- Many cosmetic manufacturers sell creams they claim can increase breast size.
- There is little evidence these products live up to their promises.
- Breast enhancement products may be associated with some serious side effects.
- Surgical breast augmentation and fat transfer are currently the most effective options.
Breasts have always been central in the way society views female sexuality. While people vary in their personal preferences, trends over the last few decades have been moving toward a larger breast size.
Since its introduction in the 1960s, breast augmentation surgery has been very popular. However, many women are reluctant to undergo surgery, hence the soaring popularity of breast enhancement products.
A number of creams and gels are marketed with claims they can increase bust size, firmness, skin smoothness, and overall health of breasts. Vollure, Brestrogen, Naturaful, and Breast Actives are some of the most popular brands.
Here’s what you need to know before spending your money on any of these products.
How do breast enhancement pills and creams work?
Growth of the milk-producing components of the breast (during pregnancy), and of breast fat (weight gain) are the only natural ways to achieve breast enlargement. These products attempt to mimic this result.
Breast enhancement creams generally contain ingredients that claim to function in a similar way to the human hormone estrogen (the female hormone), accelerating breast growth in much the same way as during pregnancy.
The active ingredients in these products are called phytoestrogens (plant-derived estrogen-like substances) and include extracts of wild yam, chaste tree berry, dandelion, saw palmetto, hops, black cohosh, blessed thistle, and dong quai.
While breasts can indeed respond to estrogen-like substances by increasing in size, there is no scientific evidence that these products, when applied to the skin, can be absorbed in significant enough concentrations to produce this effect.
“The problem is that the skin is waterproof,” says Dr. Csaba Magassy, a McLean, Virginia plastic surgeon. “The only way to make the skin significantly permeable to these substances is to combine them with certain chemicals which have not been approved for use in humans.”
Some breast enhancement systems such as Breast Actives combine a cream or a gel with pills that contain various herbal and synthetic ingredients, claiming this boosts effectiveness.
Other products— such as Total Curve—contain the ingredient volufiline that claims to act in a non-hormonal way to increase the size and activity of fat cells in the breast.
Does science back these claims?
There is a lack of clinical evidence for estrogen-based products. The manufacturer of Total Curve conducted a study which showed promising results. However, since this was a manufacturer-funded study, it could be biased.
Additionally, a following clinical study on volunteers showed only a 2.2% average increase in size (not statistically significant) after 56 days of use.
Other scientific evidence includes a published report that cited the lack of evidence for efficacy and long-term safety and therefore discouraged the use of breast enhancing products.
Can breast enhancement products be dangerous?
The purported benefits of breast enlargement creams are based on the effects of hormones and hormone-like substances.
Breast tissue is very sensitive to the hormone estrogen, and abnormally high levels of it have been linked to breast cancer; substances that function like estrogen may have the same effects.
Estrogen creams, when used vaginally to treat dryness associated with menopause, may increase the risk of the development of ovarian, endometrial, and even breast cancer. However, no independent trials have been conducted to evaluate this risk specifically in breast creams.
Excess estrogen may also cause painful swelling of the breasts, weight gain, menstrual irregularities, increased risk of strokes, and wide-spread hormonal imbalances.
Nonhormonal products such as creams with the previously mentioned volufiline have not been independently evaluated for safety. Little is known about the possible long-term adverse effects of these products.
What about breast pumps and exercise?
Resistance training and exercises that focus on the chest muscles may increase the size of pectorals. Since this muscle is situated under the breasts, this can push breasts forward and make them appear slightly larger. According to Dr. Magassy, while this is possible, it is highly improbable.
Another option is using a bra-like suction device that creates negative pressure on the breast, helping the fat expand into it. This is based on a biological principle called stretch-induced tissue expansion.
Dr. Magassy recommends one system called BRAVA but there are many other options on the market.
Breast augmentation procedures
Only cosmetic procedures performed by qualified plastic surgeons can effectively enhance the shape and size of the breasts.
Breast implant surgery
This is the most popular breast augmentation option to increase breast size. The implants are generally made out of medical-grade sterile silicone and may contain silicone, saline, or gel.
Under general anesthesia, an incision is made in an inconspicuous area of the skin where the scar will be less visible after healing. Common options for the incision location are under the breast, in the armpit, and around the areola.
The implant is then inserted and placed between the breast tissue and the pectoralis major (the main chest muscle), or under the pectoralis muscle. The first option has a shorter recovery period and less discomfort, while the second option is generally associated with a better aesthetic outcome due to a lower risk of the implant moving or rippling.
Possible risks of this procedure include a visible scar, abnormal breast texture, rupture of the implant, and infections. However, when performed by an experienced surgeon, these risks are minimal.
Recovery from breast augmentation surgery is often rapid. Patients should be able to get up and move about 24 hours after the operation, but any strenuous physical activity must be avoided. The sutures at the incision areas will be removed about two weeks later, with complete recovery four to six weeks following the surgery.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of breast augmentation surgery in the United States is about $3,700. Prices may go as high as $10,000 depending on location, how experienced the surgeon is, and the specifics of the procedure.
Women who desire a modest increase in cup size and more natural-looking results may opt for this relatively new procedure. Fat transfer has been called the the most natural breast augmentation procedure available by some plastic surgeons.
The principle behind this technique is the transfer of normal body fat from an area where it is abundant in the patient’s body (like the abdomen and thighs), and inserting it in the breast. Liposuction is used to harvest the fat cells from the donor area, then a needle is used to inject this fat into the desired area of the breast.
An additional benefit of this procedure is that the patient actually undergoes liposuction—fat is removed from stubborn areas as a bonus. However, while this procedure can be effective, results are generally less predictable than breast implants.
Only very small breast incisions are needed, and the recovery is somewhat quicker than having implants. The texture of the transferred fat is generally very natural. However, about half of the fat that gets injected will get absorbed into the body, therefore the results are less predictable than having implants. Furthermore, the possible increase in breast size with this operation is mild to moderate at best.
Fat transfer breast augmentation costs about the same as traditional breast implants.
The bottom line: your plastic surgeons knows best
There is no evidence that any of the breast enhancement products on the market today actually work, and as previously noted, they may cause some potentially dangerous side effects.
Surgical breast augmentation is a highly effective and relatively safe procedure and it is the current gold standard for breast augmentation. Fat transfer is rather new and a promising option—it produces natural-looking results but can’t be used to achieve a significant increase in size.
» For more information on breast enhancement procedures, connect with our medical review team