A wound that is wide and difficult or impossible to close directly may be treated with a skin graft. A skin graft is basically a patch of healthy skin that is taken from one area of the body, called the "donor site," and used to cover another area where skin is missing or damaged. There are three basic types of skin grafts.
A split-thickness skin graft, commonly used to treat burn wounds, uses only the layers of skin closest to the surface. When possible, your plastic surgeon will choose a less conspicuous donor site. Location will be determined in part by the size and color of the skin patch needed. The skin will grow back at the donor site, however, it may be a bit lighter in color.
A full-thickness skin graft might be used to treat a burn wound that is deep and large, or to cover jointed areas where maximum skin elasticity and movement are needed. As its name implies, the surgeon lifts a full-thickness (all layers) section of skin from the donor site. A thin line scar usually results from a direct wound closure at the donor site.
A composite graft is used when the wound to be covered needs more underlying support, as with skin cancer on the nose. A composite graft requires lifting all the layers of skin, fat, and sometimes the underlying cartilage from the donor site. A straight-line scar will remain at the site where the graft was taken. It will fade with time.
Tissue expansion is a procedure that enables the body to "grow" extra skin by stretching adjacent tissue. A balloon-like device called an expander is inserted under the skin near the area to be repaired and then gradually filled with salt water over time, causing the skin to stretch and grow. The time involved in tissue expansion depends on the individual case and the size of the area to be repaired.
The advantages of tissue expansion are many-it offers a near-perfect match of skin color, sensation, and texture; the risk of tissue loss is decreased because the skin remains connected to its original blood and nerve supply; and scars are less apparent than those in flaps or grafts. The expander temporarily creates what can be an unsightly bulge, making this option undesirable for some patients.