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What Is Your Skin Type?

By HERWriter
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skin-cancer-risk-and-skin-type iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You may have thought I was going to discuss whether your skin type was normal, oily or dry. However, this article is really about determining what type of skin makes you more susceptible to UV radiation and increases your risk of skin cancer.

The Fitzpatrick Skin Type classification system was developed by Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick from Harvard Medical School and is used by dermatologists to determine which of the six skin types a patient may have. Combining knowledge of a person’s skin type with family history and typical daily sun exposure helps make people more aware of the need to take protection from the sun.

Ready to figure out your skin type?

First go to this American Academy of Dermatology site https://www.listentoyourskin.org/sun-damage/your-own-risk.aspx/ and take the quick test to determine what your skin type number is.

Then, come back and review the qualities of the six Fitzpatrick skin types. You may be able to determine your skin type by just reading the descriptions below but the test is fun.

Fitzpatrick Six Skin Types:

I. Always burns and doesn’t tan. Typically are fair-skinned, freckled, blue eyed. Celt descent. Susceptibility: Very High

II. Always sunburns, minimal tanning. Typically are fair-skinned, blonde, blue eyed. Scandinavians descent. Susceptibility: High

III. Sometimes sunburns, tans moderately. Typically are fair-skinned but brown haired, brown eyes. Susceptibility: Average

IV. Seldom sunburns, tans easily. Typically light brown skin, dark brown hair, may be of Hispanic or Mediterranean descent. Susceptibility: Low

V. Rarely sunburns, tans very easily. Typically darker brown-skinned, may be of Mediterranean, Oriental or Eastern Indian descent. Susceptibility: Very Low

VI. Never burns, deeply pigmented. African American descent. Susceptibility: Minimal

source: The Bradley O'Martin Melanoma Foundation

Now that you know your skin type, for planning purposes, you need to know what the UV index is in the area you live each day to pay attention to your sun exposure.

UV index is often reported during the weather report, but if you don’t regularly check the weather you can type in your zip code at this Environmental Protection agency site and it will tell you the UV index for your area for that day.

UV index is a measure of sun exposure risk of UV radiation. It is a combined calculation of ozone layer, cloud cover, time of the year and elevation of the city in which you live. UV index is lower during winter than summer due to the sun’s angle and higher in cities that have a higher elevation.

2: low
3-5: Moderate
6-7: High
8-10: Very High
11+: Extreme

My skin type is Type IV and the day I wrote this article the UV index was 4 in my zip code.

The lower the Fitzpatrick skin type number, the greater the increased chance a person has of burning during higher UV index days. For example, a person with a skin type of I or II could be sunburned within 10 minutes during a UV index day of 8-10, which is very high.

UV rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. so it is best to take extra precautions or avoid the sun during those periods.

It is also worth noting that when spending time around white or reflective surfaces such as snow, sand or water the UV effect can be magnified, meaning that a person is exposed to a greater UV effect.

So the next time you go out for the day, do check the UV index. Make sure you carry and use sunscreen above an SPF of 30, bring a wide-brimmed hat, and consider keeping your arms and legs covered if the UV index is high.


Skin Type. The Bradley O'Martin Melanoma Foundation. Retrieved Mar. 11, 2012.

UV Index. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved Mar. 11, 2012.

Skin Type Tells Your Story. American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved Mar. 11, 2012.

Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.