Assessing the metabolic activity of a tissue, whether normal, damaged, aged, or pathologic, is useful for diagnosis and evaluating the effects of drugs. This report describes a handheld optical fiber probe that contacts the skin, applies pressure to blanch the superficial vascular plexus of the skin, then releases the pressure to allow refill of the plexus. The optical probe uses white light spectroscopy to record the time dynamics of blanching and refilling. The magnitude and dynamics of changes in blood content and hemoglobin oxygen saturation yield an estimate of the oxygen consumption rate (OCR) in units of attomoles per cell per second. The average value of OCR on nine forearm sites on five subjects was 10±5 (amol/cell/s). This low-cost, portable, rapid, noninvasive optical probe can characterize the OCR of a skin site to assess the metabolic activity of the epidermis or a superficial lesion.