Skin Color Influences Transcutaneous Bilirubin Measurements: A Systematic in Vitro Evaluation - Pediatric Research

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Concerns have been raised about the effect of skin color on the accuracy of transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) measurements, a widely used method for hyperbilirubinemia diagnosis in newborns. Literature is inconclusive, with both reported under- and overestimations of the TcB with increasing skin pigmentation. Therefore, the influence of skin color on TcB measurements was systematically evaluated in a controlled, in vitro setting.


A bilirubin meter (JM-105) was evaluated on layered phantoms that mimic neonatal skin with varying dermal bilirubin concentrations (0–250 µmol/L) and varying epidermal melanosome volume fractions (0–40%; light-dark skin color).


TcB measurements were influenced by skin pigmentation. Larger mimicked melanosome volume fractions and higher bilirubin levels led to larger underestimations of the measured TcB, compared to an unpigmented epidermis. In the in vitro setting of this study, these underestimations amounted to 26–132 µmol/L at a TcB level of 250 µmol/L.


This in vitro study provides insight into the effect of skin color on TcB measurements: the TcB is underestimated as skin pigmentation increases and this effect becomes more pronounced at higher bilirubin levels. Our results highlight the need for improved TcB meter design and cautious interpretation of TcB readings on newborns with dark skin.


  • Key message: Skin color influences transcutaneous bilirubin measurements: the darker the skin, the larger the underestimation.

  • What this study adds to existing literature: Existing literature is inconclusive regarding the influence of skin color on transcutaneous bilirubin measurements. This study systematically evaluates and clarifies the influence of skin color on transcutaneous bilirubin measurements in a controlled, in vitro setting.

  • Impact: This study aids to better interpret the measured TcB level in patients with varying skin colors, and is particularly important when using TcB meters on patients with dark skin colors.

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