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What is Dermatoscopy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dermatoscopy is a procedure in which skin lesions are examined in situ, meaning right where they are on the patient, with the assistance of a device known as a dermatoscope. This technique is primarily used by dermatologists, doctors who specialize in the treatment of skin diseases. A dermatoscopy session is non-invasive and painless, and can be conducted as an outpatient procedure.

This technique is also referred to as skin surface microscopy or epiluminescence microscopy. The dermatoscope has a magnifying lens along with a light source which provides epiluminescence, bouncing light off the skin to assist with magnification. This light source may be polarized to prevent glare.

Using this instrument, the doctor has the ability to magnify a skin lesion up to 10 times for close inspection. This allows the doctor to identify small details in its structure, to find the margins of the lesion, and to take note of the surrounding vasculature, the network of veins which supplies blood to the area. A dermatoscope can be attached to a camera to take pictures of the lesion, and dermatoscopy can also be recorded on video. This data can be used in future visits to determine whether or not a suspicious lesion is growing or changing.

Dermatoscopy can be used to investigate skin lesions of all kinds. It is commonly employed when a doctor wishes to rule out the possibility of a malignancy. A well trained dermatologist with a great deal of dermatoscopy experience can determine whether or not a lesion is harmful. It can also be used to thoroughly examine lesions before procedures for the purpose of preparing and for confirming that the margins of a lesion have been removed after a procedure like an excision.

Sometimes a dermatologist can learn all there is to know about a lesion of the skin with a quick visual exam with the naked eye. In other cases, however, dermatoscopy can be a helpful tool to confirm a diagnosis or to provide additional information which may be important to have when making treatment recommendations. This close inspection may, for example, reveal the need for an excision and biopsy.

Not all dermatologists use dermatoscopes, and physicians have different approaches to when and how this procedure is used in their practices. Patients can always ask if it is an available option if they are interested in a less invasive method of clinical evaluation than a biopsy, but it may not necessarily be an available choice.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By starrynight — On Aug 04, 2011

@KaBoom - I think everyone gets a little nervous when they have to have medical procedures done. Mole removal is a really good idea though - I read somewhere that most skin cancers develop in moles that are already present.

In fact, a good friend of mine had skin cancer a few years ago. She had to have some lesions removed and I'm pretty sure she had a dermatoscopy at some point too.

By KaBoom — On Aug 03, 2011

I had a few moles removed last year and my dermatologist performed a dermatoscopy first. I was hoping he would say he didn't think the moles needed to be removed after all, but after performed the dermatoscopy he still recommended their removal.

The actual removal procedure didn't hurt either, and the moles weren't malignant. I'm glad I had it done, but I was really nervous about it at the time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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