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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.

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:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Porphyria (an inherited disorder that causes rashes, blistering, and scarring of the skin)
  • Skin coloring changes, such as vitiligo and some skin cancers

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:

  • Washing your skin before the test (may cause a false-negative result)
  • A room that is not dark enough
  • Other materials that glow under the light, such as some deodorants, make-up, soaps, and sometimes lint

Risks

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

References

Habif TP. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 19.

Spates ST. Diagnostic techniques. In: Fitzpatrick JE, Morelli JG, eds. Dermatology Secrets Plus. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 3.

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    • Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

      Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

      illustration

    • Wood's lamp illumination

      Wood's lamp illumination

      illustration

      • Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

        Wood's lamp test - of the scalp

        illustration

      • Wood's lamp illumination

        Wood's lamp illumination

        illustration

      Tests for Wood lamp examination

       
       

      Review Date: 10/14/2018

      Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. 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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