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A skin graft surgery is the removal and transplantation of healthy skin from one area of the body to another area. It is done to replace the skin in an area where the skin has been severely damaged. The source (donor site) most commonly used for skin grafts include the lateral thigh, buttocks, below the collarbone, in front of and behind the ear, and the upper arm.
The use of your own skin as the source area is called an autograft. If there is not enough skin on the body to provide graft coverage, skin may be harvested from outside sources. These alternate sources are only meant for temporary use until your own skin grows back. Three common options are:
Skin grafts are done to:
A successful skin graft will result in transplanted skin adhering and growing into the recipient area. Cosmetic results may vary, based on factors such as the type of skin graft used and the recipient site.
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 with an antiseptic.
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:
The graft will be placed on the damaged site. It will be fastened 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 is used to control drainage. Initially, the graft will survive on oxygen and nutrients from the underlying tissue. Within 48 hours, new blood vessels begin to grow. New cells will grow from the graft to cover the damaged area with new skin.
This varies, depending on the size of the graft and extent and severity of the injury.
Harvesting skin grafts can be painful. Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
This varies depending on the reason for the graft, the size of the graft, as well as other care that is needed. For example, recovery from a burn or accident may take longer.
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 medical help right away.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery
Canadian Dermatology Association
The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
Skin grafting. DermNet NZ website. Available at:
http://dermnetnz.org/procedures/graft.html. Updated December 29, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2014.
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 29, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
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