So, you had breast implants, and now you want them gone — stat. Don’t fret, lots of peeps have been in the same boat as you (Victoria Beckham, Chrissy Teigen, and Ayesha Curry included). Even though breast augmentation is a super common procedure, implant removal is up there too. In 2020, over 36,000 in the U.S. had breast “explants” — that’s about 20 percent of implants done that year.
Whether you’re not into the look anymore, they’re causing complications, or they’ve reached the end of their lifespan (most docs suggest replacing every 10 to 15 years. But if they’re still intact you can get mileage for 20+ years), you’re allowed to change your mind! When the time comes, the procedure involves taking out or potentially replacing the existing implants before sealing things back up.
Here’s the scoop on getting that silicone or saline out, once and for all.
Something to stay abreast of (sorry, had to): Even though breast implants don’t technically expire, they have a limited recommended shelf life. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says implants are likely to rupture or begin to cause complications around the 10- to 15-year mark. If your implants have reached this stage, you’ll want to have a surgeon inspect them to confirm if they need to be replaced or removed.
If they remain in your body for any longer, they could lead to health complications like implant leaking, scar tissue hardening around the implants, or infections.
This procedure’s typically done in-office under local anesthesia. A medical pro will numb the area surrounding the scar where the implant was inserted. They’ll then reopen the site and pull the implant out.
The procedure’s difficulty varies by case and implant type. For example, saline implants can be popped and drained before removal, making the shrunken shells easier to extract, whereas harder silicone implants may require more effort and anesthesia to remove.
If the scar is stretched or wonky, you and your doc may opt to excise it and close the site in a new place for a better aesthetic result. Otherwise, it’ll be sealed up in the same spot.
The process typically takes 1 to 3 hours.
In some cases, scar tissue can harden around the implants, causing pain and discomfort, and making the implants look a little warped. This is called capsular contracture and happens in an estimated 9 percent of augmentation cases after 10 years.
Breast implant removal may also be wanted/needed due to:
- leaking or rupturing of the implant
- scar tissue hardening around implants (aka capsular contracture)
- buildup of calcium deposits
- an overactive autoimmune response to the implant
- tissue death around the implant
- shifting or movement of one or both implants
- very rarely, due to lymphoma caused by the implants
Some also want them gone because their boobs have changed aesthetically over time — and not in a way they like. No surprises here: Age, pregnancy, and breastfeeding can seriously affect their shape, size, and weight.
Other times, people are just like, I’m over these! Teigen said she wanted to be able to lie on her stomach again freely, while Pam Anderson said she felt her iconic implants just didn’t suit her petite frame anymore.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates the average breast implant removal surgery in the U.S. is $3,049, according to 2020 stats.
This covers the cost of the surgery + the surgeon’s fee. Heads up that this figure doesn’t include additional costs like anesthesia and facility fees, though, which vary widely but can be steep.
You might also have more expenses post-op, like meds for recovery or post-surgical bras.
Even though medical insurance typically doesn’t cover implants, they do sometimes cover implant removal. If your doc determines that your procedure is medically necessary because keeping them could pose a threat to your health, then your insurance may foot the bill.
- breast cancer in the implanted breast
- frequent infections because of the implant
- severe scarring that hinders your ability to get a mammogram
- persistent pain, complications, or swelling
Your insurance company prob has a policy in place about what it will reimburse for breast implant removal, so go check it out. If your surgery is purely for cosmetic reasons, though, they’re unlikely to pay up.
Like when you got implants, a surgeon will need to perform the explant at a surgery center, hospital, or operating room.
You’ll have a consultation with your surgeon ahead of time to discuss your reasons for wanting them removed and your desired goals. The two of you will discuss things like:
- your current medical conditions
- previous surgeries
- any meds you’re taking
- examine your breasts and take photos
- give recommendations based on your unique goals
- evaluate your health and talk about any potential risks or complications
Before the surgery, you’ll get some instructions on how to prepare for the procedure, which could include:
- when to refrain from eating or drinking before the op
- how to bathe before surgery
- what to wear at your surgery
The procedure itself typically involves:
- Going under. Many breast explants are done under anesthesia, meaning you’ll be sedated and unaware that the procedure is going down. You’ll get meds for pain and nausea afterward.
- Skin prep. A healthcare professional will prep your skin with antibacterial soap or other substances to prevent infection.
- Digging in. Your surgeon will make an incision that lets them access the implant. These are often made under the breast or around the areola.
- Removal. This part depends on your unique situation and goals. Over time, scar tissue can develop around your implant, making a “tissue capsule.” Some surgeons only remove the implant and leave the tissue capsule. Others will remove both; while some will remove the implant + just part of the capsule. Removing the capsule is more time consuming with higher risk of surgical complications, but preferred in some cases. If your tissue capsule is thickened, hard, and painful, discuss removing it with your surgeon.
- Post-op. You did it! You’ll be awoken from general anesthesia and whisked away to the recovery room. A nurse will monitor your vital signs, pain level, and dressing site. You’ll be in their care until they give you the green light to head home. Since you’ll still be a bit woozy, you need to have someone drive you.
Recovery from breast implant removal typically takes several weeks. Like after getting implants, you’ll likely experience some pain, swelling, and discomfort, and it may be hard to move your arms and upper bod as usual. Most doctors will instruct you to wear a compression surgical bra or sports bra for a few weeks to help with postsurgery swelling.
Within a few weeks, you should have restored mobility and feel better. In the meantime, you’ll want to get plenty of rest and follow your doc’s orders.
Like the implant procedure, breast explant surgery does come with some potential risks. Your surgeon should absolutely go over these with you so you can decide whether it’s the right choice for you.
Possible complications of breast implant removal include:
- skin discoloration
- accumulation of fluid
- nerve damage that can inhibit nipple sensation
- complications from anesthesia like nausea or allergic reactions
If your surgeon takes out the scar tissue around the implant, there’s a small risk of lung injury.
Over time, breast implants can thin the surrounding tissues and possibly even the ribs, meaning that the scar tissue behind them creates an opening to the lungs. Typically, medical professionals recognize this prob right away in the operating room and can promptly repair it. In rare cases, it can cause issues with breathing or circulation.
Sometimes, people don’t love the look of their boobs after the implants are out. In these cases, a surgeon might recommend a nonimplant cosmetic approach like fat grafting or a breast lift. These procedures can sometimes be done at the same time as the implant removal, but surgeons often recommend waiting a few months to reduce the risk of negatively impacting blood supply to the nipples or hurting the breast tissue.
During at-home recovery, follow up with your surgeon ASAP if:
- your pain and swelling don’t go away within several weeks
- your pain and swelling get worse
- you have unusual or unexpected side effects
Real talk: finding the perf surgeon for your needs can be as complicated as bra shopping. 😵
But since your health is at stake, it’s super important. Here’s what to look for in your dream surgeon:
- Board certified. If you’re in the U.S., look for a doctor who’s certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Since the government doesn’t require a surgeon to be specially trained in the procedures they offer, this is vital. Here’s how to find a board certified surgeon near you.
- Confirmed experience. Since a breast explant is a far cry from say, a nose job, it’s important to find a doc with experience doing this procedure in particular. During your consultation, ask your doctor about their training and experience in breast explants in particular.
- Aesthetic match. Ideally, you’ll be able to scope out photos of your doc’s previous work to see if it seems like a good fit. It’s def a bonus if your surgeon has pics of someone with a similar build and results to what you desire. That way, you can feel more confident that you’ll love your tatas in the aftermath.
- Comfort level. Pick a facility, surgeon, and staff that you feel comfortable with. It’s okay to listen to your intuition and skip out on a surgeon, even if others rave about them. They’ll be cutting into you, after all! When it comes to surgical procedures, a foundation of trust is important.
Breast implants aren’t actually designed to last a lifetime: Experts recommend that they’re removed or replaced every 10 to 15 years. Those who’ve suffered complications or who no longer like the look or feel of their implants might want them out sooner.
If you’re considering removal, talk with your doc about your expectations, goals, and potential risks and complications. Be sure to find a surgeon who’s board certified, experienced, and that you feel comfy with.