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.

When is skin graft surgery used?

There are several reasons a patient may need skin grafting, including the following:

  • Infection in an area has caused a large amount of skin loss.
  • Burns
  • For 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 a surgeon is unable to close a wound using stiches.

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.

How is a skin graft performed?

The donor site varies depending on patient anatomy and/or preference, and 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.

What results can I expect?

The recovery time for skin graft surgery depends on the extent of tissue loss. Full-thickness grafts require longer recovery times—wearing a dressing for one to two weeks, protecting the graft from any trauma for three to four weeks, and possibly physical therapy. Most skin grafts are successful. For those that do not heal well, a second graft may be needed.

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