A skin graft is a patch of skin that is removed by surgery from one area of the body and transplanted, or attached, to another area.

There are several reasons a patient may need a skin graft:

  • Areas where there has been infection that caused a large amount of skin loss
  • Burns
  • Cosmetic reasons or reconstructive surgeries where there has been skin damage or skin loss
  • Skin cancer surgery
  • Surgeries that need skin grafts to heal
  • Venous ulcers, pressure ulcers, or diabetic ulcers that do not heal
  • Very large wounds
  • When the surgeon is unable to close a wound with stitches only

The surgery is done while you are under general anesthesia so that you are unaware of the pain. The surgeon removes healthy skin from a donor site on your own body. Two layers are taken, the epidermis and the dermis (you will be unconscious and will not feel pain). Skin grafts are associated with burns and therefore can be used to alleviate severe pain.

The donor site varies depending on patients, but physicians make every effort to remove the donor skin from an area that is not easily seen, such as those covered by clothes, the inner thighs or buttocks.

The graft is carefully spread on the bare area where it is being transplanted. It is held in place either by gentle pressure from a well-padded dressing that covers it, or by staples or a few small stitches. The donor-site area is covered with a sterile dressing for three to five days.

People with deeper tissue loss may need a full-thickness skin graft. This requires an entire thickness of skin from the donor site, not just the top two layers.

A full-thickness skin graft is a more complicated procedure. The flap of skin from the donor site includes the muscles and blood supply. It is transplanted to the area of the graft. Common donor sites for full-thickness skin grafts include the chest wall, back, or abdominal wall.

A skin graft is used to permanently replace damaged or missing skin or to provide a temporary wound covering. This covering is necessary because the skin protects the body from fluid loss, aids in temperature regulation, and helps prevent disease-causing bacteria or viruses from entering the body.