What Is Dermoscopy?

What to expect when undergoing this test

Dermoscopy is a test that is used for 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

Dermoscopy is a simple skin exam. If you have a pigmented skin lesion or mole that is concerning, your physician may perform a dermatoscopy. A dermoscopy allows your physician to more accurately identify pigmented skin lesions, which can sometimes avoid an unneeded mole removal or skin biopsy.

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

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.

Common uses:

  • Dermoscopy is used most often to help identify cancerous skin lesions, such as melanoma or basal cell carcinoma.
  • Dermoscopy is done to help distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous skin lesions because it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate cancer from lesions like seborrheic keratosis, hemangiomas, atypical moles, and benign lentigines. Early melanoma can be especially difficult to identify because it can look similar to a noncancerous nevus.
  • It can be used to identify and monitor other skin conditions like vitiligo, scabies, discoid lupus erythematosus, and lichen planus.
  • A dermatoscope can be used to locate splinters and evaluate hair loss.

Risks and Contraindications

There are no risks or 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 simple, and painless, procedure.

Here's what to expect:

  • 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 have a 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.

Follow Up

If the dermoscopy reveals possible skin cancer, your dermatologist will do a biopsy procedure, which is the removal of a small sample of skin for microscopic examination. 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 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 this test or about your results, don't hesitate to ask your physician.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.