During a skin biopsy, your dermatologist removes a small sample of skin. If you’ve just had a skin biopsy, proper aftercare is essential. Caring for your wound can prevent infection and other complications. It can also speed up healing and reduce scarring.
To help you with aftercare, we asked two board-certified dermatologists to explain the dos and don’ts. Here are the steps they recommend:
The day after your skin biopsy
At-home wound care starts the day after you’ve had a skin biopsy. While your dermatologist’s instructions may vary a bit, these are the basic steps you’ll follow:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Rub your hands together until you see a lather. Then wash the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Remove the bandage gently. Avoid touching the wound with your hands. Even after washing your hands, germs from your hands could end up on your wound.
- Clean your wound. Gently wash the wound and surrounding skin with mild soap and water. It’s important that the soap be mild. Fragrance-free also helps. You don’t want to use an antibacterial or deodorant soap.
- Rinse thoroughly. Gently let the water run over the wound. You want to thoroughly rinse away the soap.
- Pat the wound and the skin around the wound dry with a clean washcloth. You’ll need to apply a new bandage, so you want the area to be dry.
- Using petroleum jelly that comes in a squeeze tube, squeeze out enough to cover your wound. Gently apply the petroleum jelly to the wound. This will keep the wound moist. A moist wound heals faster.
- Cover the wound with an adhesive bandage or sterile gauze and paper tape. Moist, covered wounds heal faster.
- Repeat the above steps every day for as long as your dermatologist recommends. Most wounds from a skin biopsy heal in 7 to 10 days. Biopsies in certain areas such as the lower legs usually take longer to heal.
If you have stitches, continue to repeat the above steps until your dermatologist removes your stitches and tells you to stop caring for your wound.
What to do when a skin biopsy wound itches
As skin heals, it may itch. There are other reasons your wound may itch, which you can remedy:
- Wound is dry: When you remove the bandage, does the wound look dry? To fix this problem, Dr. Gohara says, “Add a thicker layer of petroleum jelly to the wound.” If you haven’t been keeping the wound moist, start. Keeping the wound moist helps heal the wound and avoid itchy skin.
- Allergic reaction or irritated skin: Itchy skin can also be a sign that you’ve developed an allergic reaction or irritated your skin. Here are a few things that you can try right away:
- If your skin itches and you’re using adhesive bandages, stop. Start using a non-stick pad and paper tape to cover the wound.
- If you’re using an antibiotic ointment, which isn’t recommended, stop. You may have developed an allergic reaction to the antibiotic ointment. Start using petroleum jelly instead.
Bleeding, pain, infection, and when to call your dermatologist
After having a skin biopsy, you may have swelling, redness, or bruising on or around the wound. You may also have some discomfort. These will go away in a few days.
If you notice any of the following, here’s what to do:
Bleeding: If the wound starts bleeding, Dr. Stone says:
- Apply firm and steady pressure for 20 minutes, using a sterile gauze pad. Keep applying the pressure for 20 minutes continuously. Don’t stop to see if the wound is still bleeding or to change gauze pads.
- If the wound is still bleeding after 20 minutes, call your dermatologist’s office. This is essential if you’re taking a medication that can thin your blood, also known as an anticoagulant, like warfarin.
Pain: You may have some discomfort after a skin biopsy.
If you’re in pain, you can take acetaminophen.
Another option is to place an ice pack over the bandage. The ice pack can help relieve any swelling that may be causing discomfort.
If the pain worsens, call your dermatologist’s office.
Infection: Worsening pain, increased swelling, warmth, drainage with pus, yellow or golden crusts, or fever are signs of an infection. If you develop any of these, call your dermatologist’s office right away.
After your wound heals, think sun protection
To protect your skin from the sun:
- Apply sunscreen to the area where you had the skin biopsy and to all skin that clothing won’t cover. Apply lip balm to your lips. Use sunscreen and lip balm that offer broad-spectrum protection, water resistance, and an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Cover the area where you had a skin biopsy with clothing — or protect it with a wide-brimmed hat or shoes. When selecting clothing, choose fabrics that you cannot see through when you hold them up to a bright light. Another option is to wear UPF clothing.
Skin biopsy: A safe and effective procedure
Dermatologists perform thousands of skin biopsies every year. When patients follow their dermatologist’s aftercare instructions, most wounds heal without a problem.