Skin Health Skin Care & Cleansing Products Anti-Aging Skin Care Print The Fitzpatrick Classification Scale for Skin Types By Heather Brannon, MD Updated July 09, 2019 PeopleImages / Getty Images More in Skin Health Skin Care & Cleansing Products Anti-Aging Skin Care Hair & Scalp Care Acne Psoriasis Eczema & Dermatitis Fungal, Bacterial & Viral Infections More Skin Conditions The Fitzpatrick scale (also known as Fitzpatrick skin typing test or Fitzpatrick phototype scale) was developed in 1975 by Harvard Medical School dermatologist Thomas Fitzpatrick to classify a person's complexion in relation to their tolerance to sunlight. It is today used by many health professions to determine how a patient will respond to facial treatments. Practitioners also use the scale to determine how likely a person is to get skin cancer. Where Do You Fit on the Fitzpatrick Scale? The Fitzpatrick scale includes six different skin types and colors in respect to their toleration of the sun: Type Features Characteristics I pale white skin | red or blond hair | blue eyes | freckles always burns, never tans II white or fair skin | red or blond hair | blue, hazel, or green eyes usually burns, tans with difficulty III cream white or fair skin | any eye or hair color gradually tans, sometimes has a mild burn IV light brown skin tans with ease, rarely burns V dark brown skin tans very easily, very rarely burns VI deeply pigmented dark brown tans very easily, never burns How to Use the Scale Responsibly The scale provides a reference point that people can use to get a better idea as to how much sun exposure they can handle. It is meant to provide general, rather than individualized, guidance and shouldn't be used as a substitute for visiting your dermatologist or primary health provider. In the end, there are no hard or fast rules when it comes to the "right" amount of sun exposure a person should have. While the scale suggests, for instance, that black skin never burns, we know that it occasionally does. The simple truth is that even the darkest skin tones are susceptible to sun damage and that skin cancers do occur in people of color. While fair-skinned people are certainly more likely to develop malignancies, people of all colors are advised to use sunscreen, ideally on a daily basis. It is simply wrong to suggest that persons with darker skin, whether African-American, Latino, Middle Eastern, or Asians, don't need it. In fact, people of color are at risk of a certain type of cancer called acral lentiginous melanoma, which is not directly caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. (It was the type that killed reggae star Bob Marley back in 1981.) Acral melanoma is genetically different from other forms of skin cancer and appears primarily on hairless parts of the body such as the palms, soles of the feet, and under fingernails and toenails. While excessive UV exposure may not trigger the malignancy (given that these parts of the body are less exposed to sunlight), it can exacerbate it. A Word From Verywell No matter what your race or ethnicity, it's important to pay attention to any changes you see in your skin. If you find any worrisome mole, blemish, spot, sore, or other skin concerning change, don't hesitate to contact your doctor immediately. While sunlight definitely has its share of positive health benefits (such as allowing the body to produce Vitamin D), excessive exposure can often do more harm than good. Keep covered or in the shade as much as possible, and use sunblock as part of your daily skincare routine. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Sign up for our Health Tip of the Day newsletter, and receive daily tips that will help you live your healthiest life. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Fitzpatrick, T. "The validity and practicality of sun-reactive skin types I through VI." Archives of Dermatology. 1988;124(6): 869-871. Liu, L.; Zhang, W.; Gao, T.; and Li, C. "Is UV an etiological factor of acral melanoma ?" Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. November/December 2016; 29:539-545. Continue Reading An Overview of Melasma The Effects of Sun on the Skin Can Unprotected Sun Exposure Be Good for You? How Melanocytes Defend Your Skin Against UV Rays Does Sun Exposure Help Eczema? Choosing the Best Sunscreen Can Reduce Risks of Sunburns and Skin Cancer What You Should Know About Phototherapy for Psoriasis Discover the 7 Things That Cause Wrinkles in Men Natural Remedies for Dark Spots Treatment Tips for Acne in Skin of Color Acne Medications That Make You More Sensitive to the Sun Does Tanning Really Clear Acne? Discover How the Ingredients in Sunscreen Work to Protect Your Skin Rank Your Level of Sun Damage and Prevent More Wrinkles With Sunscreen What's Causing Dark Spots on Your Skin? What Is This White Bump on My Face?