A dermatoscope is a hand-held visual aid device a doctor or person can use to examine and diagnose skin lesions and diseases, such as melanoma. It can also help a person examine the scalp, hair, and nails.

A dermatoscope is a common feature at a dermatologist’s office.

This article discusses what a dermatoscope does and what a person can see using one.

a doctor is holding a dermatoscope to examine a person's skinShare on Pinterest
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A dermatoscope is a hand-held imaging device doctors use to examine a person’s skin, hair, or nails.

It can help diagnose certain conditions because it can show extra detail.


Dermatoscopes use light and magnification to help a dermatologist see how a person’s skin looks in more detail.

Dermatoscopes help show details in the outer layer of skin that would not be visible to the naked eye.


Since dermatoscopes can enhance a doctor’s view of the skin, they can aid in the diagnosis of skin conditions, such as melanoma.

In one 2018 review, researchers found that using a dermatoscope was more effective in diagnosing melanoma than a simple visual inspection of a skin lesion.

One 2019 review found that a dermoscopy, a method that uses a dermatoscope, can be effective in diagnosing cancerous and noncancerous skin lesions.

A dermatoscope is a hand-held device. It features a light source and a magnifier and works a little like a magnifying glass.


According to a 2015 study, a traditional dermatoscope magnifies the view of the skin by 10 times. Video dermatoscopes can increase this to around 70–100 times.


The light on the dermatoscope helps illuminate the skin in a special way, allowing a doctor to examine lesions without the light bouncing off of dry or oily skin, which would make it more difficult to see.


Dermatoscopes can also take pictures as people use them. Doctors may examine these photos later.

When a doctor uses a dermatoscope to examine a person’s skin, the procedure is called a dermatoscopy.

First, a doctor will apply some gel, alcohol, or water to a person’s skin.

Next, a doctor will typically turn on the light on the device and hold the device’s lens over the area of skin they are examining. It will not hurt.

Sometimes, it will be necessary for the doctor to gently touch the skin with the dermatoscope.

The device will provide light and magnification so the doctor can examine areas of interest or concern on the skin, such as a lesion. A doctor may also take photos of the area.

After a dermatoscopy

According to Cancer Research UK, a doctor may take the following steps after a dermatoscopy:

  • Removal: Doctors may remove a lesion in a procedure called a biopsy. This can also help with diagnosis.
  • Monitoring: Doctors may choose to wait and monitor a lesion to see if it changes. They may ask a person to return for further examination after 3 months.
  • Reassurance: Doctors will reassure a person if their lesion is harmless. They may recommend that a person monitor the lesion if they are still worried.

A dermatoscope greatly magnifies the outer layers of the skin. Doctors can use them to look for colors, patterns, or shapes that can help distinguish and diagnose various skin conditions.

Skin lesions

One 2019 review looked at how dermatoscopes can help with diagnosing several different cancerous and noncancerous skin lesions.

A doctor may use the dermatoscope to identify potentially cancerous lesions, including:

Learn more about types of skin cancer here.

They can also examine non-cancerous lesions, such as:

Sometimes, a doctor may use a dermatoscope to look at conditions that do not involve lesions at all, such as:

Each condition will look slightly different under the dermatoscope lens.

A dermatologist or other doctor can often distinguish between the conditions based on how they appear under magnification.


According to a 2020 study, doctors can use dermatoscopes to examine patients with alopecia areata and other types of hair loss.

Doctors use a dermatoscope to examine the scalp, looking for:

  • black dots
  • hairs that look like an exclamation mark
  • broken hairs
  • yellow dots
  • clustered short hairs

Doctors can use this information to diagnose alopecia and evaluate whether treatment is working or not.

Learn about the symptoms of alopecia areata here.


Doctors can also use a dermatoscope to examine people with vitiligo.

Certain patterns and colors in the lesions that come from vitiligo show doctors whether the condition is stable or whether the disease is progressing.

According to a 2018 Cochrane review, dermatoscopes are more accurate in diagnosing melanomas than the naked eye alone when utilized by a trained professional. This is crucial as it can save a person time and potentially prevent them from undergoing surgery unnecessarily.

A 2019 review adds that a doctor can use a dermatoscope combined with examining other factors to accurately diagnose melanomas. These other factors include:

  • medical history
  • age
  • family history

A doctor can perform a biopsy if the diagnosis is still not clear.

Factors that can affect accuracy

Although dermatoscopes can give considerable benefits to a doctor as opposed to the naked eye, there are some factors that may affect their accuracy:

Unclean skin

A doctor should not use a dermatoscope on a person’s skin or hair, especially on their face, without cleaning the surface thoroughly with alcohol first. If they do not, the dermatoscope may produce inaccurate images.

Items on the skin or hair that could affect diagnosis include:

  • makeup
  • hair dye
  • henna
  • dust
  • sunscreen

Darker skin tones

Some conditions may be easier to diagnose in lighter skin tones.

Some features of conditions are hidden or invisible in darker skin tones. For example, doctors often look for black, brown, gray, and blue colors when examining skin lesions. These colors may not show up as clearly on darker skin.

However, this discrepancy may also be due to the large amounts of research on skin lesions that have only involved lighter skin tones.

Doctors should make sure to carefully interpret results from darker skin tones.

Learn about skin cancer on black skin here.

Differing types of dermatoscope

Some dermatoscopes may have light features that work in a different way, or give off a different color light, than others.

Doctors may get varying results if they use different dermatoscopes to examine the skin.

Dermatoscopes can range vastly in quality. High-quality dermatoscopes, usually in research centers, will give clearer images than low-quality ones.

According to one 2016 study, there are three main types of dermatoscopes. They include:

  • Hand-held dermatoscope: This type of dermatoscope is a simple hand-held device with a built-in light. They can magnify images by about 10–20 times. They do not connect to a monitor.
  • Dermatoscope connected to a camera: These dermatoscopes allow photos to be taken of the skin for later examination.
  • Dermatoscope connected to a viewing device: This type of dermatoscope allows for pictures, video, and shared viewing with doctors and patients during the examination.

At-home devices

Over-the-counter dermatoscopes are available for purchase.

However, a person should not be examining their skin at home as they may not be qualified to properly understand what they are seeing.

Dermatoscopes for home use can also be of lower quality than those designed for clinical use.

For these reasons, a person should always consult their doctor if they suspect they have changes in their skin. A person should have a skin check with a dermatologist every year.

When performing self checks for melanomas, a person can use the ABCDE method to review the appearance of any moles or other areas of concern.

Find out more about the ABCDE method here.

Dermatoscopes are hand-held devices that allow a doctor or person to see an area of the skin much better than by looking with an unaided eye.

The instruments can help a doctor diagnose and distinguish between different lesions found on the skin. They can be helpful in the diagnosis of cancers, such as melanoma. A doctor can also use them to examine the hair and nails.

There are simple models available as well as ones that can connect to cameras or monitoring equipment.