What is Fitzpatrick skin type? Understanding skin color classification

Fitzpatrick skin type system classified skin into six types. (Image via Unsplash/ Desiree Fawn)
Fitzpatrick skin type system classified skin into six types. (Image via Unsplash/ Desiree Fawn)

The Fitzpatrick skin type system classifies the skin under six categories based on sun exposure and its reaction to the skin.

Thomas Fitzpatrick, a dermatologist at Harvard Medical School, created the Fitzpatrick scale in 1975 to categorize a person's complexion in relation to their tolerance for sunshine. Today, many health professionals use it to predict a patient's reaction to facial treatments.

The scale was also used by professionals to estimate a person's risk of developing skin cancer. Fitzpatrick initially categorized three skin types based on a person's skin and eye color to assess how much UV therapy can be used to treat skin conditions without causing phototoxicity, or UV light sensitivity.

Fair-skinned individuals participated in Fitzpatrick's outdoor sunscreen trial in Brisbane, Australia. They were divided into three categories after being exposed to the midday sun. Later, though, other skin types were discovered, and the list was expanded.


How is skin classified based on the Fitzpatrick skin type system?

The Fitzpatrick system is based on the melanin content and reaction to sun exposure. (Image via Unsplash/ Alexis Fauvet)
The Fitzpatrick system is based on the melanin content and reaction to sun exposure. (Image via Unsplash/ Alexis Fauvet)

In order to assess the SPF value of sunscreens, the US Food and Drug Administration adopted the Fitzpatrick skin type system in 1972. According to the Fitzpatrick skin type classification, there are six different varieties of skin, each with its own characteristics:

Type I (Very fair colored skin): This type has extremely light or pale skin that never tans and always burns. Such people frequently have light eyes, red or blonde hair, and lots of freckles.

Type II (Fair colored skin): People with Type II skin have fair skin that burns quickly, though they may get a little tan after spending a lot of time in the sun. They frequently have light hair and eyes.

Type III (Light to medium colored skin): This type typically burns at first but has the potential to tan over time. People with skin type III typically have brown eyes and hair.

Type IV (Medium colored skin): Type IV skin tans quickly and rarely burns. This skin tone is frequently accompanied by dark hair and brown eyes.

Type V (Dark colored skin): People with type V skin are typically dark, rarely burn readily, and have dark hair and eyes.

Type VI (Very dark colored skin): People with dark brown or black hair and brown eyes typically have Type VI skin, which practically never burns and tans easily.


The Fitzpatrick skin type system is a method for predicting how the skin will respond to sunlight. The various Fitzpatrick skin types are divided into groups based on their levels of melanin and susceptibility to sunburn.

Knowing your skin type may help in better skincare. (Image via Pexels/ Fauxels)
Knowing your skin type may help in better skincare. (Image via Pexels/ Fauxels)

For instance, skin with minimal melanin is most susceptible to UV harm. On the other hand, people with a high melanin level are mostly (but not always) safe. Knowing your Fitzpatrick skin type will enable you to take the proper precautions and shield your skin from UV ray damage over the long run.

Keep in mind that while the Fitzpatrick skin type system offers helpful suggestions, there are also individual differences and other factors such as genetics and lifestyle that can affect the characteristics of your skin. Everyone’s skin is unique, and consulting a dermatologist might result in personalized advice and suggestions.

Edited by Divya Singh
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