What are skin types? What is a "Fitzpatrick level," which one is yours, and what treatment is going to be best for you? Here, we’re going to address these questions, but first, let’s talk about the most pertinent thing which is skin type.
Did you know “skin types” aren’t truly taught in medical literature? The term “skin type” is mainly a term used by cosmetic companies to categorize and advertise their products. It may also be used by aestheticians or skincare professionals to communicate with customers or patients. As you may have heard before, there are four main “skin types”: oily, combination, dry, and normal. Seems simple right? What makes things more complex is that multiple skin concerns can occur on each skin type. So for example, you could have an oily skin type, and you can also have skin concerns like fine lines and wrinkles. Unlike your Fitzpatrick type, skin types and skin concerns change throughout your life, and they can even be impacted by the natural environment around you, your prescription medicines, or your diet. Thus, the process of finding skincare that works for you becomes a little more complicated.
There’s no need to stress though. Let’s discuss the first building block of your skin profile which is your Fitzpatrick type.
What is a Fitzpatrick type?
Photo cred: Australian Government (Dept. of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety) 2019
Your Fitzpatrick type describes your genetic predisposition to sensitivity and photoaging (aka sun cancer, sunspots, and sun damage.)
Each type lies on a scale called the Fitzpatrick scale which ranges from 1-6. The Fitzpatrick scale is what medical professionals use to gauge how a patient may react to treatment according to their pigment levels. Medical professionals use the Fitzpatrick scale to identify and categorize different people’s genetics, and as mentioned before, this scale also informs the doctor’s approach to treatment. Using pigment levels as a guide, the Fitzpatrick scale offers medical professionals empirical knowledge on how much a patient’s skin is impacted by the sun. It also suggests how likely a patient will benefit or be harmed by a treatment (i.e chemical peels).
On the Fitzpatrick level, skin that classifies as type number one is usually the lightest tone. Empirically, people who fall into this category take treatments such as chemical peels, lasers, and microneedling very well. After treatments, there is a low potential for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots) or damage. On the other hand, they might often experience redness and flushing, and they are extraordinarily susceptible to sun damage. They should use high amounts of sunscreen every single day, and unfortunately, they are more genetically prone to skin cancer.
Now, when you go up the scale to 3, 5, and 6, the skin is richly melanated and requires more of a gentle approach to treatments like peels, lasers, or microneedling. This skin type is more reactive and is more susceptible to pigmentation. People with skin types higher on the Fitzpatrick scale are also a little more prone to keloid scarring. Secondly, people with a higher Fitzpatrick number like a six also do pretty well in the sun. They can usually go out with relatively low SPF and are less susceptible to issues like skin cancer and melanoma
So, basically, type 1 is great with products and treatments, but really sensitive to the sun, and as you go up the scale, people tend to be more tolerant to the Sun, but less tolerant to harsh treatment.
So, how do you know which one you are?
For one, you can look at your genetic traits such as your eye color, your skin color, and your hair color.
People who are number one usually have very light skin, light eyes, and light or red hair. Usually, these people have more freckles, and their eyes might even be a little bit gray.
For Number 2, the hair is a bit darker, the eyes are still blue, and the skin is still fair.
Number three might have green or blue eyes maybe even a little bit of hazel, but the skin doesn’t burn as easily in the sun like the first two, and it is able to tan. Their natural hair color is also a little bit more brown.
Type four has more melanin, and the eyes are usually green or brown. The hair is usually brown, dark brown, and the skin is likely to tan and deepen in the sun.
Skin type number five always tans and darkens in the sun, and the hair is usually dark brown, and the eyes are brown as well.
Type six has very deep melanin-infused skin, the eyes are a very deep brown, and the hair is usually black as well. These are probably the people who have never experienced a sunburn.
Photo cred: Cancer Focus NI
Your Fitzpatrick scale is something that does not change. It is genetically determined, and it stays with you for your entire life. You can find out your true Fitzpatrick type by talking to an esthetician or a dermatologist. Upon visiting your dermatologist, you can also figure out what types of treatments might work best for your skin type and your skin concerns. As mentioned before, there are four main skin types: oily, dry, normal, and combination.
How do I know my skin type?
Our environment and habits can change our skin type. If it’s more humid, our skin might feel more oily. If we go to a dry climate, our skin might get dry. Throughout teenage years, most people are more oily, and throughout our adult years, our skin may become drier. While this isn’t true for everybody, it is important to note that your lifestyle, your age, and even what you eat can impact how your skin reacts and therefore your skin type.
Phot cred:Awakened Skin
People who have oily skin generally have oil all over the face. By the end of the day, the face seems a little bit shiny, dewy, and even slippery. This happens mainly on the T-zone, the nose, the forehead, and chin, but it also happens in the C-zone meaning around the jaw and elsewhere. People with oily skin usually have a very oily scalp and very oily hair. To test this, see how your skin feels before applying a moisturizing it after a cleanse. If your skin feels buttery or a thin layer of oil still remains, your skin type is probably naturally oily.
Now, what about dry skin? If you have dry patches and dry flakes that are natural and not caused by the use of a product, that’s probably dry skin, but there are other ways to tell as well. If your skin seems to be a little bit dull or ashy, and it’s not producing enough oil, this could be a sign that you have naturally dry skin. You can also check your elbows or your knees. If these are particularly ashy, it could mean that you have dry skin all over. A really good way to test whether you have dry skin is how your skin feels upon getting out of the shower. If your skin feels super tight like it’s hard to move, stretched, or cracky after showering, you most likely have a dry skin type.
If you have combination skin, you may have patches of dryness and oiliness. There’s probably some oiliness around the T zone, around the nose, the chin, and there might be some dryness here by the jaw, cheeks, or forehead temples
This means the skin is balanced.
These skin types reveal themselves well at the end of the day, but all of these skin types can vary. You might not be as oily as your friend but still have oily skin. You can have combination skin, but swing more towards one side or the other. And remember diet, environment, products, and water quality can all impact skin type. They can also change throughout life. So, while dry, oily, combination, and normal skin can vary in intensity, they can inhabit a mix of skin concerns.
What are skin concerns?
Skin concerns include acne-proness, sensitive skin, mature, aging skin, hormonal skin, and skin circulation.
Photo cred: Glow biotics MD
How do you know which skin concerns (conditions) you have?
If you’re breakout-prone, you’re familiar with acne. If you’re starting to get fine line and wrinkles and if you put on products or water and you skin get stingy or red, you’ve probably got sensitive skin. Cassandra describes how companies or skincare gurus say that these are skin types when in reality, they’re conditions. Your “skin type” is oily, dry, combination, or normal, and you could have multiple conditions at varying degrees.
For example, Cassandra has an oily skin type, but she has the skin concern of acne proness and sensitivity. You can have certain skin concerns when you are younger (eg, teenage acne), and as you grow older, this can change. Once Again, how acne-proness or sensitivity all happens on a spectrum. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily say “I’m not sensitive” or “I am” because our skin is all sensitive to some extent
We can also experience multiple conditions at the same time and being aware of them can help you decide what skincare products and ingredients work best for you and your Fitzpatrick level. Skin types are primarily listed on products to categorize them and to help you. For example, products for oily skin are normally going to have things that are less prone to breaking people out. Products for “dry skin types” tend to be a bit more hydrating.
However, some of these terms are used for marketing and incentivizing people to buy a product or treatment. More simply, brands may want to make a consumer feel as if a product is specifically “for them.”
We hope this info can help you better find ingredients to address your skin concerns. And remember, always focus on what’s on the back of those skincare labels and to conversate with people who are going through similar skin concerns.
Cover photo cred: Capuski / Getty Images