industry, to give them larger breasts. Unfortunately, no purified silicone oil for medical purposes was created and, in the 50’s and 60’s, silicone injections were done with transformer fluid, Dow-Corning 200 Fluid.
In the early 1960s, it was discovered that complications were rampant in connection with injected silicone. Magazine and newspaper articles began to document stories of women, injected with silicone, who experienced painful, lumpy and rock-hard breasts, including cysts and other deformities. Those injected with liquid silicone in other parts of the body, including the cheeks and lips, had similar problems. Because injected silicone is perceived as a foreign substance by the body, scar tissue forms around the silicone in the body’s attempt to “wall off” a foreign substance. Further, silicone oil breaks up into smaller and smaller droplets after injection, each droplet creating its own process of scar formation.
Technically, silicone injections are legal when given by a licensed medical professional. However, they are not approved by the FDA, which rescinded approval of cosmetic silicone injections in 1992. In 1994, the FDA approved a series of silicone oils for treatment of patients with retinal detachment. Even though silicone injections are legal, they are highly dangerous, leading to scar formation, skin thickening, cysts, lumps, spread of silicone to other parts of the body, and even death, when silicone liquid has migrated into the bloodstream. I do not do silicone injections for any reason.
Silicone can sometimes be removed, depending upon the location and size of the injected material. It’s a very complicated surgery, however, and can lead to more scarring. If you have had silicone injected into your body and wish to have it removed, make an appointment to see me in my Boca Raton plastic surgery office for a consultation.