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.
This surgery is usually done while you are under general anesthesia. That means you will be asleep and pain-free.
Healthy skin is taken from a place on your body called the donor site. Most people who are having a skin graft have a split-thickness skin graft. This takes the two top layers of skin from the donor site (the epidermis) and the layer under the epidermis (the dermis).
The donor site can be any area of the body. Most times, it is an area that is hidden by clothes, such as the buttock or inner thigh.
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 3 to 5 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. Common donor sites for full-thickness skin grafts include the chest wall, back, or abdominal wall.
Skin grafts may be recommended for:
Full-thickness grafts are done when a lot of tissue is lost. This can happen with open fractures of the lower leg, or after severe infections.
Risks for anesthesia and surgery in general are:
Risks for this surgery are:
Tell your surgeon or nurse:
During the days before surgery:
On the day of the surgery:
You should recover quickly after split-thickness skin grafting. Full-thickness grafts need a longer recovery time. If you received this kind of graft, you may need to stay in the hospital for 1 to 2 weeks.
After you are discharged from the hospital, follow instructions on how to care for your skin graft, including:
Most skin grafts are successful, but some do not heal well. You may need a second graft.
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.