A skin graft surgery is the removal of healthy skin from one area of the body to be used in another area. It is done to replace skin that has been severely damaged. The skin grafts are most often taken from the side of the thigh, buttocks, below the collarbone, near the ear, or the upper arm.
When possible the skin graft will be taken from your own body. This type of graft is called an autograft. However, this is not always possible. Other sources of graft include:
These other sources are only meant for temporary use. They can help protect the area until your own skin grows back.
Skin grafts are done to:
Successfully transplanted skin will attach and grow in the new area. The appearance of the skin will vary. The type of skin graft used and the area it was needed will play a role in the cosmetic outcome.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
The wound will be cleaned.
Depending on the surgery, you may receive:
The wound will be measured. A pattern of the wound will be traced and outlined over the donor site. The donor tissue will be removed with a scalpel or special harvesting machine.
There are 3 main types of skin graft techniques. Your doctor will talk about the benefits and risks of options for you.
The graft will be placed on the damaged site. It will be attached with stitches or staples.
A pressure bandage will be applied over the area. A wound vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) may be placed for the first 3-5 days. This device has suction and helps to control drainage from the wound. New blood vessels begin to grow into the wound within the first 48 hours. New cells will grow from the graft. Over time the new growth will cover the damaged area with new skin.
A split-thickness graft is fastened to the damaged site.
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This varies according to your specific needs. The size of the graft and injury will play a role in the length of the surgery.
Removing skin grafts can be painful. Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medicine.
The hospital stay will depend on your needs. For example, a burn or accident may need a longer stay.
When you get home, you will need to:
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery
DermNet New Zealand
Canadian Dermatology Association
Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
Skin grafting. DermNet New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/skin-grafting. Accessed September 5, 2019.
Skin grafting and flap surgery. University of Miami Health System website. Available at: http://surgery.med.miami.edu/plastic-and-reconstructive/skin-grafting-flap-surgery. Accessed September 5, 2019.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald W. Buck II, MD