It’s always been common knowledge: not all skin types react the same way to sun exposure. But it wasn’t until 1975 that a Harvard dermatologist had the idea of distinguishing different skin types according to their sensitivity to ultraviolet rays and their ability to tan.  Dr. Fitzpatrick divided them into six categories, known as phototypes, within the classification that now bears his name. For each skin type, this classification is used to evaluate the risk of sun exposure and the degree of required protection.

Classification of the phototypes

Phototype I

Does not tan; systematically burns at the least exposure to the sun.

Very fair skin, freckles, blond or red hair

Phototype II

Tans minimally or else very slowly; often burns.

Fair skin, blond or red to auburn hair, blue or hazel eyes.

Freckles appear with sun exposure.

Phototype III

The skin tans progressively, with few sunburns.

Moderate brown skin, brown to dark brown hair, light brown eyes.

Phototype IV

The skin tans rapidly, with occasional sunburn after intense exposure.

Moderate brown skin, brown hair, dark brown eyes.  

Phototype V

The skin tans easily, rarely burns.

Dark skin, dark eyes.

Phototype VI

Skin is very dark brown and only exceptionally burns.

Deeply pigmented dark brown skin, black hair, dark-colored eyes.

Origin of the phototype

The phototype essentially depends on melanin, the pigments that are biologically produced by melanocytes, whose key function is pigment protection from UV rays and whose concentration determines skin color. There are two main types. Black melanin, which is more prevalent in subjects with high phototypes and red melanin, which is predominant in fair-skinned people. Only black melanin that reflects light protects us from ultraviolet rays. People with dark skin are therefore better protected from the sun that people with fair skin.


The fairer the skin, hair and eyes, the higher the risk of complications due to the sun. Since they are more vulnerable, people with low phototypes need more protection from UV rays. That is why it is important to identify your prototype in order to choose the right sunscreen.

Tips for the sun

Phototype I, II

Follow our general prevention recommendations and always use a sunscreen product with an SPF index of 30 or higher. Wear protective clothing and stay in the shade, especially between noon and 3 p.m. when the sunrays are strongest. Every month, check your skin from head to foot, paying special attention to spots. Finally, get a check-up from your dermatologist once a year.