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Skin Analysis: What is the Fitzpatrick Scale and Why Should You Use It?

Before recommending any treatment to a client, a thorough skin analysis is an absolute must. You need to be aware of how your client’s skin will react so that you can suggest the best options, as well as set reasonable expectations for the process.

One of the most useful tools for skin analysis is the Fitzpatrick Scale.

What is the Fitzpatrick Scale?

The Fitzpatrick Scale was developed in 1975 by Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick and is now universally accepted by estheticians and dermatologists for skin analysis. The purpose of the scale is to measure the skin’s tolerance to UV radiation and how easily melanocytes are stimulated.

Melanocytes are cells that produce a pigment called melanin. While we typically think of melanin in reference to the color of an individual’s skin, the purpose of melanin is actually to protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Melanocytes can be triggered by sun exposure, as well as inflammation or trauma to the skin. For example, a pimple that becomes irritated could stimulate melanin production, resulting in a dark spot for certain skin tones.

There are six levels of skin sensitivity in the Fitzpatrick Scale.

What are the Levels of the Fitzpatrick Scale?

Each level is characterized by how easily that particular skin tone burns or tans when exposed to UV rays. Level one is the fairest skin with the lowest tolerance for UV exposure. Level six is the darkest skin with the highest level of natural UV protection.

It’s important to note that while darker skin is less vulnerable to sunburns, it is often more susceptible to hyperpigmentation and scarring.

How to Use the Fitzpatrick Scale

Dermatologists use the scale to help identify potentially malignant spots and signs of skin cancer. 

As an esthetician, you shouldn’t be diagnosing skin cancer, but you should make your clients aware of any suspicious spot or lesion that you notice during skin analysis. (Click here to learn more about the role of an esthetician in skin cancer prevention.)

The Fitzpatrick Scale can help you determine how your client’s skin will respond to certain treatments, especially laser and photofacial procedures. It also helps you determine the appropriate settings for laser equipment.

You can anticipate the risk for both hyperpigmentation and scarring, as well as the level of irritation to be expected. One client may have minimal irritation from a treatment when another with a different skin tone may have a more extreme reaction. 

The Bottom Line

By using the Fitzpatrick Scale, you can help recommend the best services and products for your clients. You can also steer them towards appropriate sun protection to help prevent sun damage and signs of aging.

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