In 1975, Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School developed a classification system for skin typing. This system was based on a person’s complexion and responses to sun exposure. Today, this classification system is used by practitioners to identify patients who may be at increased risk for developing problems, such as skin discoloration (dyschromia) and darkening or lightening of areas of the skin (hyper- or hypopigmentation), following certain skin rejuvenation procedures.
Skin type is often categorized according to the Fitzpatrick skin type scale, which ranges from very fair (skin type I) to very dark (skin type VI). The two main factors that influence skin type and the treatment programme devised by practitioners are:
- Genetic disposition
- Reaction to sun exposure and tanning habits
Skin type is determined genetically and is one of the many aspects of your overall appearance, which also includes the colour of eyes, hair, etc. The way skin reacts to sun exposure is another important factor in correctly assessing skin types. Recent tanning (sun bathing, artificial tanning or tanning creams) has a major impact on the evaluation of your skin colour.
The Fitzpatrick Skin-Type Chart
You can use this skin-type form for self-assessment, answer each of the questions and at the end one of the six skin-type categories will be displayed in response with an explanation.
What is the colour of your eyes?
What is the natural colour of your hair?
What is the colour of your skin
(non exposed areas)?
Do you have freckles on unexposed areas?
When did you last expose your body to sun
(or artificial sunlamp/tanning cream)?
Did you expose the area to be treated to the sun?
Reaction to Sun Exposure
What happens when you stay in the sun too long?
To what degree do you turn brown?
Do you turn brown within several hours after sun exposure?
How does your face react to the sun?
Your Skin Type Score – Fitzpatrick Skin Type
- Type I – Highly sensitive, always burn, never tan. Example: Light-eyed, fair-skinned, natural blond, Red hair with freckles
- Type II – Very sun sensitive, usually burn, sometimes tan. Example: Fair skinned, fair haired Caucasians
- Type III – Sun sensitive skin, sometimes burn, always tan. Example: Darker Caucasians, Olive coloured skin
- Type IV – Minimally sun sensitive, rarely burn, always tan. Example: Mediterranean type Caucasians
- Type V – Sun insensitive skin, very rarely burns, tans well. Example: Some Hispanics, some Blacks
- Type VI – Sun insensitive, never burns, deeply pigmented. Example: Darker Blacks, African and southern Indian persons
Your skin type is an important factor used by your practitioner to help determine which cosmetic procedure, or combination of treatments, is best for you. In general, skin types I-III have a lower risk for problems (e.g., skin discoloration, blotchiness, darkening or lightening of the skin [hyper- and hypopigmentation], burns, scarring) following cosmetic skin treatments and skin types IV-VI have a higher risk.
Other factors to be considered include the following:
- Age of the patient
- Area of skin to be treated
- Level of skin damage (e.g., mild, moderate, severe; often caused by sun exposure)
- Treatment goals (e.g., reduce fine lines, wrinkles, skin discoloration)