Skin Graft

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A skin graft is the removal and transplantation of healthy skin from one area of the body to another area. Your doctor will perform a skin graft to replace the skin in an area where the skin has been severely damaged. The source sites most commonly used for skin grafts are the inner thigh, buttocks, below the collarbone, in front of and behind the ear, and the upper arm.

An autograft is when you use your own skin as the source of the graft. If there is not enough skin on the body to provide graft coverage, you may need skin from other sources. These sources are only meant for temporary use until your own skin grows back. Three common options are:

  1. Allograft — skin taken from another human source, such as a cadaver
  2. Xenograft — skin taken from an animal source
  3. Synthetic tissue

What Does a Skin Graft Do?

  • To promote healing of:
    • Large burns
    • Large wounds
    • Venous ulcers
    • Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores
    • Diabetic ulcers
  • To reconstruct skin removed during surgery, such as following breast cancer surgery or for a serious skin infection

A successful skin graft will result in transplanted skin adhering and growing into the recipient area. 

What Are the Risks of a Skin Graft?

If you are planning to have a skin graft, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Graft failure
  • Infection at either the donor or recipient site
  • Poor healing
  • Increased or decreased sensation at the recipient site
  • Hair may not grow on recipient site
  • Graft tissue contracts, interfering with limb movement
  • Scarring
  • A collection of blood outside of a vessel, known as a hematoma
  • Differences in skin coloration

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Age: newborns and infants, or ≥ 60 years old
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Poor overall health
  • Use of certain medications

Skin Graft Surgery

Before the Graft

Your doctor will clean your wound with an antiseptic. 

Depending on the surgery, you may receive:

  • Local anesthesia — the immediate area is numbed
  • Regional anesthesia — a large area of your body will be numbed, but you will be awake
  • General anesthesia — you will be asleep

Types of Skin Grafts

There are three main types of skin graft techniques:

  1. Split-thickness graft — This is when your doctor removes the top layer of skin and part of the middle layer. This type of graft allows the source site to heal more quickly. 
  2. Full-thickness graft — This is the removal and transfer of an entire area of skin. Full-thickness grafts are usually recommended for areas where cosmetic appearance is important, such as the face. 
  3. Composite grafts — This is a combination of skin and fat, skin and cartilage, or the middle layer of skin and fat. It is used in areas that require three-dimensionality, such as the nose.

Signs of Complications

After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the wounds
  • Headache, muscle aches, lightheadedness, or general ill feeling
  • Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe nausea or vomiting
  • Any new symptoms

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.