What Is Dermoscopy?

What to expect when undergoing this test

Dermoscopy is the examination of skin lesions using a handheld device, called a dermatoscope. Dermoscopy is most often used to aid in diagnosing skin cancer. It is non-invasive and painless.

This test is also known as dermatoscopy, skin surface microscopy, and epiluminescence microscopy.

A Dermoscopy, Step-By-Step
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Purpose of the Test

If you have a pigmented skin lesion or mole that is concerning, your physician may perform a dermatoscopy. Dermoscopy is a simple skin exam that is done with the help of a dermatoscope.

A dermatoscope (also called a dermoscope) is a small, handheld device that both illuminates and magnifies, allowing the physician to see structures of the skin not visible to the naked eye.

Dermoscopy is used most often to help identify cancerous skin lesions, such as melanoma or basal cell carcinoma. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between cancerous and noncancerous skin lesions like seborrheic keratosis, hemangiomas, atypical moles, and benign lentigines.

An early melanoma can be especially difficult to identify because it looks incredibly similar to a noncancerous nevus. Dermoscopy is done to more easily distinguish between the two.

Having a dermoscopy done can prevent having an unneeded mole removal or skin biopsy done, because it allows the physician to more accurately identify pigmented skin lesions.

Dermatoscopy also allows your dermatologist to monitor moles and other pigmented skin lesions for possible changes.

While dermoscopy is most often done to help identify possible cancerous skin lesions, it can also be used to identify and monitor other skin conditions like vitiligo, scabies, discoid lupus erythematosus, and lichen planus.

A dermatoscope can also be used to locate splinters and evaluate hair loss.

Risks and Contraindications

There are no risks nor contraindications for this procedure. It is very safe and can be used for all skin types and all ages.

During the Test

Dermatoscopy is a very simple, and painless, procedure.

First, the clinician will apply an ultrasound gel or oil (such as mineral oil) onto your skin. The gel or oil improves the image clarity that can be captured by the dermatoscope.

Once the gel/oil is applied, the clinician will gently press the dermatoscope into your skin. This doesn't hurt, but you will feel a slight bit of pressure from the dermatoscope. It's important that the dermatoscope is pressed against the skin to eliminate possible air bubbles between the device and your skin that could interfere with the clinician's field of vision.

The clinician then peers through the dermatoscope to get a magnified view of the skin lesion in question.

The images gathered by the dermatoscope may be captured by video and/or still photography. These images can be saved for further evaluation. This allows for careful monitoring of suspicious skin lesions, especially in those who are high-risk for developing skin cancer.

Interpreting Results

Dermoscopy reveals the skin lesion in much more detail than can be seen with the naked eye. This allows the clinician to get a more accurate view of the structure, color, and shape of the skin lesion.

The clinician looks for pigmentation patterns, blood vessel patterns, pigmentation distribution, among other things, that help them identify a cancerous lesion versus a noncancerous one.

Results of the dermoscopy are immediate. If, after the exam, your dermatologist is reassured the skin lesion is harmless, nothing more needs to be done.

If the dermoscopy reveals possible skin cancer, your dermatologist will remove and biopsy the lesion. This may be done in the same appointment, or you may need to come back to have the skin lesion removed.

Your dermatologist may decide that the skin lesion doesn't need to be removed immediately, but that it warrants further monitoring. In this case, your dermatologist will have you return for another dermoscopy after a few months' time to monitor the skin lesion for any changes.

A Word From Verywell

Dermoscopy is a very simple, quick, and painless procedure. There is nothing you need to do to prepare for a dermoscopy. If you have any questions about why you need dermoscopy, or the results of your test, don't hesitate to ask your physician.

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  1. Kumar Jha A, Sonthalia S, Lallas A, Chaudhary RKP. Dermoscopy in vitiligo: diagnosis and beyond. Int J Dermatol. 2018;57(1):50-54. doi:10.1111/ijd.13795

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