Silicone's scary side effects

What's worse: wrinkles or permanent, bulging scars?

Published January 26, 2006 1:39PM (EST)

An article about the dangerous side effects of liquid silicone in today's New York Times provides yet another reason for women to ditch plastic surgery and embrace their age. Apparently liquid silicone, which was once highly controversial and banned by the FDA until 1997, has experienced a rise in popularity recently as more doctors have begun injecting the motor-oil-like substance 'off-label' "to fill wrinkles, furrows and acne scars or add volume to lips and cheeks."

But unlike collagen implants (Hello, Melanie Griffith), silicone injections are a permanent procedure -- which, unfortunately means that the side effects, though relatively rare, are irreversible too. In the article, Dr. Michael Kane, a New York plastic surgeon describes three women who have come to his office seeking help after their injections went awry. "One had bumps the size of capers bulging from her lips," reports the Times. "One's forehead was red with inflammation. And a third had ridges that looked like worms nestled below her eye sockets."

Silicone has been used in plastic surgery since the fifties and is most closely associated with breast implants. According to the Times, "initially [doctors] used the industrial kind of silicone that goes into making furniture polish and transformer fluid. Complications like cysts, sores and painful hardening of the breasts were in some cases so severe that women needed mastectomies. Three women died when silicone obstructed their blood vessels and lungs. In the 1960's the breast injections fell out of favor."

Are more women going to end up dead or permanently disfigured for the sake of smooth skin and swollen lips? "Silicone is a time bomb," Dr. Marvin J. Rapaport, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, Calif. tells the Times. "Delayed reactions to silicone can happen 1 to 25 years after treatment," he said. "You can't predict who is going to react or when."

Because only surgery can remove the lumps and ridges that are the common side effects, most women are left with scars that are worse than the original damage, Dr. Kane tells the paper. "The small percentage of people who have reactions look so bad that it makes using silicone not worth the risk. If, God forbid, silicone becomes widespread and every doctor starts injecting it, it will become a disaster."

So put down those needles. Smile at those laugh lines. It might be too late for Jessica Simpson, but not for you.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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