What Are the Fitzpatrick Skin Types?

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, APRN on July 24, 2017Written by Marjorie Hecht

About the Fitzpatrick scale

If you've ever tried to match foundation or concealer to your skin, you know just how tricky skin typing can be. Enter Fitzpatrick skin typing, a scientific skin type classification. Though this form of skin typing won’t help you find your perfect shade, it can tell you just how much shade you should get on sunny days.

Developed in 1975, the system classifies skin type according to the amount of pigment your skin has and your skin's reaction to sun exposure. This information can help predict your overall risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

Once you know your risk level, you can arm yourself with the tools you need to protect your skin. Read on to learn your Fitzpatrick skin type, what sun protection you should use, and more.

What are the different skin types?

This classification is semi-subjective, as it was developed by interviewing people about their past sun reactions. After picking out distinct trends, the creator identified six groups. It’s possible that you won’t meet all of the characteristics of any one type, so you should go with the one that best describes you.

Fitzpatrick skin type 1

  • skin color (before sun exposure): ivory
  • eye color: light blue, light gray, or light green
  • natural hair color: red or light blonde
  • sun reaction: skin always freckles, always burns and peels, and never tans

Fitzpatrick skin type 2

  • skin color (before sun exposure): fair or pale
  • eye color: blue, gray, or green
  • natural hair color: blonde
  • sun reaction: skin usually freckles, burns and peels often, and rarely tans

Fitzpatrick skin type 3

  • skin color (before sun exposure): fair to beige, with golden undertones
  • eye color: hazel or light brown
  • natural hair color: dark blonde or light brown
  • sun reaction: skin might freckle, burns on occasion, and sometimes tans

Fitzpatrick skin type 4

  • skin color (before sun exposure): olive or light brown
  • eye color: dark brown
  • natural hair color: dark brown
  • sun reaction: doesn’t really freckle, burns rarely, and tans often

Fitzpatrick skin type 5

  • skin color (before sun exposure): dark brown or black
  • eye color: dark brown to black
  • natural hair color: dark brown to black
  • sun reaction: rarely freckles, almost never burns, and always tans

Fitzpatrick skin type 6

  • skin color (before sun exposure): black
  • eye color: brownish black
  • natural hair color: black
  • sun reaction: never freckles, never burns, and always tans darkly

What your skin type means for you

Tanning beds and other artificial tanning machines are harmful for everyone, regardless of skin type. Some research suggests that people who use tanning machines before age 35 years are 75 times more likely to develop melanoma in their lifetime.

Your risk of sun damage is also higher if you live near the equator. The closer to the equator you are, the more intense the sun’s rays are, so being vigilant about sun protection is crucial.

Everyone should apply sunscreen daily to receive maximum protection. Here’s what else you should know about your skin and how to protect it based on your skin type.

Types 1 and 2

If your skin type is 1 or 2, you have a high risk of:

You should follow these tips to protect your skin:

  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater.
  • Limit your sun exposure and seek shade whenever you’re out in the sun.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your head and face.
  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Wear protective clothing with a UPF rating of 30 or higher if you plan to be in direct sunlight for extended periods.
  • Check your skin from head to toe each month.
  • Have an annual skin checkup with a doctor.

Types 3 to 6

If your skin is type 3 to 6, you still have some risk of skin cancer from sun exposure, especially if you’ve used an indoor tanning bed. You should still use sun protection even though your risk is lower than people’s with type 1 or 2 skin.

The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that African-Americans who have been diagnosed with melanoma usually are often diagnosed at a later stage, contributing to a poorer overall outlook.

For maximum protection, you should follow these tips:

  • Limit your sun exposure.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your head and face.
  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Wear protective clothing if you plan to be in direct sunlight for extended periods.
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater.
  • Check your skin from head to toe each month. Pay careful attention to any strange growths. Acral lentiginous melanoma is the dominant form of melanoma among darker-skinned people. It appears on parts of the body not often exposed to the sun. It’s often undetected until after the cancer has spread, so make sure you check all areas of your body.
  • Have an annual skin checkup with a doctor.

When to get screened

If you're at an increased risk of skin cancer, you should have regular skin exams. Talk to your doctor about how often you should come in for a screening. Depending on your individual needs, skin screening could be more frequent than your annual checkup.

People at increased risk of skin cancer include those who have:

  • personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2
  • a compromised immune system

You can also talk to your doctor about how and when you should do your own skin checks.

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