What’s the difference between a full thickness and split-thickness skin graft?

If you need a skin graft – for whatever reason – it pays to be aware of which treatment is right for you. In almost all cases, it’s not a choice: one of the two will be the procedure best suited for your condition. Even so, it’s worth knowing what to expect from your skin graft procedure.

What is a split-thickness graft?

A split-thickness skin graft involves the shaving of a thin sheet of skin a fraction of a millimetre thick, and is used to cover an expanse of skin where the wounds aren’t particularly deep.

What is a full thickness graft?

A full thickness graft is usually between 2 and 4 millimetres thick, and is best deployed upon smaller, deeper wounds on the head, face, neck and hands – such as those left by the removal of skin cancers, moles, surgical wounds, ulcers and burns wounds.

Where are the grafts taken from?

Again, it depends on the treatment. A split-thickness graft is usually taken from the thigh, buttock or upper arm, but a full thickness graft is usually sourced from a part of the body where skin can be removed without scarring, and looks as similar as possible to the part of the body where it will be transplanted – and either with or without hair follicles, depending on where the targeted area is.

Areas considered most suitable for a full thickness skin graft include – but are not limited to – the front and back of the ear, upper eyelid, scalp, above the collarbone, the upper and inner arm, or the groin.

What happens after the skin graft procedure?

In both cases, it depends upon where the graft has been placed. It’s vitally important that the graft is kept in place during the first week, so the skin can connect with the blood supply and mesh to the rest of the skin. They can be held in place with stitches, or medical-grade glue, or dressings. You’ll be required to take precautions to aid this process, such as not bathing the area for at least a week, or avoiding stress to the treated area.

For more information on skin grafts, please consult our full thickness and split thickness graft pages.

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