Histology stains

Author: Brian Wu PhD. MD Candidate, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, USA; Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, July 2015.

What are histology stains?

Histology and histopathology of biopsy samples are important in the diagnosis of skin conditions. They are frequently used in the detection and diagnosis of skin cancer.

Histology stains are used to colour different structures within the cells.

Tissue processing

Before staining a slide, the tissue has to be prepared and mounted onto a glass slide.

The paraffin technique is the most common way to prepare a histological slide, and follows the following steps:

Other common histological techniques include

What are some types of histological stains?

Some of the most common types of stains include:

H&E stain

This is the most frequently used combination for general staining of skin samples, and is especially useful in the diagnosis and classification of cancer

Mucin stains

Mucin stains are best for the detection and dyeing of mucopolysaccharides. Examples of mucin stains include:

Melanin stains

Melanin stains, as the name implies, are used for dyeing melanin and are commonly used in the diagnosis of melanoma. One common example of a melanin stain is the Fontana-Masson.

Trichrome stains

Trichrome stains use a combination of three different dyes to achieve their effect. These are specifically used to dye lipids. Common trichrome stains include

What are some common histological stains?

The table below gives examples of different histological stains.

Name of StainColour(s) and other notesExample
Alcian blue Blue; common mucin stain
Image is pretibial myxoedema
Pretibial myxoedema: alcian blue stain on pathology
Aldehyde fuschin Purple/black; used to stain beta cells in the pancreas  
Alkaline phosphatase Red/blue; used for endothelial tissue  
Bielshowsky stain Black; used for neural plaques and tangles  
Congo red Red; common for staining amyloid fibers
Image is cutaneous amyloid
Congo red stain in cutaneous amyloid
Crystal violet Violet; is able to stain glia and neurons  
Eosin Pink/orange/red; common for general staining when combined with haematoxyln
Image is of normal skin
Normal skin pathology with haematoxylin and eosin stain
Fontana-Masson Black/pink or red; stains melanin  
Giemsa Blue/violet/pink; common used in blood or bone marrow smears  
Haematoxyln Blue/purple; common for general staining when combined with eosin
Image is of normal skin
Normal skin pathology with haematoxylin and eosin stain
Luna stain Purple/black; can stain mast cells and elastin  
Nissl Blue; stains the rough endoplasmic reticulum in neurons  
Period Acid Schiff (PAS) Red/magenta; used to stain glycogen, basement membranes, reticular fibers, cartilage
Image shows superficial fungal elements due to candida infection
PAS stain reveals superficial fungal elements due to candida infection
Red Oil 3 Red; used to stain fat emboli  
Reticulin stain Blue/black; stains reticular fibers  
Sudan black Brown-black; stains myelin tissue  
Toluidine blue Blue; stains mast cell granules
Image is of urticaria pigmentosa
Toluidine blue stains mast cells purple in urticaria pigmentosa
van Gieson Red/blue/yellow; used to study blood vessels and skin, can stain collagen, nucleus, red blood cells, cytoplasm
Image is of elastosis perforans serpiginosa
van Gieson stain in elastosis perforans serpiginosa

What are the advantages and disadvantages of conventional histology?

The advantages of histology and histological staining are:

The disadvantages of histology and histological staining include:

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