The skin is our body’s biggest organ making up almost 16% of the body’s mass…If you don’t look after your skin this could lead to premature ageing and possibly even skin cancer.
The skin Fitzpatrick classification system was developed in 1975 to determine what potential skin cancer risks could present or develop for the different skin types.
Generally speaking the classification of Fitzpatrick skin types runs from 1-6. Hair and eye colour are also taken into consideration when Fitzpatrick skin types are determined. The classification system tells us how much melanin is present in the skin.
The less melanin is present in the skin, the less protection from the harmful ultraviolet rays one will have, causing the skin to burn easier and quicker.
Melanin pigment is a type of dark brown pigment that can show on people’s hair, skin and irises. The skin tends to tan in response to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Skin that has a higher concentration of melanin is likely to tan, rather than burn. The more your skin burns, the more your potential risk to skin cancer is increased.
Being able to classify a skin type according to how much melanin it contains, helps predict how likely the skin may burn.
Approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they reach their 70th birthday. Non-melanoma skin cancers are likely more common in men than women with almost double the cases recorded. The main types of skin cancer are:
- basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
- melanoma– the most dangerous form of skin cancer
Excluding non-melanoma skin cancers (BCC & SCC), melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia.
How can you protect your skin?
By understanding which Fitzpatrick skin type you have, you can make better choices about how to protect your skin.
We would like to take a look at the different skin types and how you can protect your skin:
Fitzpatrick Type 1 & 2:
People in this category have a high risk of getting burned in the sun, therefore developing sun damage and signs of aging to the skin. They are also at higher risk of developing skin cancers, such as melanoma.
According to Skin cancer studies, people with freckles, lighter hair colour and fairer skin are at much higher risk to develop skin cancer. These characteristics align with skin types 1 and 2. People with these skin types need to take extra precautions and care and always apply sunscreen before going out into the sun.
If your Fitzpatrick skin type is 1 or 2, you can take the following measures to protect your skin:
- always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or more
- avoid sun exposure, especially in hottest parts of the day 11.00 am until 3 pm
- Take shade where possible
- wear a hat and protective clothing
- wear sunglasses that block out harmful UV rays and protect your eyes
These protective measures should reduce this risk of a person developing skin cancer and can help the skin stay looking younger for longer. However, it is still essential to check the skin for any abnormalities.
All persons with skin type 1 or 2 should do an annual skin check for any abnormal skin presentations. Or visit your Doctor sooner if you notice any abnormalities.
Fitzpatrick 3 to 6:
People with Fitzpatrick skin type 3 to 6 are still at risk of developing skin cancer. However, their risk is lower than for those with Fitzpatrick skin types 1 or 2.
People in this category should still use sunscreens to protect their skin.
A person with Fitzpatrick skin type 3 to 6 should:
- monitor and limit sun exposure
- wear a hat and protective clothing
- wear sunglasses that block UV rays and protect your eyes
- wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above
If your skin is a Fitzpatrick type between 3 and 6, you should still check your skin on a regular basis for any abnormalities.
People with darker skin types should look out for acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM). This is a dark spot on the skin, which may develop on the palms on a person’s hands or the soles of their feet.
All skin types
Tanning beds are commercially banned in Australia, though may still be owned privately. Artificial tanning beds and machines are harmful to all skin types and we strongly advise you to avoid the use of artificial tanning beds regardless of your skin Fitzpatrick. A study suggests that if a person uses an artificial tanning bed before they reach the age of 35, they are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma later in life.
Australia is the number one country in the world with most cases of melanoma, with the state of Queensland leading number of cases within the country.
Things to look out for and when to see your doctor:
- existing moles that are getting bigger
- new moles
- the outline of a mole becoming blotched
- spots changing in color from brown to black
- spots becoming raised or developing a lumps
- texture change within the surface of a spot
- moles and spots that are itchy or tingly
- moles that bleed or weep
- spots that look unlike any other spots or skin tags you have noticed before
What can you take away from all this information?
The Skin Fitzpatrick classification system is a very useful way of assessing and identifying your skin type, so you can understand what the best way is to protect yourself and members of your family from the harmful UV rays. Your risk of skin cancer in the future is reduced by avoiding sun damage.
The sun is a lot stronger in Australia and south of the Equator. Therefore the effects of the sun are more damaging. We recommend always self checking for any skin abnormalities and if you are in a higher risk category, please have regular Skin checks. Our Sister Company, Surfers Health Medical Centre also specializes in detection and treatment of skin cancers.
Please get in touch if you have any concerns about skin cancers or if you have come across any abnormality on your skin.