Skin colourings & Ethnicity

Skin colour is due primarily to the presence of a pigment called melanin. Both light and dark-complexioned people have this pigment. The number and size of melanin particles differ will in individuals.

The Fitzpatrick scale (also Fitzpatrick skin typing test; or Fitzpatrick photo typing scale) is a numerical classification schema for human skin colour. It was developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick as a way to estimate the response of different types of skin to ultraviolet (UV) light.


Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5 Type 6
Highly sensitive

•Always burns

•Never tans

Example; a person with red hair and freckles.

Very sun sensitive

•Burns easily

•Tans minimally

Example; a person who is fair skinned. Fair haired


Sun sensitive skin

•Sometimes burns

•Slowly tans to a light brown

Example; a darker Caucasian

Burns minimally

•Always tans well

•Tans to moderate brown – think

Sun reactions rarely occur

•Minimal freckles

•Almost never burns

•Always tans

Has dark brown or black skin

•Tans easily

•Almost never burns

•This skin type is more prone to keloid scarring

White/Caucasian skin •       Relatively thin skin – blood capillaries visible – also prone to broken capillaries

•       Fewer and less sebaceous glands – therefore fine in texture

•       Prone to burning in the sun due to less melanocytes

•       Also, ages and wrinkles prematurely

•       Blue / pink tones

•       Some skin tones can be darker, particularly if the parents have brown or black hair

•       Red haired and blonde-haired people have quite sensitive skin


East Asian and Southeast Asian •       Skin rarely shows blemishes, but can develop hyper-pigmentation, scarring and unevenness – therefore be careful if extracting blackheads.

•       Ages slower than white skin – good tolerance to UV light

•       Sebaceous glands are more active in the T-zone area, but not excessive

•       Yellow and olive undertones

South Asian and Middle Eastern •       Melanin is quite high and skin tone can be yellow to dark

•       More sweat glands – which can give a sheen – not to be mistaken for oiliness

•       A strong skin, with supporting fibres – therefore ages well

•       Pigmentation problems – particularly around and under the eyes

•       Excess dark hair can be visible on the face and body

Black skin •       This skin has the most melanocytes– therefore has more protection from UV light and sun damage

•       Sebaceous activity gives good lubrication and moisture, resulting in a slower aging process

•       Cell renewal is fast, as the skin desquamates well

•       Collagen and elastin fibres are strong with good support preventing poor muscle tone

•       Keloid scarring can occur when skin is damaged

•       Although the epidermis is thicker, harsh products should be avoided.

•       Dermatosis apulose nigra occurs exclusively in black skins and more so in women. The condition forms brown to black lesions that resemble moles.

•       Pseudo folliculitis barbae hairs are susceptible to growing back into the follicle, due to the natural curls, this can cause an inflammatory reaction (PIH) which results in tender spots. These spots often become infected and filled with pus and can be mistaken for acne.  Shaving is a main cause of this condition; waxing can also be a cause.

Mediterranean/Latino skin •       Darker, olive skin tones – for people who live along the Mediterranean coastline – Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, France

•       Sebaceous glands produce more oil to lubricate skin in the heat and rarely suffers from blemishes

•       Hair tones are darker, which makes facial hair more visible

•       Skin is strong and robust with good protection from melanocytes and tans well in the sun


Remember this is just a guide of typical characteristics linked to skin colour and ethnicity. Also mixed ethnicity may have many traits linked across a variety of ethnicities.


The main difference between darker skin tones and Caucasian skin tones is the dispersal of melanocytes. In dark skins melanosomes (melanin pigment granules) are large and scattered singly, in lighter skins they are smaller and packed together. Melanin can absorb free-radicals, harmful particles in the environment, thus helping to fight against premature ageing. As the melanin is bigger and more widely distributed in darker skin colours this, scientifically, proves that darker skins will age slower than Caucasian skins.

Hyper-pigmentation= too much pigment in an area

Hyperpigmentation is where the skin has created too much melanin. This can be triggered by many different things like hormone imbalances, sun exposure, photo-sensitivity to products, acne and scaring.

Unfortunately, the damage is often done before the pigmentation is seen and affects all skin colours. The increased distribution of melanin pigment means hyper-pigmentation is greatly increased in darker skins. Post inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, also known as PIH, can develop after the skin has been irritated or sensitised. This can occur from harsh beauty treatments, over-abrasion of the skin e.g., strong soaps, products with high alcohol content and squeezing spots. Hyper-pigmentation can occur in all skin colours, but darker skins develop dark patches of pigmentation and Caucasian skins will appear red, this is referred to as post-inflammatory erythema (PIE). This occurs as a result of the healing process from injury.  Irregular pigmentation can be a problem and is hard to treat.

Hypo-pigmentation= Lack of pigment in the skin

Hypopigmentation is a lack of melanin in the skin caused by depletion of melanocyte cells. This can be caused by numerous reasons, frequently in people suffering from thyroid conditions, Addison’s disease and pernicious anaemia. Other causes can include injury to the skin. Loss of pigment is highly visible in darker skins but can occur on any skin colour.