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Skin Biopsy


A skin biopsy is a procedure where a small piece of abnormal skin is removed for testing. There are 3 main types of skin biopsies:

  • Shave biopsy—outer part of affected area is removed
  • Punch biopsy—a small cylinder of skin is removed using a punch tool
  • Excisional biopsy—an entire area of abnormal skin is removed
Punch Biopsy
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Reasons for Procedure

A skin biopsy is used to test an area of abnormal skin. If possible, the entire area will be removed during the biopsy. A skin biopsy may be done to diagnose:

  • Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
  • Inflammatory skin disorders, such as psoriasis
  • Skin cancer or benign skin growths

Skin biopsy may also be done to:

  • Make sure a tumor was completely removed—by testing remaining skin
  • Monitor the effect of a treatment

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Poor wound healing
  • Scarring
  • Nerve damage

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Smoking
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Circulatory problems

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

No special preparation is needed for this procedure.


Local anesthesia may be used. It will numb the area being treated.

Description of the Procedure

The involved area will be prepared. The skin will be cleaned. Medication will be applied to the skin or injected to numb the area. The exact steps will depend on the type of biopsy:

  • Shave biopsy—A thin slice of the skin will be removed. It is done with a special razor that shaves off a piece of skin.
  • Punch biopsy—A special tool is used. The tip of the tool is pushed into your skin. As it is pushed down, the tool will be rotated into the skin. A circular sample of skin will then be cut free. This biopsy provides a sample from all of the layers of the skin. Stitches may be needed to close the hole.
  • Excision biopsy—The entire area of abnormal skin will be removed with a scalpel. This biopsy will make a larger and deeper hole in the skin. Stitches will be placed to close the hole left in the skin.

After the procedure, a clean dressing will be placed over the area.

How Long Will It Take?

5-20 minutes

Will It Hurt?

There may be some pain and discomfort after the procedure. Medication may be advised to reduce discomfort. .

Post-procedure Care

Keep the biopsy area clean and dry. Keep it covered with a sterile bandage for 1-2 days. Stitches will be left in the skin for 3-14 days, depending on where they are located. The area will need to be cleaned to prevent infection. Do not get the area wet unless the doctor says it is okay to do so.

Call Your Doctor

After arriving home, contact the doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the incision site
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medications you were given
  • New or unexpected symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

Revision Information

  • American Society for Dermatologic Surgery

  • National Cancer Institute

  • Canadian Cancer Society

  • Canadian Dermatology Association

  • Pickett H. Shave and punch biopsy for skin lesions. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(9):995-1002.

  • Skin biopsy. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: Updated July 2012. Accessed February 25, 2015.

  • Skin biopsy. DermNet NZ website. Available at: Updated December 13, 2014. Accessed February 25, 2015.

  • 6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.