Skin Pigment and Ability to Tan

Suncare Essentials > Skin Types: Pigment and Ability to Tan

Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight affects everybody's skin to some extent, but the skin's response varies widely from person to person. Peoples' sensitivity to the sun varies according to the amount of pigment in the skin and the skin's ability to tan.

Ultraviolet radiation causes tanning in two different ways: by immediate tanning and by delayed tanning. Immediate tanning causes the skin to darken in response to UVA. This darkening begins during the period of exposure, but fades within a few hours or days. The amount of tanning increases according to the skin's natural darkness and previous amount of tanning.

Delayed tanning occurs two to three days after exposure to either UVA or UVB. It lasts from several weeks to months, and is maintained by repeated exposure to sunlight. With delayed tanning, the skin increases its production and distribution of dark pigment. The skin also becomes thicker. These changes can follow sunburning or develop gradually over a long period of repeated brief exposures to sunlight.

Some people burn easily after the first hour of sun exposure following winter or any period away from the sun. Other people, especially those with dark skin, never burn. This difference in reaction makes it possible to classify skin into one of six different types:

Classification of Skin Types


Skin Type Hair Carnation Freckles Sun reaction / burns Tanning / Tans
I Red or Blond Very fair +++ Always Never
II Blond Fair ++ Often Lightly
III Blond or light brown Fair to medium + to 0 Sometimes Progressively
IV Brown Olive or mate 0 Rarely Rapidly
V Brown to black Dark 0 Rarely Deeply
VI Black Very dark 0 Never Deeply
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