Written by: Melissa Miller
What is the Fitzpatrick skin scale and why is it important?
The Fitzpatrick scale is a numerical classification system for human skin color. It was developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick as a way to estimate the response of different types of skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. The Fitzpatrick scale remains a recognized tool for dermatological research into human skin pigmentation.
The Fitzpatrick scale allows dermatologists to make an assessment of skin cancer risk but it’s also useful for assessing the risk of premature skin ageing due to the sun, and for estimating the safe dose of UV light in patients receiving laser therapies such as laser hair removal or scar treatments. It can also be helpful when doing cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels.
What are the Fitzpatrick skin types?
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
- 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): deeply pigmented dark brown to darkest brown
- eye color: brownish black
- natural hair color: black
- sun reaction: never freckles, never burns, and always tans darkly
What your skin type can tell you
Knowing your Fitzpatrick skin type can help you make better decisions about how to look after your skin in the sun. Knowing your Fitzpatrick is also important in evaluating your risk for skin cancer. Multiple sunburns have been linked to the development of skin cancer.
Those with type 1 to 3 skin are at higher risk of developing skin cancer than those with type 5 to 6 skin. Melanin in the skin absorbs and scatters energy from UV light to protect skin cells from damage. Skin types with less pigmentation have less melanin and therefore less protection against harmful sun rays. Type I – III have the highest risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers and sun damage.