How To Find Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type And Why You Need To

Pretend he's your favorite professor and listen up!
BY Sarah Lim
| May, 2021
Fitzpatrick skin type quiz/test

Knowing your risk for skin cancer is an instrumental part of taking care of your skin. But is there any way you can assess, even generally, how high (or low) your risk for skin cancer is? Yes, you can find it using Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale easily.

Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, MD, a dermatologist, former Chief of the Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatology Service, and Chairman of Department of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, attempted to create specific skin type profiles in 1975 to achieve this exact purpose. The goal of the Fitzpatrick skin types is to evaluate how your skin reacts to sun exposure, and therefore predict the risk of skin cancer.

The Fitzpatrick skin type scale is more of a self-assessment, and with only six categories, there’s a chance you won’t fit into any one of these exactly. Many of today’s skin types don’t correlate precisely with the Fitzpatrick scale. That means getting an accurate assessment of your skin cancer risk is better done with your dermatologist, whose assessments are generally considered to be more accurate anyway.  

Using a modified Fitzpatrick scale can provide more flexibility among skin type categorizations, including a broader range of types for darker skin, for an accurate assessment. However, until that scale is fully developed, here are the six types to see if you fall under any.

The Six Fitzpatrick Skin Types

Fitzpatrick originally developed the following six types, but be mindful that you may not fit into any of the types or may only partially identify with a type (or types!). A general rule is to go with the type that most closely fits you, and if no type does, remember that you’re not the only one excluded!

Type 1

Type 1 Fitzpatrick skin type

Skin Color: Very pale or white

Natural Hair Color: White, light blond, or red

Eye Color: Light colors, such as light blue or green, or even gray

Tan or Burn: Always burns

Skin Cancer Risk: High

Type 2

Type 2 Fitzpatrick skin type

Skin Color: Pale, white, or fair

Natural Hair Color: Blonde

Eye Color: Blue, green, or gray

Tan or Burn: Almost always burns

Skin Cancer Risk: High

Type 3

Type 3 Fitzpatrick skin type

Skin Color: White, beige, or darker beige

Natural Hair Color: Darker blonde or light brown

Eye Color: Hazel or light brown eyes

Tan or Burn: Sometimes tans, sometimes burns

Skin Cancer Risk: Moderate

Type 4

Type 4 Fitzpatrick skin type

Skin Color: Light brown, olive, or golden

Natural Hair Color: Darker brown hair

Eye Color: Dark brown eyes

Tan or Burn: Almost always tans

Skin Cancer Risk: Moderate

Type 5

Type 5 Fitzpatrick skin type

Skin Color: Moderate brown

Natural Hair Color: Dark brown or black

Eye Color: Dark brown or black

Tan or Burn: Always tans

Skin Cancer Risk: Low

Type 6

Type 6 Fitzpatrick skin type

Skin Color: Dark brown or black

Natural Hair Color: Dark brown or black

Eye Color: Brown or black

Tan or Burn: Dark tan

Skin Cancer Risk: Low

Tips For Finding Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale

When assessing your skin to see if you fit into one of the types, don’t automatically assess your skin as it is now. Instead, look at skin that doesn’t usually see the sun, such as the inner arm or buttocks, to determine your true skin type. YOU should always evaluate your skin prior to sun exposure when taking a Fitzpatrick skin type assessment to determine the most accurate type!

Assessing Fitzpatrick’s skin type is based on whether you burn or tan during your first “average” sun exposure

Also, YOU need to whether or not your skin will develop a tan after sun exposure or if you would consistently burn (obviously, don’t put this into practice, just speculate based on your experience!). Never forget to pay attention to whether or not your skin becomes irritated with initial or repeated sun exposure.

Remember, even if you have a skin type associated with a lower risk of skin cancer, using a Fitzpatrick skin typing quiz/test isn’t a substitute for taking care of your skin and keeping regular appointments with your dermatologist!

What Significance Does The Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype Scale Have On Knowing Your Skin Cancer Risk?

Types 4-5 are the lowest risk because they have more skin pigmentation, which protects them more from the sun. However, it’s important to remember that anyone can get skin cancer, even low-risk skin types.  

Melanin, a natural pigment in the skin, absorbs and disperses energy from ultraviolet (UV) light, which is a process that protects skin cells from damage. Your skin’s melanin will directly correspond to how naturally protected you are from sunlight. 

For example, people with higher skin pigmentation, such as types 4-5, have much higher protection than types 1-2. Types 1-3 generally have a higher risk of skin damage, photoaging, melanoma, and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Fitzpatrick’s skin typing helps predict the risk of photodamage and skin cancer.

People with darker skin may also have a more challenging time identifying signs of skin cancer due to their high pigmentation, making areas of concern such as sunspots or cancerous moles harder to detect. This can even lead to poorer survival rates for people with darker skin when it comes to skin cancer, even though skin cancer rates are higher in fair-skinned types.

How Can You Protect Your Skin?

The highest risks for skin cancer are for types 1 and 2. They’re also at increased risk for sun damage to the skin, such as photoaging. 

It’s important to limit sun exposure and cover skin when in the sun, such as using a hat or protective clothing. You can (and should!) also use sunblock and always schedule a yearly exam with your dermatologist to check your skin for any changes.

For types 3-6, skin cancer risk is lower but still a concern. You should still wear sunscreen and have regular checkups with your dermatologist. Acral lentiginous melanoma is a form of melanoma that can be difficult to detect in darker skin types. Still, any skin type is at risk, which makes getting regular checkups important! 

A general rule for all skin types is avoiding tanning beds, always wearing sunscreen, and avoiding sunburn. These cautions can even help you prevent skin cancer!

Do You Know Yours? Assess Your Skin Type In Fitzpatrick Scale

Is it time to take a Fitzpatrick skin type quiz/test or follow up with YOUR derm? Knowing your Fitzpatrick type can help you be aware of your risk for skin cancer and take protective measures accordingly!

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