Silicone is a lab-made material that consists of several different chemicals, including:
- silicon (a naturally occurring element)
It’s usually produced as a liquid or flexible plastic. It’s used for medical, electrical, cooking, and other purposes.
Because silicone is considered chemically stable, experts say it’s safe to use and likely not toxic.
That’s led to silicone being widely used in cosmetic and surgical implants to increase the size of body parts like the breasts and butt, for example.
The FDA has warned that injected liquid silicone may move throughout the body and can cause serious health consequences, including death.
Liquid silicone may block blood vessels in parts of the body like the brain, heart, lymph nodes, or lungs, leading to an extremely dangerous situation.
However, conclusive research on the toxicity of silicone is lacking. Some experts have voiced their concerns over silicone breast implants and other “accepted” uses for silicone within the human body.
You should also never eat or drink silicone.
You can find silicone in all kinds of products. Some common silicone-containing products you’re likely to come into contact with include:
- breast implants
- cookware and food containers
- electrical insulation
- medical supplies and implants
- shampoos and soaps
- thermal insulation
It’s possible to accidentally come into contact with liquid silicone. It may be dangerous if ingested, injected, or absorbed into your skin.
Here are some common situations when you might encounter liquid silicone:
The silicone utensil you’re using melts
Most food-grade silicone utensils can withstand very high heat. But heat tolerance for silicone cookware varies.
It’s possible for silicone cooking products to melt if they get too hot. This can cause silicone liquid to get into your food.
If this happens, throw out the melted product and food. Don’t use any silicone cookware at temperatures above 428°F (220°C).
You have silicone injected into your body during a cosmetic procedure
Despite the FDA warning against the use of injectable silicone, several years ago liquid silicone fillers for the lips and other body parts became very popular.
Today, some cosmetic surgeons still offer this procedure, though most recognize it’s unsafe. In fact, many cosmetic surgeons have begun offering liquid silicone implant removal services — even though liquid silicone doesn’t always remain inside the tissue into which it’s been injected.
You ingest shampoo or soap or get it in your eyes or nose
This is more of a concern for young children, but accidents can happen to anyone. Many shampoos and soaps contain liquid silicone.
Your silicone implant breaks and leaks
If you have a medical or breast implant made of silicone, there’s a small chance it could break and leak during its lifetime.
Because these implants often contain significant amounts of liquid silicone, leakage out of their shell and into other parts of the body can potentially lead to the need for additional surgeries, adverse symptoms, and illness.
Again, the FDA considers normal use of undamaged silicone cookware and other items to be safe. The FDA also considers use of silicone breast implants to be safe.
However, if silicone gets into your body due to ingestion, injection, leakage, or absorption, it may lead to health issues. These include:
Autoimmune problems and a weakened immune system
Autoimmune conditions associated with silicone implants are referred to as a condition called silicone implant incompatibility syndrome (SIIS), or silicone-reactive disorder.
Some common symptoms linked to these conditions include:
- blood clots
- brain fog and memory problems
- chest pain
- eye problems
- joint pain
- hair loss
- kidney issues
- sensitivity to sunlight and other lights
- sores in the mouth
Breast implant–associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)
This rare type of cancer has been
Symptoms of BIA-ALCL include:
- breast enlargement
- breast hardening
- fluid collection developing at least a year after getting an implant
- lump in breast or armpit
- overlying skin rash
Ruptured and leaking breast implant
Silicone implants aren’t made to last forever, though newer implants are usually longer-lasting than older implants. Leakage of liquid silicone in the body can be very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.
symptoms of leaking breast implant
Signs of a ruptured and leaking breast implant include:
- changes in the size or shape of your chest
- hardening of your chest
- lumps in your chest
- pain or soreness
Experts say exposure to silicone is only dangerous if it gets inside your body.
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to silicone, see your doctor. To help confirm whether you’ve been exposed, your doctor will likely:
- give you a physical exam to measure your overall health
- ask you about your medical history and whether you’ve had cosmetic surgery or trauma, like being in a car accident
- perform imaging tests to see if there’s silicone inside your body that needs to be removed
In some cases, a silicone implant might rupture and leak “silently” without causing major symptoms for a while. However, the leak may cause a lot of harm before you notice.
That’s why the FDA recommends that all people with silicone implants get an MRI screening 3 years following their original breast implant surgery and every 2 years after that.
When silicone gets inside your body, the first priority is to remove it. This usually requires surgery, especially if it’s been injected or implanted into your body.
If the silicone has leaked, it might be necessary to remove the tissue silicone has leaked into.
Your silicone exposure may cause complications that persist even after the silicone is removed from your body. Your treatment will vary depending on your complications.
For immune system problems, your doctor is likely to recommend lifestyle changes to help you manage your symptoms, such as more exercise and stress management. They may also recommend a change in diet.
In some cases, your doctor may prescribe immunosuppressant medications to help boost your immune system.
For cases of BIA-ALCL, your doctor will perform surgery to remove the implant and any cancerous tissue. For advanced cases of BIA-ALCL, you may need:
When to see a doctor
If you’ve had liquid silicone injections, suspect you’ve been exposed to silicone in your diet through the products you use, or think you have a leaking breast implant, schedule an appointment with your doctor. This is especially important if you’re showing any of the symptoms of silicone exposure.
If you’ve been exposed to silicone, your outlook for recovery will depend on your individual case. For example:
- Many people with low-level exposure to silicone — such as ingesting a small amount in food — recover very quickly.
- For those with autoimmune disorders, treatment can relieve and help manage symptoms.
- Most people treated for BIA-ALCL don’t have any recurrence of disease after treatment, especially if they’ve received early treatment.
Don’t hesitate to get medical help. Avoiding treatment for silicone exposure — especially if it’s a large amount that gets into your body — can be lethal.
When used in household products such as cooking utensils, silicone is largely a safe material.
However, research suggests that liquid silicone can be dangerous if it gets inside your body through ingestion, injection, absorption, or leakage from an implant.
If you suspect you’ve been exposed to silicone, see your doctor for prompt treatment and to avoid complications.