What Is a Skin Incision?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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A skin incision is an opening made with a surgical instrument so that a doctor has access to the area being operated on. There are various types of surgical incisions, which can vary based on body part, such as the face, abdominal area, or hip, for example. Surgeons often plan beforehand as to what type of cut is best, both for the procedure and for healing. Cosmetic results are typically factored in as well. An assessment is generally performed as to how to most likely minimize scarring and retain function of soft tissues.

Surgeons can also plan a skin incision to lessen the chances of infection. Skin can also contract while it heals, so this is often taken into account as well. The types of incisions typically depend on the area of the body; on the face, surgeons often cut near natural boundaries such as around the forehead, nose, lips, or cheek. For cosmetic procedures, the goal is usually to hide any scarring, so incisions are often made in regard to the hair line as well as behind the ear.


In some cases, surgical wounds are challenging to close. Surgeons can then perform reconstructive procedures by incorporating skin flaps and grafts into closing an incision. Such procedures may be performed on the face or other parts of the body. An abdominal skin incision is generally made to provide convenient access to organs, while avoiding damage to nerves, muscles, and other underlying tissue. Surgeons can cut lengthwise with a midline incision, while it is sometimes necessary to cut across, such as during a liver transplant.

There is often a choice as to what type of skin incision is chosen. Hip surgeons can cut primarily on the rear, side, or towards the front depending on what areas need to be accessed. Following an operation, properly caring for a skin incision can help avoid infections and minimize scarring. The healing process is sometimes different depending on what method is used to close up the wound.

Absorbable or non-absorbable sutures can often be used to close a surgical incision. Staples, adhesive strips, and even glues are sometimes applied depending on the type of surgery and the wound. The type of closure often influences the type of complications to look out for as well as how long the site needs to be covered. Sutures and staples typically have to be removed during a later appointment with a physician.


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