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Fitzpatrick skin phototype

Author: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2012.


Fitzpatrick skin phototype — codes and concepts
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What is the Fitzpatrick skin phototype?

The Fitzpatrick skin type (or phototype) describes a way to classify the skin by its reaction to exposure to sunlight.

What is the Fitzpatrick skin phototype based on?

The Fitzpatrick skin type (or phototype) depends on the amount of melanin pigment in the skin. This is determined by constitutional colour (white, brown or black skin) and the result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation (tanning). Pale or white skin burns easily and tans slowly and poorly: it needs more protection against sun exposure. Darker skin burns less and tans more easily. It is also more prone to develop postinflammatory pigmentation after injury (brown marks).

Fitzpatrick skin phototype is a constitutional characteristic present at birth. Note that people with photosensitivity may burn easily on exposure to the sun due to a disease, condition, or medication; however, their tanning ability is not influenced by their photosensitivity.

The Fitzpatrick classification

The Fitzpatrick classification of skin phototype is shown in the table below.

Fitzpatrick skin type
Skin type Typical features Tanning ability
 I Pale white skin, blue/green eyes, blond/red hair Always burns, does not tan
II Fair skin, blue eyes Burns easily, tans poorly
III Darker white skin Tans after initial burn
IV Light brown skin Burns minimally, tans easily
V Brown skin Rarely burns, tans darkly easily
VI Dark brown or black skin Never burns, always tans darkly

Light to dark skin types

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