Will Knowing Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type Unlock Skin Care Answers?
Hopefully, by now, we all know how important it is to be wearing sunscreen. The good thing about social media is that it spreads awareness and it spreads fast. The cardinal rule about sunscreen is that everyone needs to wear it every single day. This rings true for every person, but it is also simultaneously true that some skin tones and skin types are more susceptible to sun damage than others. But how can you tell? The Fitzpatrick skin type guide can help you decipher which category you fall into.
- The Fitzpatrick skin type numerical classification system is a categorical system to help identify your skin’s susceptibility to sunburns and therefore various types of permanent skin damage
- There are 6 categories ranging from level 1: pale skin that freckles easily with light colored eyes and hair, to level 6: dark skin that never burns and tans extremely easily
- For some people, identifying your Fitzpatrick classification is extremely obvious and easy. But for those who are confused or feel they could fit into more than one category, there are several online quizzes to help you determine what level you are
What is the Fitzpatrick skin type numerical classification system?
The Fitzpatrick skin test classifies skin type according to the amount of pigment your skin has and your skin’s reaction to sun exposure. This type of classification can help people to predict their overall risk of things like sun damage and certain skin cancers.
The Fitzpatrick skin type classification system is a pretty recent invention, developed in 1975 by American dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick as a way to estimate different skin types’ and colors’ reaction to ultraviolet light.
The system works by identifying how much melanin pigment is in the skin and how each skin tone reacts to light and tanning abilities. It is no secret that those with paler or more fair skin tend to burn more easily. And those with more olive or tan skin don’t experience as much sunburn and therefore sun damage as others.
Sometimes other factors can play a role too. Hair color and likeliness to develop certain skin features like freckles, sun spots, and hyperpigmentation tend to point towards the idea that you are more sensitive to the sun and therefore more susceptible to burning.
What do the numbers mean?
So, what exactly do the numbers on the classification mean? Well, let’s break it down. There are six categories or numerical classifications under the Fitzpatrick skin type.
- Pale skin with light colored eyes and blonde or red hair
- Fair skin with blue eyes
- Darker white skin
- Light brown skin
- Brown skin
- Dark brown or black skin
As you can see, the first two classifications can be a bit confusing and slightly interchangeable because they are the only two that are dependent on other aspects such as hair and eye color.
The main thing that the Fitzpatrick classification system points out is tanning ability. Everybody can technically “tan” because everybody’s skin produces some level of melanin, however, this may not mean that you get tanner physically. It’s a well known idea that the easier it is for you to tan, the less chance you risk of getting sunburnt and all of the things that come with a sunburn.
Level 1, which is pale skin with light eyes and light hair, is most likely to burn and essentially does not tan at all. Level 2 burns easily but not as easily as level 1 and tans very minimally. Level 3 tans eventually, but usually only after that initial sunburn. Level 4 tans easily, and occasionally burns but it is rare. Level 5 tans extremely easily but also to a much darker color and almost never burns. And lastly, level 6 never burns but always tans darkly.
Some of these levels may sound more frustrating than others. For example, everybody loves a good tan, and nobody likes to burn, so it makes sense why levels 1-3 sound more high maintenance, but this does not mean that any level has it better or worse than the next.
Although levels 5 and 6 rarely or almost never burn, this does not necessarily exempt those skin types from sun damage. This is a common misconception that unfortunately leaves thousands of people with permanent skin damage. No matter what your skin tone or Fitzpatrick skin type is, you need to be wearing a daily SPF. If you have a darker complexion or rarely burn, you don’t need to be wearing as high of an SPF as somebody level 1 or 2, but it is still essential for your skin’s health.
How do I know my Fitzpatrick skin type?
So, the Fitzpatrick skin classification system seems like a really helpful tool in determining your skin’s likeliness to burn. But how do you know which level you are, or if you’re in between two levels? Some people fall perfectly into one category, but this is not the case for everyone. Luckily, there are online quizzes to help you figure out which level your skin is.
There are several online quizzes that you can take and they all ask relatively similar questions that will ultimately lead you to the same resolution. Questions such as “What is your natural hair color?” and “Do you have freckles on unexposed areas of skin?”.
Does knowing your classification help tailor your skincare ritual?
It may sound far-fetched, but knowing your Fitzpatrick classification can most definitely help someone tailor their skincare ritual. Like I mentioned, no matter what skin tone, skin type, or Fitzpatrick level you are, you need to be wearing sunscreen. But, depending on your Fitzpatrick level, you can decide which type of sunscreen or which level SPF is best for you.
For example, those who fall into the level 1 or level 2 categories of the Fitzpatrick classification system may opt to use a tinted SPF because studies have shown that the tint in the sunscreen provides an added layer of protection against ultraviolet rays. It also may help in determining if you need to double cleanse.
Double cleansing has become a big phenomenon recently due to social media, and rightfully so. Double cleansing is a really great way to ensure that the skin is being properly and thoroughly cleansed, but most people assume you only need to double cleanse if you are wearing some sort of makeup. The reality is, if you are wearing SPF daily, especially a tinted SPF, you really should be double cleansing to ensure you’re getting all of the sunscreen removed and are therefore effectively cleansing your skin.
Overall, the Fitzpatrick skin classification system is an extremely helpful tool for both dermatologists and the everyday person. It’s a simple system that is easy to navigate, and there are several websites with fast quizzes to help you figure out your classification. At the end of the day, the most important takeaway is to remember to always wear your sunscreen!
Written by Jordan Hammaren
- Photo from Cesar la Rosa on Unsplash