Do You Know Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type?

Maybe you’ve never heard of it, but dermatologists use a classification system called the Fitzpatrick scale to evaluate a patient’s skin tone. It’s useful for assessing all kinds of skin concerns, from mysterious rashes to skin cancer risk. This is because while pale skin and dark skin respond in similar ways, that response can look very differently from person to person.

Here, we’re explaining everything you need to know about the Fitzpatrick scale.

3 women with different Fitzpatrick skin types

3 minute read

What is the Fitzpatrick scale?

Known as the “father of modern dermatology,” Harvard doctor Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, MD created the Fitzpatrick scale in the 1970s while conducting research on psoriasis exposed to UVA rays. He’d assumed that his blond, blue-eyed patients would get sunburned, but was surprised to see that some of his brown-eyed, dark-haired patients did, too.

Fitzpatrick realized that hair and eye color wasn’t the best determinant of a person’s UV sensitivity: so he developed a scale based on how a patient’s skin responded to radiation. Essentially, the Fitzpatrick scale is a measure of how likely a person is to burn vs. tan, and is a reflection of how much melanin is present in the skin. It’s a useful indicator of someone’s likelihood of developing skin cancer, as well.

How to determine your Fitzpatrick skin type

While initially there were four categories, the Fitzpatrick scale was expanded in subsequent years to a total of six. While the best way to determine your skin type with certainty is to consult with a dermatologist, it’s possible to get a fairly accurate idea on your own.

Here’s our guide to help you determine your Fitzpatrick skin type:

Type I

Skin color: very pale
Eye color: blue or green
Hair color: blond or red
UV reaction: never tans, always burns
Celebrity: Ed Sheeran, Emma Stone

 

Type II

Skin color: fair
Eye color: blue
Hair color: blond or light brown
UV reaction: tans poorly, burns easily
Celebrity: Chris Hemsworth, Taylor Swift

 

Type III

Skin color: fair to golden
Eye color: blue or light brown
Hair color: light to medium brown
UV reaction: tans well but still burns
Celebrity: Bradley Cooper, Bella Hadid

 

Type IV

Skin color: light brown
Eye color: brown
Hair color: medium to dark brown
UV reaction: tans easily, burns minimally
Celebrity: Wilmer Valderrama, Jessica Alba

 

Type V

Skin color: brown
Eye color: brown
Hair color: dark brown to black
UV reaction: tans darkly, rarely burns
Celebrity: Drake, Beyonce

 

Type VI

Skin color: dark brown
Eye color: dark brown
Hair color: black
UV reaction: tans darkly, rarely burns
Celebrity: Kevin Hart, Lupita Nyong’o

When do dermatologists use the Fitzpatrick scale?

As we mentioned earlier, understanding how a person’s Fitzpatrick skin type relates to certain skin conditions is an important part of evaluating a patient’s skin health. Generally speaking, the scale is useful for things like:

  • Diagnosing a condition: inflammation, redness and rashes look different across skin tones
  • Determining a treatment plan: certain peels and lasers work better on some skin types than others
  • Assessing skin cancer risk: carcinoma and melanoma risks differ among skin types, but sunscreen is still essential for all types

Dr. Lee’s last word

We asked Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) what role the Fitzpatrick scale plays in her dermatology practice. She told us that while she definitely takes the skin tone into consideration, she doesn’t need to officially label it on the scale to treat a patient.

“When I was first starting out, I would try to categorize skin into a Fitzpatrick type,” she explains. “As I’ve gotten more experienced, I don’t necessarily think of it this way — I look at the skin color and ethnicity during my evaluation.”

Dr. Lee says that she typically uses the Fitzpatrick scale to “determine when a certain laser treatment or peel will respond without deleterious results, or not be at high risk for side effects.” She’ll document it in a patient’s chart, and it also comes in handy when describing a patient’s skin to other dermatologists.

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