What Is My Fitzpatrick Skin Type?

Written by Leslie Robbins, MPAS, PA-C, Certified Physician Assistant on July 23, 2021 No Comments

fitzpatrick scale

Originally published July 24, 2018. Updated on July 23, 2021.

Developed in 1975 by the dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, the Fitzpatrick Scale is a skin classification system for human skin color. While initially developed on the basis of segmenting by skin and eye color, the current Fitzpatrick scale classifies skin types into six categories according to how they react to the sun (UV exposure). The Fitzpatrick Scale classifies your skin’s reaction to harmful ultraviolet light using a numerical system.

The Fitzpatrick scale is a very useful methodology to predict a patient’s level of risk for sun damage and skin cancer. Understanding your Fitzpatrick skin type is a great first step to protecting your skin! In addition to assessing your risk for skin cancer, knowing your Fitzpatrick Skin Type can help you understand how you’ll respond to certain dermatological procedures. Keep reading to learn more, then take the quiz to find out which Fitzpatrick Skin Type applies to you.

Why Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type Matters

The Fitzpatrick Skin Type is a measure of melanin in your skin. However, it’s so much more than an assessment of skin color. Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type not only gives you information about how you’ll respond to sun exposure, it helps you and your doctors understand how you’ll respond to certain skin treatments.

Fitzpatrick Skin Types range from 1 to 6. In general, those with type 1 skin are most susceptible to sun damage, wrinkles, and sun spots. Type 1 skin is also at high risk for skin cancer. On the other end of the scale, those with type 6 skin have more melanin and are thus better protected from the sun.

In addition, your Fitzpatrick Skin Type gives your dermatologist information about how you might react to certain treatments. For example, if your skin type is in the 4-6 range, you’re at risk for pigmentation in response to chemical peels or dermabrasion. Fitzpatrick Skin Type is also used to assess the correct dose for UV light therapy.

Characteristics Of Different Fitzpatrick Skin Types

Classification of skin types is partially subjective and based on interviews of patients with different skin tones concerning their past sun reactions. After realizing distinct patterns Fitzpatrick isolated six skin types as follows often called the “Fitzpatrick Scale”:

Fitzpatrick Skin Type 1

  • Always burns, never tans
  • Skin color of pale or ivory
  • Eye color of blue
  • Hair color of blond or red
  • Moderate to severe freckles along skin

Fitzpatrick Skin Type 2

  • Usually burns, minimal tanning
  • Skin color of fair
  • Eye color of blue, green, or hazel
  • Hair color of blonde or red
  • Light to moderate freckles along skin

Fitzpatrick Skin Type 3

  • Mild burns at times, uniform tanning
  • Skin color of creamy white or fair
  • Eye color of hazel or light brown
  • Hair color of dark blonde to light brown
  • Minimal freckling after exposure

Fitzpatrick Skin Type 4

  • Burns minimally, always tans well
  • Skin color of light brown or olive
  • Eye color of brown
  • Hair color of dark brown
  • Skin doesn’t really freckle

Fitzpatrick Skin Type 5

  • Very rarely burns, tans very easily/rapidly
  • Skin color of dark brown to black
  • Eye color of dark brown to black
  • Hair color of dark brown to black

Fitzpatrick Skin Type 6

  • Never tans, never burns
  • Skin color of black
  • Eye color of brownish black
  • Hair color of black

Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type and Skin Cancer Risk

Some types of UV light exposure put people at risk for skin cancer regardless of their skin type. This includes tanning beds and other artificial tanning devices. Research shows you may be up to 75 times more likely to develop skin cancer if you used a tanning bed before the age of 35.

While everyone benefits from being more cautious about sun exposure, your personal risk level will vary depending on your Fitzpatrick Skin Type.

Fitzpatrick Skin Types 1 and 2 

Those with tpe 1 or 2 skin fall on the fair skinned end of the skin color spectrum. This means the skin has very little melanin, a pigment which protects you from sun damage. Skin types 1 and 2 are at high risk of the following:

  • Sunburn and sun damage
  • Early skin aging due to sun exposure
  • All types of skin cancer, including melanoma

To prevent sunburn, the early onset of wrinkles or sunspots, and to protect yourself from skin cancer, practice the following risk-reducing measures:

  • Limit sun exposure
  • Wear protective clothing when outdoors
  • Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Wear protective sunglasses
  • Do a full body skin check once monthly at home
  • See your dermatologist annually for a full body skin check

Fitzpatrick Skin Types 3 to 6

If your skin type falls in the 3-6 range, you still have some risk of sun damage or skin cancer. This is especially true if you’ve used indoor tanning beds in the past. Note that those with darker skin are often diagnosed with melanoma at a later stage, so continue to be vigilant regarding monthly skin checks.

Although skin types 3-6 are at less risk for skin cancer, following the above tips will ensure maximum protection. In addition, learn to identify the early stages of skin cancer. The ABCDE’s of skin cancer are a good guide to use:

A: Is your mole asymmetrical?

B: Is the border irregular, raised, or poorly defined?

C: Does the color vary?

D: Is the diameter larger than a pencil eraser?

E: Is it evolving; changing in size, shape or color?

Keep in mind not all of the above have to be true for a mole to be cancerous. If a mole is of concern to you, see a dermatologist.

The most common form of melanoma for those with darker skin is aerial lentiginous melanoma. This type of skin cancer typically appears on parts of the body that aren’t normally exposed to the sun. Learn to do a thorough exam by practicing the following:

  • Stand in front of a full-length mirror, raise your arms, and turn left and right
  • Use a handheld mirror to view the back of your neck, back, buttocks and legs
  • Check your underarms, palms and the soles of your feet

In addition to at-home skin checks, visit your doctor annually for a more thorough, professional exam.

When to Get Screened for Skin Cancer

Regardless of your Fitzpatrick Skin Type, you should see your dermatologist annually to be screened for skin cancer. Your doctor might recommend you get screened more often if any of the following are true:

  • Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type is 1 or 2
  • You have a family history of skin cancer
  • You live an active, outdoor lifestyle
  • You have a compromised immune system

In addition to annual doctor visits, follow the above guidelines for monthly personal skin checks.

How To Determine Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type

You can use the above guidelines to determine which Fitzpatrick skin type you fall into. Note that it may be possible to meet the requirements of multiple types, in that instance choose the tier which most describes your traits.

You can also visit your dermatologist or skin care provider for a professional assessment.

QUIZ: Which Fitzpatrick Skin Type Am I?

To discover your personal Fitzpatrick Skin Type, answer the questions below with the choice that best represents your experience. Add up the numbers to find your score using the chart at the end of the quiz.

What’s Your Eye Color?

0 – Light blue, gray, green

1- Blue, gray, or green

2 – Blue

3 – Brown

4 – Dark Brown/Black

What’s Your Natural Hair Color?

0 – Red

1 – Blonde

2 – Chestnut/Dark Blonde

3 – Brown

4 – Black

Which Best Represents Your Skin Color?

0 – Reddish

1 – Very Pale

2 – Neutral Pale

3 – Light Brown

4 – Dark Brown

Do You Have Freckles On Areas of Your Skin NOT Exposed to the Sun?

0 – Yes, Many

1 – Yes, Several

2 – Only a Few

3 – Hardly Any

4 – None

What Typically Happens When You’re In the Sun Too Long Without Protection?

0 – I burn, blister and peel

1 – I burn and blister, followed by peeling

2 – I burn, but rarely blister or peel

3 – I rarely burn

4 – I never burn

Do You Tan Easily?

0 – I hardly or never tan

1 – I lightly tan but it fades quickly

2 – I sometimes tan

3 – I tan easily

4 – I quickly turn dark brown y

Do You Typically Tan After Several Hours of Sun Exposure?

0 – Never

1 – Seldom

2 – Sometimes

3 – Often

4 – Always

How Sensitive Is Your Face to Sun Exposure?

0 – Very sensitive, I burn or get red right away

1 – Sensitive, I burn or turn red

2 – Neutral, I burn or turn red after several hours

3 – My face is rarely affected by the sun

4 – I’ve never had a problem with sun exposure on my face

When Did You Last Expose Your Body To The Sun Or A Tanning Bed?

1 – More than 3 months ago

2 – 2-3 months ago

3 – 1-2 months ago

4 – Less than a month ago

5 – Less than 2 weeks ago

How Often Do You Intentionally Tan (either outdoors or with a tanning bed)? 

1 – Never

2 – Hardly ever

3 – Sometimes

4 – Often

5 – Always

Calculate Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type

Add your total numbers from the responses above. Then, use the following total score ranges to determine your Fitzpatrick skin type:

  • A score of 0-7 = Fitzpatrick Type 1
  • A score of 8-16 = Fitzpatrick Type 2
  • A score of 17-25 = Fitzpatrick Type 3
  • A score of 25-30 = Fitzpatrick Type 4
  • A score of more than 30 = Fitzpatrick Type 5-6

Leslie Robbins, MPAS, PA-C

Leslie Robbins, MPAS, PA-C, earned her Masters in Physician Assistant Studies from the Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Midland. She specializes in Dermatology and has had extensive experience with surgical procedures since earning her Masters. Leslie is board certified by the National Commission of Certification of PAs and is licensed by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

Leave a Reply