Degloving occurs when a portion of a living organism’s skin is separated from body tissue underneath. It is one form of avulsion, or body part detachment. This process cuts off blood supply to the affected skin, typically rendering the skin dead. The term derives from the visual produced by latex glove removal, which creates a similar effect.
Human degloving typically results from severe skin injuries. Such damage may result from a manufacturing accident where an individual is operating machinery. A car accident in which an individual is forcefully injured by a car or other high-velocity vehicle could also cause a related effect. In ancient times, degloving was occasionally used as a form of killing or torture, as in scalping.
In a skin avulsion, nerves, blood vessels, and occasionally muscles are stripped away. The injuries may often reach to the bones. These effects do not always completely remove skin, however. In a closed degloving incident, the skin remains slightly attached to underlying structures, but it will feel loose due to its partial detachment. The skin may, therefore, become blackened or discolored because of a lack of blood supply.
When degloving pertains to humans, the arms, legs, hands, or feet are usually affected. The extremities are less vulnerable to serious complications. Due to the number of vital organs and prominent blood vessels in the torso and head area, major body skin injuries to this area would probably result in death.
Although it frequently occurs because of a devastating accident, degloving may also be intentional and beneficial. Controlled degloving is a technique utilized in facial plastic surgery or dentistry. One common procedure involves exposing the tissues at the front of the jaw by surgically removing the skin barrier. Plastic surgeons or dentists work within or around the mouth area to accomplish this task.
Animals may benefit from skin detachment as well. Some wild creatures, for example, possess a natural mechanism wherein the skin on their tails can separate from their bodies. A feature like this would be useful if the animal has been captured by a larger predator or a man-made trap. Although the process can be lifesaving for some animals, many others—particularly domesticated animals—experience the same harmful effects as humans. Small rodents such as pet gerbils and rabbits are particularly prone to harmful skin separation injuries.
In both humans and animals, degloving treatment varies by the severity of the injury. Prevention of major blood loss is vital, as are antibiotics to block infection. Medically reapplying skin coverings through a skin graft is also an option for some incidents. In extreme cases, amputation—or surgical removal of the impacted limb or appendage—may be needed.