It's the latest in cosmetic surgery... would you try the bra you wear UNDER your skin?
By Anna Mcgee
Last updated at 10:33 AM on 04th February 2010
You'd be forgiven for thinking anyone who lost four-and-a-half stone and dropped four dress sizes would be delighted with their new figure.
But for Claire Coleman, slimming from a size 18 to a 12 five years ago had an unwanted result - it left her breasts saggy and shapeless, and the 42-year-old felt too self-conscious to wear bikinis or strappy tops.
'My breasts became bulky on the outer side and shapeless and flat around the chest area,' she says. 'Without a bra, they were hanging down as far as the bottom of my ribs, with the nipples misshapen and crooked. 'I felt abnormal and I hated my reflection. I'd leave changing rooms in tears because low-cut tops looked so bad.
Pleased with the results: Claire Coleman after having the Internal Bra System fitted
'I was terribly self-conscious about taking my bra off and I knew that I was held back sexually because I was so aware of my misshapen breasts.
'Even though I do a lot of exercise and my body is lean and fit, there was nothing I could do about my boobs, as I didn't want implants. It was frustrating.'
Then Claire, from Churchdown, Gloucester, heard about the Internal Bra System, a breast-lift operation pioneered by South African plastic surgeons.
In a traditional breast-lift or reduction, the newly-formed breast is held up by skin alone. About three years after the operation, the scars begin to stretch and the breasts start to sag.
But the new technique provides permanent built-in support and experts predict it could revolutionise the way breast reductions and lifts are performed in the UK.
The new system uses a mesh-like material called Breform, similar to that used in hernia operations for 40 years, to support the new shape, taking the strain off the scars and skin.
Surgeons insert the cone-shaped polyester mesh underneath the skin of the breast and attach it with stitches to the fascia, a layer of fat above the breast tissue, under a general anaesthetic.
'Breform is like a bra cup without the straps,' explains Dalvi Humzah, plastic surgeon at the Court House Clinic.
'Once it is fitted, over time the mesh gets incorporated into the breast, as the body produces a fibrous tissue that holds the structure in place - like a permanent bra under the skin.
'In trials in Holland, 60 per cent of women who had the procedure went without a bra on a regular basis.
'After the Breform lift, the scars are the same as in a traditional reduction and lift, but they don't have the pressure of holding the breast up, as the internal mesh is doing that. So it's unlikely the scars will stretch or the breasts will sag again.'
Claire, who works for an insurance company, was only the fifth person in the UK to have the procedure, although 600 have been carried out worldwide.
But as soon as she heard about the internal bra, she had no doubt it was right for her, even when friends tried to talk her out of it.
The Breform mesh: The cone-shaped material is inserted underneath the skin of the breast
'I had to explain to them that they didn't see me undressed, so didn't know how misshapen my breasts were and how much it was affecting me emotionally,' says Claire. 'And I had great faith in my surgeon, Mr Humzah.'
The operation, in November last year, took four hours and required a two-night stay in hospital.
'When I came around, I felt uncomfortable, a bit like having sore muscles after a tough weight-training session, but I didn't even need painkillers,' she says. 'I lifted my gown and looked down.
'There was sticky tape around my nipples going down to the base of my breasts, and I had bruising and swelling, but the shape of my new breasts was already clear. Round, natural and firm.
'It was too painful to sleep on my front, so for the first four weeks I had to sleep on my back.
'Also, Mr Humzah warned me that the scarring would be redraw and thick for the first few weeks. But eight weeks later, the scars underneath the breasts are hardly visible and the ones going around the nipple are fading.
'There are thick lines going from the nipples down. But I know they too will fade in time. All the swelling and bruising has gone completely and I still have full sensation in my nipples. To the touch, I can't feel any sign of the mesh under the skin.'
The operation has already boosted the self-confidence of Claire, who has dropped from a 36D to a C-cup.
'I was seeing a new partner and, despite the scarring, I was much more forthright undressing in front of him.
'Even though we have since broken up, I'm feeling so much better about dating and relationships in the future because I am totally comfortable about being naked now. In fact, I'd even go without a bra in the day.'
And, of course, the results should endure longer than those of the usual breast lift, which last a maximum of ten years.
However, experts in the UK have urged caution. The Breform device is licensed in Europe but has not been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, considered the benchmark for the long-term safety of surgical procedures.
'Anything being put into the breast, such as an implant or mesh material, needs to be monitored for at least ten years to ensure it doesn't become harmful to the body over time,' said Mr Rajiv Grover, plastic surgeon and secretary of BAAPS.
There are also concerns about cancer risk and problems with breast-feeding if the patient becomes pregnant and her breasts become too big for the internal bra, he warned.
However, one trial in Holland followed 170 women for four-and-a-half years after their internal bra surgery and found no serious complications, and that physical and X-ray examinations of the breast were still possible.
Although Claire was aware of the risks, she chose to go ahead.
'I knew that I was one of the first in the UK to have the procedure,' she says. 'I received a letter from the clinic warning that the long-term risks of the operation were unknown. But I had done my homework on my surgeon and the procedure, so I was happy to be left in his hands.
'I would never have implants or silicone, as I don't think putting a foreign liquid into your breasts is safe, especially because of the risk of implants hardening.
'What I have is not an implant but only a sheet of mesh that has been used for 40 years in operations, so I am not worried at all.
'In fact, it's the opposite. I have so much more confidence. At last, I not only feel normal - I feel like a woman again.'
The Internal Bra Breast Lift from £5,900 (0845 555 5050, Court House Clinics | Laser hair removal, cosmetic surgery & skin treatments
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