The Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale is a popular skin type classification system. It measures the skin’s tolerance to sunlight – specifically, the skin’s tendency to tan or burn.
The Fitzpatrick Scale is used by dermatologists, estheticians, and scientists to determine potential reactions to products or treatment procedures.
There are 6 Fitzpatrick skin types. The chart below shows those 6 types along with three additional characteristics of skin: Skin Cancer risk, Hyperpigmentation risk, and Scarring risk.
Can you identify which type you are?
Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale
|Skin Type||Skin Color||Reaction to Sun||Skin Cancer||Pigmentation||Scarring|
|I||Very fair skin, white; red or blond hair; light-colored eyes; freckles likely||Always burns, never tans||High risk for skin cancer|
|II||Fair skin, white; light eyes; light hair||Burns easily, tans with difficulty||High risk for skin cancer|
|III||Fair skin, cream white; any eye or hair color (very common skin type)||Sometimes burns, gradually tans||Moderate risk for skin cancer||May have some risk for pigmentation, depending on racial background||May have some risk for scarring, depending on racial background|
|IV||Olive skin, typical Mediterranean Caucasian skin; dark brown hair; medium to heavy pigmentation||Rarely burns, gradually tans||High risk of hyper/hypo pigmentation||High risk for scarring|
|V||Brown skin, typical Middle Eastern skin; dark hair; rarely sun sensitive||Tans||High risk of hyper/hypo pigmentation||High risk for scarring|
|VI||Black skin; rarely sun sensitive||Tans easily||Very high risk of hyper/hypo pigmentation||Very high risk for scarring|
Readers with DARKER SKIN TONES (Fitzpatrick Types 3-6) including:
- Asian skin
- Black skin
- Hispanic skin
- Indian skin
- Middle Eastern skin
- Native American skin
- mixed race/ multi-ethnic skin
I’d like to draw your attention to 2 risks.
1. HYPERPIGMENTATION RISK
Your skin is very vulnerable to hyperpigmentation (dark spots, dark patches, or other discolorations) induced by the sun.
You are especially vulnerable to post-inflammatory pigmentation from these kinds of situations:
- a healing pimple or cyst (i.e. acne scar)
- a wound or injury to skin
- an area that was irritated or inflamed
- after a chemical peel with a strong Alpha Hydroxy Acid
- using Retinoic acid (tretinoin) – retinol is a safer alternative (see forms of Vitamin A)
- a lightening treatment that uses Hydroquinone
- laser or IPL treatment
Therefore, you must be extra vigilant about wearing sunscreen when you are in the sun, and especially if you are healing from a wound. Post-inflammatory pigmentation is difficult to treat, and it takes a while to fade.
2. SCARRING RISK
You have a high risk of scarring from treatments or trauma (wounds). The scar can get discolored and/or become larger or raised.
Therefore, whenever you get a wound, take extra care to keep that wound moist while it’s healing. If it gets dried out while healing, the skin will scar more easily.
Antibacterial ointment (e.g. bacitracin, neosporin, etc.) or petroleum jelly will keep the wound moist and sticky. It decreases the chance of hypertrophic scarring, which is excess scar tissue, or a keloid scar (a type of raised scar).
You can see an example of a hypertrophic scar on me.
Limitations of the Fitzpatrick Scale
The chart above may seem dated in its lack of inclusion of certain races. The Fitzpatrick Scale was developed in 1975 by Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, a Harvard University dermatologist. Our society has changed quite a bit since then.
One of the challenges of skin typing is that we are becoming increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic. Therefore, the color of our skin alone cannot determine reactivity to products. For example, we typically associate sensitive skin with very fair, thin, delicate skin. But black skin can be sensitive too. What happens to skin if it is multi-racial? It certainly makes it more challenging to correctly predict how skin will respond.
Nevertheless, the Fitzpatrick Scale is still a useful tool for predicting how skin will react to the sun. The color of your skin is correlated with the amount of melanin in your skin. The more melanin you have, the more inherent protection you have against UV radiation, and the less likely you are to burn.