Skin in people of color

The color of our skin is very important to many aspects of Dermatology, from skin cancer risk to response to cosmetic procedures. To help us understand this, dermatologists have developed a numbering system to describe various types of skin. Type 6 is very dark, never burns and tans easily. Type 5 is less dark, still tans easily. Type 4 is lighter still, and will burn with prolonged sun exposure. For types 4-6, the eyes are usually brown and the natural hair color either brown or black. Type 3 is medium toned, tans easily but can burn after moderate exposure. Type 2 is light, often with blue eyes and light brown or blonde hair and burns easily but can tan. Type 1 is very light, has blue eyes, blonde or red hair and simply always burns. You may have an idea of which type you are already. The pigment that makes the skin darker is called melanin.

Why is this important? The most important consideration is skin cancer risk. The lower the number (Types 1-3), the less the melanin, the less the natural protection, the easier it is to burn, and the higher the risk of skin cancer. Skin types with more melanin ( Types 4-6) may not be at such high risk for skin cancer, but they do react to certain treatments differently. With certain cosmetic procedures such as laser and peels, the darker the skin the more likely the skin is to develop unwanted pigment as a side effect of the procedure. Darker skin can even respond to sunlight differently, by developing excess pigment. It takes experience and training to understand this.

If you are Type 1 or 2, it is very important that you get regular exams to screen for skin cancer. All types should use sun screen daily, as sunscreen not only helps prevent skin cancer, but it also helps counteract the aging changes the sun causes.

If you are one of the warmer skin types ( 3-6) you may have some special issues with pigment and scarring. We are especially sensitive to this, and will always recommend treatments and medication that minimize this issue. We can also guide you through lightening any scarring you have.

So whether your skin is a beautiful warm dark color, or white as can be, we are the experts!