Atypical fibroxanthoma is a bizarre, cytologically malignant but usually clinically benign, lesion which typically arises in sun-damaged skin of the head and neck region in the elderly. Classically, its morphology is said to represent the dermal counterpart of pleomorphic malignant fibrous histiocytoma. We have identified 10 cases of a more monomorphic spindle-celled, fascicular variant which, paradoxically, was often mistaken for a clinically malignant lesion because it lacked the pleomorphism of conventional atypical fibroxanthoma. These tumours all arose in the head and neck region as polypoid lesions in the elderly. The tumours were confined to the dermis, often had an epidermal collarette, showed an eosinophilic fascicular morphology and were highly mitotic. All 10 were vimentin positive and five showed very focal actin positivity. Desmin, keratin and S-100 protein were negative in all cases. The clinical course was benign in all cases, justifying their accurate recognition. The principal differential diagnoses are spindle cell squamous carcinoma, spindle cell melanoma and leiomyosarcoma. Immunohistochemistry plays a key role in this distinction.