Is a Skin Graft?
Skin grafting is a surgical procedure that involves removing the
skin from one area of the body and moving it, or transplanting it, to a
different area of the body. This surgery may be done if a part of your body has
lost its protective covering of skin due to burns, injury, or illness.
Skin grafts are performed in a hospital. Most skin grafts are
done using general anesthesia, which means you’ll be asleep throughout the
procedure and won’t feel any pain.
Are Skin Grafts Done?
A skin graft is placed over an area of the body where skin has
been lost. Common reasons for a skin graft include:
- skin infections
- deep burns
- large, open wounds
- bed sores or other ulcers on the skin that haven’t
of Skin Grafts
There are two basic types of skin grafts: split-level thickness
and full-thickness grafts.
Split-Level Thickness Grafts
A split-level thickness graft involves the removal of the top two
layers of skin, the epidermis and the dermis. These layers are taken from the
donor site, which is the area where the healthy skin is located.
Split-level thickness grafts are used to cover large areas. These
grafts tend to be fragile and typically have a shiny or smooth appearance. They
may also appear paler than the adjoining skin. Split-level grafts don’t grow
with the rest of the skin, so children who get them may need additional grafts
as they grow older.
A full-thickness graft involves the removal of the muscles and
blood vessels in addition to the top two layers of skin from the donor site.
Full-thickness grafts are generally used for small wounds on highly
visible parts of the body, such as the face. Unlike split-level thickness
grafts, full-thickness grafts blend in well with the skin around them and usually
grow with the person.
to Prepare for a Skin Graft
Your doctor will likely schedule your skin graft several weeks in
advance, so you’ll have time to plan for the surgery. Tell your doctor ahead of
time about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking.
Certain medicines, such as aspirin,
can interfere with the blood’s ability to form clots. Your doctor may instruct you
to change your dosage or stop taking these medications before the surgery.
Your doctor will also tell you not to eat or drink anything after
midnight on the day of the procedure. This is to prevent you from vomiting and
choking during the surgery if the anesthesia nauseates you.
You should also plan on bringing a family member or friend who
can drive you home after the surgery. General anesthesia may make you drowsy
after the procedure, so you shouldn’t drive until the effects have fully worn
It’s also a good idea to have someone to stay with you for the
first few days after the surgery. You may need help performing certain tasks
and getting around the house.
You’ll go to the hospital on the morning of your surgery. After
you arrive, a nurse or technician will give you a hospital gown to wear and start
an IV in your hand, arm, or wrist. The IV allows the doctor to give you
medicine and fluids during and after the procedure.
When it’s time for your surgery, you’ll be taken into the operating
room and a doctor will inject medicine into your IV line. The medicine, called a
general anesthetic, will make you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the
surgery so you don’t feel any pain.
A surgeon will begin the operation by removing skin from the
donor site. If you’re getting a split-level thickness graft, the skin will be
removed from an area of your body that’s usually hidden by clothing, such as
your hip or the inside of your thigh. If you’re getting a full-thickness graft,
preferred donor sites are the abdominal wall or the chest wall.
Once skin is removed from the donor site, the surgeon will
carefully place it over the transplant area and secure it with a surgical
dressing, staples, or stitches. They’ll also cover the donor area with a
dressing that will cover the wound without sticking to it.
for a Skin Graft
The hospital staff will watch you closely after your surgery,
monitoring your vital signs and giving you medications to manage the pain.
If you’ve had a split-level thickness graft, your doctor will
probably want you to stay in the hospital for a few days to make sure the graft
and the donor site are healing well.
The graft should start developing blood vessels and connecting to
the skin around it within 36 hours. If these blood vessels don’t begin to form
shortly after the surgery, it could be a sign that your body is rejecting the
You may hear your doctor say that the graft “hasn’t taken.” You
may need another surgery and a new graft if the first graft doesn’t take.
A full-thickness graft requires a longer hospital stay, typically
one to two weeks. You may also need rehabilitation, such as physical or
occupational therapy, as you heal from the skin graft.
When you leave the hospital, your doctor will give you a
prescription for painkillers to help minimize the pain. They’ll also instruct
you on how to care for the graft site and the donor site so they don’t get
The donor site will heal within two to three weeks, but the graft
site will take a bit longer to heal. For at least three to four weeks after the
surgery, you’ll need to avoid doing any activities that could stretch or injure
the graft site. Your doctor will tell you when it’s safe to resume your normal