What Is Fair Skin?

Liz Thomas

The term “fair skin” is typically used to describe a human skin color that is usually considered the lightest natural shade. People with this sort of skin are typically of Caucasian or East Asian descent, though it can occur in people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Many cultural researchers believe that the very light skin tone originated in people living in Northern Europe and Northeastern Asia, where the sun’s rays aren’t naturally as strong. Due to global migration and genetic spread, fair skinned people are located all over the world today and are present in many different ethnic groupings. There are a couple of different broad types of skin in this category, but in most cases the “fair” designation only relates to the outward color — this type of skin is often just as prone to dryness, oiliness, and breakouts as any other. There are usually increased risks of sun damage, though, and people with this sort of coloring often have to be really careful about taking protective measures to avoid sunburn.

Fair skin is often accompanied by red hair and freckles.
Fair skin is often accompanied by red hair and freckles.

Geographical and Evolutionary Background

Cultures that are typically associated with a fair complexion are from Europe and Asia, probably because these regions traditionally see weaker sunlight; scientists believe that areas with weaker sunlight naturally promoted lighter skin since, at least from a biological standpoint, the body didn’t need as many defenses against radiation in these zones. There does tend to be a lot of debate when it comes to exactly how fair skin evolved, though. Some believe that skin went from dark to fair due to a change in diet as human groups migrated north. Others surmise that it was due more to the sun’s relative strength or weakness. The sun is not as strong at the poles as it in equatorial climates, and lighter skinned mutations may have been better able to survive and repeat in these places.

UV rays can penetrate fair skin more quickly resulting in sunburns.
UV rays can penetrate fair skin more quickly resulting in sunburns.

Sun Damage Concerns

One of the biggest risks of fair skin is sun damage. The skin is the body’s first defense against outside elements, but this also makes it one of the most exposed. Most people have some natural defenses in their skin to protect against sun and other environmental damage, but these protections are usually the lowest in fair or very light skin. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are often able to more quickly penetrate the barriers of light skin, and sunburns often happen more quickly and often more severely as a result.

People of East Asian descent are considered to have fair skin.
People of East Asian descent are considered to have fair skin.

Dermatologists and skin care experts typically recommend that all people wear sunscreen and take other precautions to limit sun exposure, though these warnings are often the strongest for people with very pale skin. Skin roughness, dark splotches, and wrinkles often occur sooner and may be more apparent for these people, and the damage of burns is often worse.

Fair-skinned people should use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
Fair-skinned people should use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.


There are a number of variations to this skin tone. Some people may have a rosy tint due to the presence of blood vessels near the surface of the skin, while others may have a lot of freckles and some may have a very clear, consistent complexion with cooler undertones.

Those with fair skin may get wrinkles at younger ages than other people without fair skin.
Those with fair skin may get wrinkles at younger ages than other people without fair skin.

In general, fair complexions can be divided into three different groups. Group one includes those that have pale skin with few or no freckles and green or blue eyes. When exposed to the sun, group one individuals’ skin will usually burn, and then suffer from peeling. People who have freckles and a fair complexion are sometimes labeled as having an “English rose complexion,” especially women who also have red hair. Anyone can have this type of skin, though. Fair skinned individuals with an Asian background typically have darker hair and freckles are less common — but they can still happen.

Dermatologists recommend that individuals with fair skin wear sunscreen.
Dermatologists recommend that individuals with fair skin wear sunscreen.

Group two individuals have light skin, usually blue eyes, and either brown or blonde hair. While the skin will burn and peel, as with group one, those in group two usually have the ability to tan slightly. The third group includes those individuals with light skin, brown eyes and dark hair. These people are less likely to burn and more likely to tan in sunlight.

Individuals with light skin, blue eyes and blonde hair usually have the ability to tan slightly.
Individuals with light skin, blue eyes and blonde hair usually have the ability to tan slightly.

Skin Types Impacted

The “fair skin” designation is typically assigned purely on the basis of color, without regard to actual skin type. People who have this sort of complexion can have skin that is oily, prone to breakouts, or dry; the same as anyone with any other tone. In most cases, fair is simply a matter of pigmentation and doesn’t change the way the skin functions.

People with light skin, brown eyes, and dark hair are less likely to burn in sunlight.
People with light skin, brown eyes, and dark hair are less likely to burn in sunlight.
Deeper colors tend to be most flattering for individuals who have fair skin.
Deeper colors tend to be most flattering for individuals who have fair skin.

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Discussion Comments


Fair is derived from the French word "clair", which means clear, or translucent/transparent.

By incorrectly stating it just means light, or pale, that would (wrongly) tend to imply that it means clear of melanin.

Whereas, that is not what it is referring to, at all.

It is simply referring to the translucent appearance of fair (rather than light) skin, which allows you to see the blood underneath the skin, to varying degrees.

Whether consistently all over, or in certain places (e.g. cheeks) more than others.

Light, opaque (i.e. olive, or golden) skin is not fair, as you can't see the blood through it.


I don't agree with this.

What you are describing here is light skin, in general; not fair skin, specifically.

There would be no need for the word "fair", as opposed to light, if fair didn't mean something far more specific.

Fair skin is, specifically, melanin-deprived skin with a pinkish hue.

That could be an overall pinkish/pink-beige look, or a rosy cheeked "English Rose", or "peaches and cream" type look.

What it isn't, is light skin with an olive, or golden (or purely blue, or purple) hue.

So, your Group 4 would not be "fair", but light skinned.

The rule of thumb would be that anyone who can tan without burning first is not fair skinned, even if they are light skinned.

Also, "English rose" normally refers to women with fair (peaches and cream) skin and blonde hair (or naturally blonde hair as children, anyway); not those with red hair.


I don't agree with the article, You get fair skin within any race, including the black race. People who are black who have fair complexions include Colin Powell who is Jamaican and in the political arena.


For those with fair skin one of the best things you can do to prevent burning is to invest in a lovely parasol. These beautiful personal canopies are available in so many designs and colors that you can easily find something to match any outfit.

For myself I find that not a lot of women are willing to carry around a parasol these days, and it's really a shame. I think that parasols are effective and classy. One group of ladies that seem to have no problem with carrying a parasol though, are those from South Korea. I have a lot of friends from there and they always have the prettiest parasols.


For those traveling to Asia who are fair skinned it is a really good idea to bring your own foundation and makeup with you. While many Asians with pale skin can appear very white the makeup made for them has a yellowish undertone that does not look very good for those that have more pinkish skin.

My friend dragged me along shopping a little while ago to try and replace her foundation and she couldn't find anything that worked for her. Everything in the store just looked like it was leaving streaks on her skin. She eventually ended up having to get a relative to ship her some makeup from home. It ended up being a pretty costly enterprise.


@blackdagger – You know what? I do have that issue, actually. And, as luck would have it, I have found some solutions to help me look nice no matter what my skin happens to be doing.

I have just accepted the fact that I’ll always have to have several shades of blush, powder, concealer, eye make-up and lipstick. But, there is a benefit to this.

I am not afraid one little bit to get creative and combine colors as my skin changes from one color to another.

As you said, red lipstick just doesn’t look the same on fair skin that it does on dark skin. The same is true for all of your other kinds of makeup.

Sometimes, you can get more diversity and have to buy less makeup if you learn how to combine some colors to make a new one.

For instance, you have a bright red lipstick for when you’re fair, and a deeper brown color for when you’re really dark. Combine the two for a good look when you are neither here nor there.

It works for me, anyway! Good luck!


@Domido – Hello! Your post caught my attention because I pretty much have the same skin that you do; really fair when I’m out of the sun and really dark when I spend any time in it at all – even when I use sunblock.

I was wondering if you have the same problem that I do. I have to have about three or four different options of every kind of makeup that I use (except liner and mascara) because my skin changes so easily.

My best red lipstick for fair skin looks too light when I'm tanned, and actually looks kind of orange instead.

I have to be very careful not to apply my lighter tones when I’ve been in the sun or I get this ghostly (and ghastly) look going on.

Anyway, I was wondering if you had the same issue and if you had any pointers.


I suppose I’m in group number three. I have fair skin, dark hair and brown eyes that are turning hazel with age.

It’s very true that when I get out in the sun that I tan, and I also have lots of freckles. I often joke that my tan is just my freckles connecting the dots.

The thing is that I often use sunscreen in the summer, but I still turn very brown. During the winter I’m as white as a sheet.

My mother says that this is probably in large part due to some distant Native American grandparents on her side of the family.

I also have the extremely dark hair to show that I’ve got that bloodline, along with all of the fairer English traits from my daddy’s side.

Anyway, I’m pretty well happy with my skin as it is – but I must admit that I’m extremely glad that I tan instead of burn like my sisters.

Their hair and eyes are all lighter than mine; I guess that’s the why of it all.


@snickerish - I just have to weigh in on the self tanner conversation. I may not be as fair skinned in comparison to the fairest of them all, in fact I now know the proper name for my skin tone thanks to this article - "an English rose complexion," but I know this about self tanner -

Do not do it!

Go to a professional spray tanner. Just do not even attempt the self tanner. It is worth the awkwardness of being naked in front of someone else to go to through the spray tan process.

The tan you receive is incredibly gorgeous (I have only done a spray tan once and it was for my wedding and I had a ridiculous number of compliments on my "tan glow"), you develop no possible side effects like skin cancer, or weird orange spots that you are almost bound to get if you try a self tanner (I also tried this once and there is only one word to describe it - disastrous).


@snickerish - As a person who likes to spend a fair amount of time at the beach but who lives inland I have a possible solution to both.

I must say my work at getting a tan takes a little longer than others - but I also would rather take the time than risk a burn or possible skin cancer - so I would go so far as to say this is the 'conservative' approach to tanning for fair skin.

What I do is just do 5-15 minutes in the sun without spf depending on fair your skin is, the fairer you are the less time in the sun you should spend without spf. Then cover yourself in sunblock, and from what I have read is 15 spf is all you need.

What you will find is you will still get sun with the spf on without getting the burn *and* I think that the 5-15 minutes you get without spf on accelerates the process.

Now I cannot recommend this if you are planning on doing it every day of your life, but if you go to the beach every now and then it works great at maximizing your tan while still protecting your skin in my book.

Now as far as the self-tanners go - I, having tried self tanners, can only recommend the lotions that offer a bronzing effect such as a tinted lotion (for example: Lancôme Soleil Flash Bronzer Instant Colour Self-Tanning Lotion). The more serious self tanners just tend to leave us fair skinned folks looking orange!


@shellforlife - It is great to have a wrinkle buddy! I am only 28 and I swear the wrinkles started appearing all in one day. My husband just laughs at me, and says he can barely see anything. But I have started to become more religious about applying a daily spf moisturizer but to no avail the wrinkles keep coming, but at least I know I am taking care of my skin!

Another thing that I would like to add to my routine for taking care of my skin is figuring out either how to tan my fair skin or the best sunless tanner for fair skin...any suggestions!


I have always envied those who have a darker skin tone and can get a good summer tan. With my fair skin, this could take hours in the sun. I don't have time for this, nor do I think it is good to spend too much time in the sun.

The best self tanner for fair skin that I have used is Jergens. They have several different kinds to choose from depending on the color of your skin tone. It is reasonably priced and it has worked the best for me.

Some self tanners will leave your skin looking orange, but the key to any of them is to make sure you evenly apply the lotion. It doesn't take long before you will see your skin looking like it has some color.

This is perfect for spring when you are ready to wear shorter sleeves and pants and want a little bit of color on your skin.


I am not a big fan of tanning beds, but have used them a few times in the past. For many people with fair skin, tanning can be a difficult thing to achieve.

When I went on a cruise in the middle of winter, I went to a tanning bed for a few sessions to get some exposure before I went on my cruise.

Even though I am faithful about applying sunscreen, I didn't want my cruise to be ruined by a bad sunburn.

When I used the tanning bed, I only went for a few minutes each time and gradually worked my way up to 20 minutes each time. This gave me a good start on a tan, and I was able to enjoy the time in the sun on my trip without worrying about getting burned.


My grandson has blond hair, blue eyes and also has very fair skin. If he is going to be outside for any length of time at all, he needs to have sunscreen on.

In the summer they just get in the habit of applying sunscreen every day because they spend a lot of time outdoors.

People who have fair skin will burn in the sun much faster than those who have a darker skin tone. I might burn the first time I am out in the sun for a long time, but after that I will tan all summer long.

With my grandson, he never gets a tan no matter how often he is in the sun. His fair skin will burn every time if he doesn't have protection on.


I am sad to hear that wrinkles and spots appear more quickly on fair skin! My skin is quite fair, and though I’m already seeing evidence of this, I thought it was due only to the fact that I’m out in the pool a lot in the summer.

I’m 32, and I’m already seeing age spots on the highest part of my cheekbones. Some people use creams to try to fade the spots, but I don’t bother, because I know there will just be more to follow. I have so much fun outdoors in the water, and I don’t want to sacrifice my lifestyle just to postpone the inevitable.

I do wear plenty of sunscreen, but I get wrinkles anyway. I have plenty of fine lines under my eyes and a few around my mouth. I see them as proof of a life well lived rather than a curse of fair skin.


I have learned through trial and error how to select makeup for my fair skin tone. Shades are numbered from lightest to darkest, but though two shades may look similar, they have different undertones.

Normally, one light shade will be formulated for those with pink or cool undertones to their skin. The shade immediately following it by number will be made for those with yellow or olive undertones. If you look closely or open up the lid, you can see a pink hue to one and a yellow hint to the other.

I have pink undertones, but I mistakenly bought a makeup with a yellow hue. When I put it on my face, I looked diseased! It didn’t work at all. Since most places don’t let you return opened makeup, I just had to buy another one in pink.


I belong to group one of the fair-skinned people. The best way for me to get a tan is through a self tanner for fair skin. It gives me a light tan that looks natural.

The first time I used a self tanner, I used the one made for dark skin, because I misunderstood the label and thought it was formulated to give a deep tan. It looked so fake, like I had painted my body. I couldn’t go out for days!

My fair skin self tanner is in the form of a lotion that I use every day. It gradually adds color to my skin, and using it daily replaces the tan that naturally exfoliates with dead skin.


I have fair skin, but I am a cross between group one and two. I don’t have very many freckles, I have green-blue eyes, and my hair is golden brown. Though I do burn easily, I also am able to develop a slight tan.

Often what happens is I get a little bit of a sunburn early in the summer. Then, I put aloe vera on the sunburn to soothe it and keep it from peeling. Within a few days, it turns into a tan.

I always wear sunscreen. Even with SPF 30, I get a little bit of color if I stay out for hours. Since I apply sunscreen every couple of hours, this color is usually a light tan rather than a burn.

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