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How Do I Use the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale?

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  • Written By: L. Baran
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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The Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale is used to determine a person's skin type based on genetic factors and sun exposure habits. A total skin type score can be calculated by answering ten questions in three categories: reaction to sun exposure, past experiences with sun, and tanning. This score is then used to determine which of the six possible skin types a person has. Answering each question requires self-assessment, so honest answers are necessary to receive an accurate score.

The first category in the Fitzpatrick Skin Type test is concerned with genetic factors that influence the skin's reaction to sun exposure. Questions involve eye color, natural hair color, skin color in areas typically not exposed to the sun, and the presence or absence of freckles. For example, blue eyes, red hair and many freckles will all give scores of zero, while black hair, dark brown skin and no freckles each give scores of four. Combinations in between will yield scores between one and three.

As the test continues, the second category asks about past experiences in the sun. Questions include whether the skin ever turns brown, the time it takes to turn brown, what happens with prolonged sun exposure, and how the face reacts to sunlight. Turning red, never tanning, or experiencing sensitivity in the sun will yield scores of zero, while turning brown within hours and never burning will give scores of four.

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Then the third category asks two questions about tanning. It asks how recently the skin was allowed to be in the sun, and whether body parts were intentionally exposed. A score of zero corresponds to sun exposure over three months ago, while a four relates to exposure within the past two weeks.

After the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale questions have been completed, the numerical answers to each question should be added together. A total of zero to seven equals skin type I. A score of 8 to 16 is skin type II, while 17 to 25 is type III. Higher totals of 25 to 30 yields skin type IV, while any number over 30 corresponds to skin types V and VI.

Skin type I is extremely sensitive, always burning skin that never turns brown, while type II is very sensitive, often burnt skin that rarely tans. Gradually tanning, occasionally burning skin is type III, and type IV is skin that rarely burns and always turns brown. Type V is dark skin that does not react poorly to the sun, and type VI is very dark skin that has never burnt.

The Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale is mainly used in dermatology, but individuals can use the scale to learn how to better protect themselves against dangerous ultraviolet rays. Having a concrete indication of sun dangers can help to prevent skin cancer. Knowledge of skin type can help determine the likelihood that a person will get skin cancer and the most appropriate dermatological treatment for many different skin problems, including psoriasis.

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