Learning your Fitzpatrick skin type is an excellent way to prepare for time spent in the sun, since knowing how someone of your Fitzpatrick skin type responds to UV light is crucial for determining how much sun protection you need to avoid a painful sunburn and damage that could lead to skin cancer later.
The Fitzpatrick skin scale was developed by American dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, MD, of Harvard Medical School, to numerically estimate the response of various types of human skin to ultraviolet (UV) light and catalog the different types based on these estimations. The Fitzpatrick scale remains in use as a helpful tool for dermatological research into skin pigmentation and the effects of sun and radiation on different types of skin.
Protecting Your Skin Based on Fitzpatrick Skin Type
The Skin Cancer Foundation has a brief quiz that will easily help you determine your Fitzpatrick skin type. Once you learn your Fitzpatrick skin type, you can make choices about the level of sun exposure that your skin can safely handle and follow the advice of skin care professionals to keep your skin healthy and damage-free.
People of all Fitzpatrick skin types ought to get in the habit of checking their own skin monthly and seek a dermatologist’s advice about any changes in pigmentation, growths, or moles – especially any moles or growths that are new or irregular in shape. It is also a great idea to schedule a yearly full-body skin check with a dermatologist.
Very pale skin, blond or red hair and blue eyes.
Individuals of this Fitzpatrick skin type always burn and never tan. They are at very high risk for all types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma. If Type I people must be outdoors in the sun, they should use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it frequently if they are swimming or perspiring. They should wear hats and clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor of 30 or higher. There are many sunscreens that offer outstanding protection for this skin type.
Pale skin, freckles, sometimes tan but usually burn; fair hair.
This skin type is also at high risk for all types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma. Like Type I individuals, these people should use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, limit their time in the sun, especially during peak sun hours from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Don’t forget to wear protective clothing and hats with an ultraviolet protection factor of 30 or higher. A good sun hat shields the face and the neck.
Sometimes burn slightly but usually tan, fair with any eye or hair color.
These individuals are able to stay in the sun for longer without burning, but they are still at risk for skin damage as well as cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. They should be sensible about avoiding too much time in direct sun during the peak sun hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
They should use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, reapplying if they are swimming or perspiring. A sunscreen that is easy to reapply is ideal.
Unlikely to burn and tans easily.
Fitzpatrick skin type IV individuals are less likely to see visible sun damage after a day outdoors, but they are still at risk for all types of skin cancer. Even though individuals of this skin type are more likely to tan than burn when they are outdoors, they should still protect their skin with a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and seek shade during times of peak sun, between 10am and 4pm. Everyone can benefit from a UV-protective umbrella.
Tan easily and to a dark brown, very rarely get a sunburn.
While people of Fitzpatrick skin type V seldom show signs of sun damage, they are at risk for acral lentiginous melanoma – this dangerous skin cancer typically strikes people with dark skin. These melanomas commonly appear on body parts which are seldom exposed to the sun and sometimes go undetected until after the cancer has spread.
People of this skin type are very unlikely to get a sunburn, but they still need to use sun protection with an SPF of 15 or higher, and should check for suspicious growths, especially on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and mucous membranes (eyelids, nostrils, mouth). A daily moisturizer that contains sunscreen helps build the healthy habit of using sun protection.
Dark skin that does not tan or burn.
People with this Fitzpatrick skin type are still at risk for skin cancers, although it is difficult to visually detect signs of damage to dark skin, as growths such as acral lentiginous melanoma tend to appear on parts of the body infrequently exposed to the sun.
Skin type VI individuals should still use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and take care to check regularly for unusual growths or changes, especially on the the lightest parts of their skin: palms of hands, soles of feet, lips, and mucous membranes (eyelids, nostrils, mouth). Using a daily moisturizer that contains sunscreen is an easy way to stay protected.
No matter what your Fitzpatrick skin type is, you will benefit from taking precautions before spending time in the sun. Applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and seeking shade during peak sun hours are sensible decisions for everyone. Knowing your Fitzpatrick skin type will help you make the choices that are right for you, so you can enjoy time outdoors while keeping your skin healthy.
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