The Fitzpatrick Classification of Skin Type was developed by Thomas B Fitzpatrick MD PhD of Harvard Medical School and published in 1975. The system is based around a person’s complexion and response to sun exposure. What has become known as the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification System is used by medical practitioners and skin specialists to identify patients who may be at increased risk for developing problems such as skin discoloration (dyschromia), or darkening / lightening of regions of skin (known respectively as hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation) after undergoing certain skin rejuvenation procedures.
Skin type is frequently categorized following the Fitzpatrick Scale, ranging from very fair (skin type I) to very dark (skin type VI). The two main factors that influence skin type and any treatment programme developed by practitioners are:
- Reaction to sun exposure / habits related to tanning
- Genetic disposition
A person’s skin type is genetically determined from heriditary factors and is one of the many characteristics of their overall appearance, which will also include eye colour, hair colour, etc. Also, the way in which skin reacts to sun exposure is another major factor in correctly determining the skin type. Recent tanning, such as from sun bathing, artificial tanning or tanning creams, plays a major part in the evaluation of a person’s skin colour.
The Fitzpatrick Skin-Type Calculator
The following calculator can be used in self-assessment of your skin type. Answer each of the questions below and, at the end, one of the six skin-type categories – the most appropriate in your particular circumstance – will be displayed together with an explanation.
What is your eye colour?
What is your natural hair colour?
What is your skin colour
(in unexposed areas)?
Do you have freckles in unexposed areas?
When did you last expose your body to sun
(or an artificial sun lamp/tanning cream)?
Do 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 a few hours following sun exposure?
How does your face react to the sun?
Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type
- Type I – Highly sensitive, always burn, never tan. Example: Light-eyed, fair-skinned, natural blond or 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 individuals
Type of skin is an important factor employed by your practitioner in determining which cosmetic treatment, or combination of treatments, is best in each individual case. Generallt speaking, skin types I to III have a lower risk of problems (such as skin discoloration, blotchiness, hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, burns and scarring) following skin treatments, and skin types IV to VI have a higher risk.
Other factors to be taken into account include:
- Patient’s age
- Region of skin to be treated
- Degree of skin damage (eg. mild, moderate, severe – frequently caused by over-exposure to the sun)
- Treatment objectives (eg. to reduce wrinkles, fine lines or skin discoloration)