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Temporary Saline Breast Enhancement: How Safe Is It?

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
August 21, 2014

Image consultant Amanda Sanders, far left, in a scene from Bravo’s “Love Broker,” spoke to the New York Times about her saline injection procedure. Photo by Getty Images.

Before committing to going under the knife for breast implants, some women are trying out a non-invasive procedure that gives them instant gratification for a fleeting 24 hours, the New York Times reports.

“It was worth it,” said New York image consultant Amanda Sanders in the story, regarding the $3,500 treatment that lasted less than 24 hours. “I could wear halter tops and a string bikini and feel really sexy. I’m in the business of vanity. As an image consultant, I have to look the part and be the part.”

And Sanders isn’t alone — the doctor who performed her saline injection, Norman M. Rowe, told the Times that he performs three to five of the procedures a week, with women requesting the enhancement for everything from weddings to bar mitzvahs to red carpet events to tropical vacations (as in Sanders’s case), according to the article.

But how does the procedure work, exactly? And is it safe?

“Saline is a part of what we have in our bloodstream, and is part of our naturally occurring interstitial solution,” Daniel Mills, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Laguna Beach, California, and member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), told Yahoo Health. “So it’s about as safe as one could expect.” During the procedure, fluid is injected into the breast tissue, rather than going behind the chest muscle, as with an implant. “How big they get depends on the number of cc’s used,” he said.

Saline is essentially saltwater that is absorbed back into the bloodstream in about 24 hours. It’s a stateside alternative to Europe’s popular “lunchtime lift,” during which fillers like Restylane or Juvéderm are injected — a procedure not approved here in the U.S. by the FDA. Still, “Anytime you are injecting something, there’s a risk of infection, a risk of hematoma [blood that pools under the skin],” Mills added regarding the saline injections. “So I wouldn’t say it’s without any risk whatsoever.”

And while there are occasions when people get saline injections in places other than breasts — such as the forehead, in Japan, where odd-looking “bagel head” injections have been a body-modification fad — the breast brings with it a particular risk. “If you can get milk to come out of the ducts, you can get bacteria to go into those ducts,” Mills explained. “So there ‘s a little more bacterial involvement with the breast than with the forehead.”

Although Mills has not performed the procedure before, he said he might consider it for someone who would want to try out a new look before getting actual implants — similar to how people will sometimes get saline injected into their lips or cheeks before getting more permanent fillers. “It would be a way to try on breasts before you buy them,” he said.

Injecting saline does stretch out the skin, Mills added, although he wouldn’t expect any long-term effects, since the saline lasts only “18 hours max” before being reabsorbed into the body. Silicone injections, meanwhile, are permanent, and even illegal in a couple of states because they’re thought to mask breast cancer readings.

It’s important to note that the saline procedure, though not approved by all doctors, differs greatly from other curve-enhancing injections that so often lead to medical disaster — illegal, underground ones, often administered at “pumping parties,” and containing dangerous mixtures of non-medical-grade silicone and various other ingredients. Those often cause complications that lead to death. “It’s apples and fish,” Mills noted, adding that, with any injection, “It makes a big difference to go to a member of ASAPS, where patient safety is the priority.”