Skin Type and Tanning: What You Need to Know

It’s a pretty well-known fact that your skin is your body’s largest organ, but did you know that your skin makes up a whopping 16% of your body mass? Your skin is there to do so much more than make you look good, and its importance can’t be overstated.

All that said, we tend to take it for granted, assuming that it’s more resilient against sun damage than it really is. Even with all the warnings to slather on the sunscreen, it’s easy to be overconfident about our skin’s ability to deal with those glorious rays.

But just how susceptible is your skin to sun damage? Well, that depends. First, it’s important to say that all skin – regardless of the amount of melanin it contains – is at risk of sun damage. There’s a misconception that darker skin tones don’t need to worry about protecting their skin from UV rays. While someone with darker skin might not be as at high a risk of serious sun damage as their fair skin counterpart, the risk does still exist and it’s important to protect against it.

Obviously, those who are more sensitive to the sun need to take extra measures to protect themselves. When assessing a person’s sensitivity to the sun, and their potential for severe damage from UV rays, skincare experts use a special rating system called the Fitzpatrick Scale.

What Is the Fitzpatrick Scale?

The Fitzpatrick Scale is a tool that dermatologists and other experts use to asses a person’s tolerance to the sun by measuring the amount of pigment in their skin. The Fitzpatrick Scale also takes into consideration genetic factors that might influence a person’s susceptibility to sun damage.

The Fitzpatrick Scale was founded in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick and is still used nearly half a century later by the dermatologic and cosmetic industries. The Fitzpatrick scale also gets a nod from the FDA, which uses the system as a basis for classifying the SPF levels in sunscreen.

The Fitzpatrick Scale uses a series of questions to determine which of the six classifications of skin types a person falls into. A quick search on Google will land you multiple results leading to the official questionnaire, which you can then answer, calculate your score, and determine your sun sensitivity skin type. However, the results tend to be more accurate when the test is carried out by a professional, making it worth a visit to the dermatologist for an accurate assessment and plan for sun protection.

The Fitzpatrick Skin Types – Which Are You?

There are six skin types listed in the Fitzpatrick Scale. They range from skin type one to skin type six.

Skin Type 1: Light, pale, or ivory skin that always burns when exposed to the sun, but rarely – if ever – tans. People with this skin type may have lighter hair and eyes and be prone to freckling. This skin type is also at one of the highest risks of developing melanoma due to sun exposure, so if this is your category make sure to always wear and SPF of at least 30, wear protective clothing when out in the sun for long periods of time, and try to avoid the sun at peak hours.

Skin Type 2: There isn’t a tremendous amount of difference between skin type 1 and skin type 2 in terms of how the skin reacts to UV rays. People with skin type 2 are typically blond, with blue, gray, or green eyes. Their skin is light to fair, burns quickly and rarely tans.

If you fall into this category, slather on the SPF of 30+ before you head outside and put on a hat and other protective clothing if you’re going to be outside for any significant amount of time. Shade is your friend.

Skin Type 3: People who fall into the range of skin type 3 under the Fitzpatrick Scale typically have fair to beige skin tones, with eyes that might be hazel or light brown, and hair that’s a darker blond to light brown.

People in this category are still likely to burn when exposed to the sun, but their skin may also tan afterward. Prudence with an SPF 30 or above is important for protecting your skin, as is limiting your outside exposure during the peak sun hours between 10am-4pm.

Skin Type 4: This person tends to have slightly more melanin in their skin, with an olive or light brown skin tone. Eyes and hair are usually darker with skin type 4, and this skin type rarely freckles due to sun exposure. A routine of applying an SPF 30 or above before heading out is key, as people with this skin type might me less likely to immediately realize the effects of sun damage on their skin.

Skin Type 5: If you’re a skin type 5, you have a good deal of melanin in your skin, and probably have a dark brown skin tone, as well as dark brown hair and eyes. You almost always tan when exposed to the sun, and probably haven’t had an actual sunburn in you entire life. This doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear, however. Even darker skin tones need to take precautions against UV damage by wearing an SPF 30when spending time outdoors.

Skin Type 6: Those with skin type 6 have the most deeply pigmented skin, presenting with a dark brown to blackish hue. People with this skin type tan quickly, although their skin contains so much melanin that the tanning might not be immediately obvious.

People with this skin type never burn but should still be aware of the potential damage the sun is causing their skin. Melanoma isn’t as common among darker skin types, but it often more fatal based on the fact that it’s detected at a much later stage.

Protect Your Skin Every Day

The Fitzpatrick Scale is an incredibly useful tool in determining skin types and assessing the degree of damage that UV rays can cause for an individual. Regardless of where you fall on the Fitzpatrick Scale, take care of your skin and protect it by using natural, gentle skin care products with an SPF built into them. A little bit of sun is a great thing, too much can put you at risk of premature aging and skin cancer. It isn’t a risk worth taking, so be smart when you’re enjoying those golden rays of sunshine.

You can also learn more about your overall skin type and the best skincare products for it by taking our Skin Care Quiz. This is another useful tool to better understand your skin and keep it at its healthiest and most beautiful.