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Wood lamp examination

Black light test; Ultraviolet light test

A Wood lamp examination is a test that uses ultraviolet (UV) light to look at the skin closely.

Images

Wood's lamp test - of the scalp
Wood's lamp illumination

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How the Test Is Performed

You sit in a dark room for this test. The test is usually done in a skin doctor's (dermatologist's) office. The doctor will turn on the Wood lamp and hold it 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 centimeters) from the skin to look for color changes.

How to Prepare for the Test

You do not need to take any special steps before this test. Follow your doctor's instructions about not putting creams or medicines on the area of the skin before the test.

How the Test will Feel

You will have no discomfort during this test.

Why the Test Is Performed

This test is done to look for skin problems including:

Not all types of bacteria and fungi show up under the light.

Normal Results

Normally the skin will not shine under the ultraviolet light.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A Wood lamp exam may help your doctor confirm a fungal or bacterial infection or diagnose vitiligo. Your doctor may also be able to learn what is causing any light- or dark-colored spots on your skin.

The following things can change the results of the test:

Risks

DO NOT look directly into the ultraviolet light, as the light may harm the eye.

Related Information

Porphyria
Ringworm of the scalp

References

Dinulos JGH. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 19.

Spates ST. Diagnostic techniques. In: High WA, Prok LD, eds. Dermatology Secrets. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 3.

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Review Date: 11/4/2020  

Reviewed By: Elika Hoss, MD, Senior Associate Consultant, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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