Cosmetic surgery for burns may be recommended as a treatment option to improve the physical appearance of those who have suffered disfiguring burns. In addition to cosmetic purposes, surgery may also help restore sensation to parts of the body where the nerves were damaged as a result of the burn. There are a variety of types of cosmetic surgery that may be recommended for repairing burns and wounds, often depending on the location of the burn, its severity, and the extent of any nerve damage.
One of the most common types of cosmetic surgery for burns is known as a skin graft. This procedure removes skin from an area of the body referred to as a donor site and attaches it to the areas damaged by the burns. Donor sites are typically parts of the body, such as the inner thighs or buttocks, which are easily hidden with clothing. Skin grafts usually take one to two months of recovery time depending on the thickness of the graft, but may often leave deep permanent scars.
A free flap procedure is a surgery that is generally used for reconstructive purposes for burn victims, particularly if there is severe damage to the head, neck, or chest. It is similar to a skin graft, except much more extensive as it also transfers muscle, bone, blood, and other tissue from a donor site to a damaged area of the body. Free flap procedures are typically reserved for burn victims with deep wounds that do not respond to skin grafts or for those whose burns affected functioning or sensation of any nerves.
Another potential form of cosmetic surgery for burns is a procedure known as tissue expansion. Tissue expansion inserts a balloon beneath the skin in an area near the burn site and very gradually fills the balloon with a salt water solution. As the balloon fills with the solution, it gently stretches and expands the skin. This extra skin can then be used in the same manner as a skin graft to cover up areas affected by the burns. Although tissue expansion does not tend to leave such deep scarring compared to skin grafts, it is a longer process that can take up to four months. It may also leave noticeable bulges as the skin is being stretched by the balloon.
Microsurgery is a type of procedure that may be combined with other forms of cosmetic surgery for burns. While microsurgery itself does not necessarily improve the appearance of burns, it is often performed in conjunction with cosmetic procedures if the burn also affected the nerves in the area. During the procedure, a surgeon physically sews up nerves or blood vessels in order to restore the sensation that may have been lost due to burn damage. Microsurgery is also often used to reattach body parts that have been cut off due to accidents.