Our desire to be beautiful is one that has existed since the dawn of humankind- from crude prehistoric face paints and powders to the most advanced cosmetic procedures, we are in eternal pursuit of the perfect human ideal. As we grow wiser, and our technology more advanced, we continue to find clever ways of making the body more beautiful and desirable.
When it comes to breasts, this is no different. Breasts are strongly associated with sexuality and feminine beauty, and in a culture that nearly deifies the breast it’s no surprise we want to make them bigger and rounder. We could talk all day about breast implants and popular culture, but that’s for a different time. This is a history lesson.
Today there are two main types of implants: saline and silicone. Implants with alternative compositions have came and gone throughout the years, but today saline and silicone remain the material of choice.
The use of surgery to increase breast size has been around longer than you might think. In 1895, doctor Vincenz Czerny performed the earliest successful breast implant by using fat from a benign tumor (lipoma) to correct asymmetry in breasts. Some were not a successful at the time- Robert Gesnury tried using paraffin (petroleum jelly!) injections, which would work for a short time before disastrous complications arose, including pulmonary embolism, migration, ulceration, fistula formation, infection, and necrosis. These complications would often lead to breast amputation or death. Sadly, this is still used illegally in some parts of the world.
As time went on, surgeons became more adventurous with their techniques- although adventurous might not be strong enough a word. During the WWI – WWII era surgeons would try techniques that are now considered downright ghastly, using materials such as ivory balls, glass balls, various oils, beeswax, shellac, epoxy resin, ground rubber, goat’s milk, and Teflon. And that’s not even the full list. Nowadays the idea of putting things like epoxy resin into your body is as laughable as it is dangerous, but even today people will do what is not in their best interest in pursuit of beauty.
In the post WWII era liquid silicone injections became more common. The early days were rough. Industrial silicone, which was all that was available, contained many additives to prevent the liquid silicone from escaping the breast tissue, including croton oil, olive oil, and cobra venom. Yes, cobra venom. This became widespread, often done by laypeople, and like Gesnury’s paraffin experiments, had disastrous consequences years down the line, for similar reasons. It was such a problem that the state of Nevada made silicone injections a felony. In 1991 the FDA finally banned injectable silicone across the board.