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Do You Know Your Phototype?

Have you ever numbered your skin? Whether you’re feeling it looks like a 10 because you’ve been following your morning skincare routine or you’re choosing your perfect foundation match, ranking your skin on the Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype System works slightly differently.  

Here’s everything you need to know about phototypes and how to protect your Fitzpatrick skin. 


What Is The Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype System? 

We know Fitzpatrick sounds a lot like Saint Patrick's but we’re not talking about beer and four-leaf clovers here. The Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype System was developed by Thomas Fitzpatrick in the 70s when bell bottoms and platforms were all the rage, groovy baby. The idea was to classify your skin colouring and sensitivity by its reaction to UV light and the amount of pigment your skin has.  

Our mate Thomas thought that people with a lower Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype (FSP) and lighter skin tone could only stand small amounts of exposure compared to a person with a higher FSP and darker skin tone, so developed the scale we use today. This continues to help medical professionals assess your risk of sunburn or tanning after excessive UV exposure and indicates how likely you are to develop skin cancer.  

What Is The Fitzpatrick Scale Used For? 

While the FSP can guess how your skin will react after sun exposure, dermatologists use it to determine which cosmetic procedures and beauty treatments would be suitable for your skin. It can help you honour your body and nurture the skin you’re in by: 

  • Determining the setting on a laser when performing laser hair removal as they can cause burns and depigmentation when the correct setting isn’t used. 
  • Deciding the best dose of UV therapy you can have to treat certain skin disorders.  
  • Figuring out whether laser pigment removal for sunspots and freckles is right for you as it’s only suitable for skin types 1, 2 and 3. 

We’ve discussed before that there’s no such thing as a healthy natural tan so the FSP goes one step further in helping you figure out which fake tan will work best for your complexion. The first layer of your skin can only absorb a certain amount of DHA, the colourless colouring agent in sunless tanning solution that mimics your natural colour, so professional spray tanners use the scale to determine what percentage would be best to avoid over-development. We bet you didn’t know that there are actually three main bases when it comes to tanning solutions: 

  1. Green neutralises pink skin tones and is perfect for lighter complexions. 
  2. Violet neutralises yellow or olive undertones. 
  3. Brown is perfect for those with already brown or olive-toned skin 

Knowing your skin tone and choosing the correct colour will mean you end up with the most healthy and natural-looking glow, without the sun damage!  

Phototherapy VS LED Light Therapy 

Phototherapy is a form of treatment that uses artificial ultraviolet light to treat skin conditions. It works by slowing skin cell growth and inflammation to reduce the appearance of inflammation, psoriasis, dermatitis, vitiligo and eczema.  

We can hear you asking how UV light can treat skin conditions if it also causes premature aging and skin cancer so hear us out! You know by now that the sun produces UV light and too much exposure can damage your skin. While the UV light used in phototherapy is the same type of light emitted from the sun, it’s actually controlled to prevent skin damage. There are a few different types of phototherapy which include broadband UVB, narrow-band UVB, PUVA and lasers.  

You might have also heard phototherapy referred to as light therapy, this is slightly different because it uses Light Emitted Diode (LEDs) which don’t contain UV rays so it’s non-invasive and perfect for regular use. There are different types of LED lights available to treat different conditions but here are a few of the most common: 

  • Blue Light Therapy: Blue LED lights are similar to the lights emitted from your cell phone which gives off a blue hue. It’s often used to treat jaundice and helps acne by targeting the sebaceous glands that can lead to oily skin and acne if overactive. 
  • Red Light Therapy: As the name suggests, red LED lights have a red hue that treats the outer layer of skin as the epidermis absorbs it and then stimulates collagen proteins. It encourages regeneration against wrinkles, redness, acne and scars which ticks a lot of boxes! Using the two together is a real game changer as it can help treat acne and decrease scarring while promoting anti-inflammatory properties.  

After a phototherapy procedure, you’ll need to wear sunscreen on the treated areas to protect your skin from further natural UV exposure. Our everyday skin-loving sunscreen range has been developed with non-greasy formulas that are free from parabens and sulphates. This means you’ll be confidently protected without worrying about chemical-induced breakouts, clogged pores or irritated skin.   

What Is Photoaging?  

You won’t believe it but the signs of ageing are largely thanks to photodamage caused by UV exposure more so than chronological aging! You may have heard it called photodamage, solar damage or sun damage but photoaging is basically when the sun prematurely ages the skin. It happens in the deepest layers of the skin when ultraviolet light hits unprotected skin, causing permanent DNA changes at a cellular level that may take years to surface. Because the damage is cumulative, if you’ve been continuously exposed throughout your life then you’ll notice brown spots, wrinkles, broken capillaries and uneven skin texture.  

Everyone is at risk of photoageing but how much photodamage you wear depends on the amount of time you’ve spent in the sun unprotected and your skin type. It’s believed that lighter skin is more susceptible to photoageing and skin cancer but darker skin can also be photodamaged and is more likely to develop uneven dark patches known as melasma.  

If you’re tackling the signs of ageing then esmi’s Resurfacing R0.25% Level 1 retinol serum is perfect for increasing skin cell turnover and stimulating collagen synthesis for a healthier youthful appearance. You’ll also want to look out for products with ingredients like Vitamin C and E or green tea to stabilise your skin and help brighten any dark spots.   

How To Identify Your Fitzpatrick Skin Type

If you had to describe your skin’s colour or tone, what would you say? Genetic disposition, like the amount of melanin pigment you have in your skin, and your reaction to sun exposure are the two main factors that influence your skin type.  

The Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype asks questions about eye colour, hair colour, skin colour before sun exposure, how many freckles you have and more. Just like dating, you’ve got to know your type, so why not check an area of skin that receives the least amount of average exposure and ask yourself the following: 

  • What happens to your skin if you stay in the sun for an extended period?  
  • Do you turn brown after sun exposure? 
  • Is your face sensitive to the sun?  

The FSP then breaks down into six categories starting from light and moving up to the darkest tones of skin.  

Which Fitzpatrick Type Has The Highest Risk Of Photoaging? 

By now you’ve learned that your skin cancer risk is based on a number of factors that include skin color and sensitivity to the sun but it can also include your family history, your history of sun exposure and medication such as immunosuppressants. 

Generally, a lower rating on the FSP chart means your pale skin burns more easily than it tans. You likely have an ivory or porcelain shade of skin with blue or green eyes, and blonde or red hair. Being skin type I means you may have a naturally reddish undertone and might even be of English or Scottish ethnicity, because of this your skin twin would be Emma Stone or Prince Harry!  

Unfortunately, this also means you may have a higher risk of sun damage, skin ageing from sun exposure, melanoma and other skin cancers. Along with facing challenges against sunburn, you might also be prone to rosacea, acne and pigmentation. It’s recommended you wear SPF50+ every day so keep your skin smiling with our gentle Sun Skills for SENSITIVE. Developed with delicate skin in mind, the fragrance-free formula is designed to help strengthen your skin's barrier and prevent premature ageing without clogging pores or irritating skin.  

Which Fitzpatrick Type Is The Most Resistant To Sun Trauma?

If you have a higher FSP, it means your darker skin burns less and always tans darkly. This is thanks to having increased melanin which provides natural protection against UV radiation. If your skin type is VI you’re least sensitive to light with very resistant skin that ranges from deep mahogany to espresso. You never freckle so might be of African ethnicity with dark hair and dark eyes, this makes your skin twin Michelle Obama or Kanye West. 

You generally have a lower risk of skin cancer compared with people of lighter skin tones and might not see as many of the early signs of ageing that are brought on by UV light exposure. Don’t sidestep SPF yet because excessive sun can still cause uneven skin tone and pigmentation while you might also be prone to acne and eczema. We recommend wearing at least SPF15+ so try esmi’s silky smooth Skin Shield Sunscreen SPF30, formulated with hyaluronic acid for hydration and carrot root oil for anti-aging.   

Does Everyone Need Sunscreen? 

Your skin makes up 16% of your body mass and is the largest organ in your body so no matter where you sit on the Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype System, you should be applying sunscreen daily to receive maximum protection from UV light.  

Once you know your Fitzpatrick skin type, it gets easier for you to understand what precautions you need to take to protect your skin. Skin types with less pigmentation have less melanin which means there is less protection against harmful sun rays, while we love rumours as much as the next person it’s a misconception that those with darker skin cannot get sunburned or develop skin cancer. Sunscreen is also your go-to anti ageing weapon so it’s never too late to practice your sun skills and prevent future photodamage.  

If you’re at an increased risk of skin cancer, it’s important to schedule regular skin exams and discuss with your doctor whether you need an annual checkup or if they should be more frequent. If you haven’t been in a while, here’s your reminder to make an appointment with a dermatologist if you notice any new growths on your skin, growths that have increased in size, a spot that changes or a dark line underneath or around a fingernail or toenail.