The Fitzpatrick scale was developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick who was chairman of the department of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and who is known as the father of modern academic dermatology. It is used in skincare and dermatology to better understand how someone’s skin reacts to treatments, products, and the sun. Refer to the table below to understand how each Fitzpatrick skin type is categorized.
Fitzpatrick Skin Types and the Sun
The Fitzpatrick scale’s main application is to know how each skin tone reacts with sun exposure. I am sure on a basic level we understand that fair skin burns much easier than dark skin, but maybe we don’t understand the importance of protecting our skin properly from the sun’s damaging rays no matter what skin tone we have.
Fitzpatrick types I-III are much more likely to burn which also means they are at a higher risk of skin cancer. Sun protection through adequate SPF of at least 30, UPF clothing, hats, and umbrellas will protect lighter skin from sunburns, skin cancer, and photoaging; the number one cause of signs of aging on the skin.
Fitzpatrick types IV-VI do not experience a sunburn, more particularly they don’t experience the erythema (redness) associated with sunburn, as it is not visible on these skin tones. However, dark skin tones can still experience the tenderness that comes along with sunburn, as well as photoaging and a lower but still existent risk of skin cancer. Dark skin tones are also more prone to hyperpigmentation issues, which are exacerbated by sun exposure. This is why it is important for all skin tones to wear daily SPF and protect themselves from sun exposure as much as possible.
Fitzpatrick Skin Types and Skincare Treatments
Another useful application of the Fitzpatrick scale is for determining which skin tones are good candidates for certain professional skincare treatments. Unfortunately darker skin tones tend to be the least suited for skincare treatments. Microdermabrasion and chemical peels can be too aggressive for darker skin and cause hyperpigmentation from an inflammatory response.
Lasers only work on Fitzpatrick types I-III as they need the skin tone to be light enough for the laser not to react with the skin, otherwise burning, blisters, and hyper or hypo pigmentation can be a result. If one of these treatments is recommended to you as a Fitzpatrick IV-VI, be cautious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, refuse treatments you do not feel comfortable with and ensure you are receiving treatments from a highly rated and credible medical aesthetician or dermatologist.
Some skincare treatments that are safe and gentle for dark skin tones include facials, hydra-facials and LED, which is great for treating hyperpigmentation.
Fitzpatrick Skin Types and Skincare Products
We have discussed skincare and skin tone before here on the Pomp blog but as a recap, most skincare is okay for most skin tones. Skincare more so depends on other factors like skin type and skin concerns. There are a few exceptions. Since Fitzpatrick types IV-VI aren’t able to do lasers to improve hyperpigmentation, skincare is an important component to help with this. Hydroxy acids and skin lighteners such as hydroquinone may be necessary.
You want to be sure you are working with a credentialed skincare professional while working with these ingredients because even though they are extremely beneficial for improving hyperpigmentation they can also cause pigmentation issues as well. When dark skin tones are over stimulated they tend to form PIH or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Start low and slow with any active ingredients such as hydroxyl acids (AHA’s, BHA’s & PHA’s), or benzoyl peroxide, when treating acne.
If you are still unsure which Fitzpatrick type you are you can visit a dermatologist to find out for sure. I hope you find this information useful and that you have a better understanding of your own skin and how to care for it after reading this. Remember, you can always chat with a Pomp esthetician to learn more about what skincare and ingredients are best for your skin tone.