Understanding Fitzpatrick Skin Types And How To Protect Your Skin from UV Rays

What is Fitzpatrick Skin Types?   |   6 typs   |   Protect Your Skin   |   Bottom Line

If you’re looking to protect your skin from the harmful (ultraviolet radiation) UV rays of the sun, one of the best ways to do so is by understanding your Fitzpatrick skin type classification.

Unlike skin typing tests, which may focus on categorizing your skin by a specific shade, dryness/oiliness, or sensitivity, Fitzpatrick classification of skin typing is focused on a single thing – sun protection, and the risk of developing blemishes or even cancers due to UV rays exposure.

Understanding Fitzpatrick Skin Types And How To Protect Your Skin from UV Rays

What Is A Fitzpatrick Skin Type?

The Fitzpatrick skin type classification system was first developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick [1], as a way to classify different types and shades of skin, based on skin color, the overall level of skin pigmentation (melanin) and each skin type’s reaction to sun exposure.

This information is primarily used to predict your risk of developing sun damage – and, eventually, skin cancers such as melanoma.


What Are The Fitzpatrick Scale Categories?

The Fitzpatrick skin typing test was developed by interviewing a large number of people about their past reactions to the sun. Then, a number of trends were identified – and used to create six distinct groups. Here’s a description of each Fitzpatrick skin phototype [2].

Fitzpatrick skin type I

  • Before exposure to the sun, the natural skin color is ivory or porcelain-colored
  • Eye color is typically light blue, light gray, or light green
  • Hair color is red or light blonde
  • When exposed to the sun, the skin always develops freckles, burns blisters and peels, and it never “tans.”

Fitzpatrick skin type II

  • Fair skin or pale skin before exposure to the sun
  • Eye color is usually gray, green or blue
  • Natural hair colors are typically blonde
  • The skin reacts to the sun with freckling, peeling and burning, but maybe tan, in rare cases

Fitzpatrick skin type III

  • The skin is fair to beige in color before sun exposure, often with golden undertones
  • The eyes are hazel or light brown in color
  • Hair color is typically dark blonde or a light brown
  • The skin freckles with exposure to the sun. Burning is common with prolonged unprotected exposure, but the skin will also sometimes tan


Fitzpatrick skin type IV

  • Light brown skin color or olive skin color before sun exposure
  • Eye color is typically brown or dark brown
  • Natural hair coloration is dark brown
  • The sun causes minimal freckling to the skin. The skins rarely burn except in extreme cases of sun exposure, and tanning occurs easily

Fitzpatrick skin type V

  • The skin is dark brown or black color before sun exposure
  • Eye color is usually brown or black
  • Natural hair color is dark brown or black
  • The skin very rarely freckles, and burn rarely, and always tans very easily

Fitzpatrick skin type VI

  • Black skin before being exposed to the sun
  • Eye color is brownish-black
  • Natural hair color is black
  • The skin never freckles when exposed to the sun, never burns, and always tans darkly

Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale [2]

Note: that you may not meet every single characteristic of a single type. You might be a Fitzpatrick Type 2, but have brown eyes, rather than green, blue, or gray. That’s okay – just go with the one that describes you the most complete. These are just general guidelines.

What Does My Fitzpatrick Classification Mean? - Protect Your Skin

In broad strokes? The lower your Fitzpatrick number is, the more likely your skin is to be damaged by sun exposure – and the higher your risk of skin cancer. Those with high Fitzpatrick skin types could still be at risk of sun damage and cancer but have a much lower risk.

But let’s break things down further.

Fitzpatrick skin type 1-2

If you have one of these two skin types, you have extremely fair skin and have a very high risk of getting sun damage, dark spots or aging prematurely due to sun exposure. You also have a higher risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

To protect your skin, you should:

  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher rating
  • Seek the shade when you go outdoors during warm weather.
  • Wear broad-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses, and cover up your skin with protective clothing if you must be outside for extended periods of time. Wearing sun protection should always be a priority.
  • You should also check your skin for discoloration, lumps and moles, contact dermatitis, and any skin concern each month
  • Have an annual checkup with a dermatologist or doctor, particularly if you have used UV tanning beds or exposed yourself to a lot of sunlight in the past. You can find more information about skin cancer prevention from skin cancer foundations.


Fitzpatrick skin type 3-6

Those with higher Fitzpatrick skin typing ratings still have a risk of developing skin cancer. Even those who are type 6, and have extremely dark, skin with high levels of melanin can develop skin cancer. And, unfortunately, it’s often harder to diagnose skin cancer in African-Americans and others with dark skin at an early stage, according to the American Cancer Society.

In addition, excessive sun exposure can still cause blemishes, rough skin texture and skin imperfections, as well as premature aging with fine lines and wrinkles, even if you have a type 3-6 Fitzpatrick skin type.

To keep your skin healthy, you should:

  • Still, avoid using any kind of indoor tanning bed.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with SPF 15 sunscreen or higher when you’re outside for an extended period of time.
  • Limit your sun exposure when possible, and consider wearing lightweight, protective clothing like long-sleeve shirts when you’re outside for an extended period of time.

For all skin types, it is important to include a board spectrum sunscreen in your daily skincare routine. Also, it is necessary to use a good moisturizer and drink a good amount of water to avoid dehydrated skin.

Bottom Line

Know Your Fitzpatrick Classification of Skin – And Protect Your Skin From The Sun

As you can see, your Fitzpatrick classification scale does have an impact on how you should care for your skin. But, regardless of your result, you should still be taking the proper steps to protect your skin from sun-damaged skin and cancer, to keep your skin looking healthy and smooth for years to come.

References and Citations:
[1] Fitzpatrick, T. B. (1975). "Soleil et peau" [Sun and skin]. Journal de Médecine Esthétique (in French) (2): 33–34
[2] D'Orazio, John; Jarrett, Stuart; Amaro-Ortiz, Alexandra; Scott, Timothy (7 June 2013). "UV Radiation and the Skin". International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 14 (6): 12222–12248.

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