When it comes to treating patients safely and effectively with a cosmetic laser or device, understanding Fitzpatrick skin types and the effects of different laser technology is extremely critical.
The Fitzpatrick skin typing system was developed by a Harvard dermatologist in the 1970s. It is used as a measurement tool to determine or classify how different skin types react to ultraviolet light (UV). It is an industry standard in the field of dermatology and is still used today. The Fitzpatrick system takes into account, genetic makeup and reaction to sun exposure (burning and tanning).
There are six skin types to consider when performing any aesthetic laser treatment or procedure:
- TYPE I: Skin: Very fair / pale. Hair: Red or blonde. Eyes: Blue. Sun Reaction: Burns quickly, doesn’t tan, tendency to freckle.
- TYPE II: Skin: Fair. Hair: Red or sandy colored. Eyes: Green or Blue. Sun Reaction: Burns quickly, tans with difficulty, some tendency to freckle.
- TYPE III: Skin: Light Brown to Olive. Hair: Brown or sandy colored. Eyes: Green, Hazel or Blue. Sun Reaction: Slow to burn; eventually tans.
- TYPE IV: Skin: Olive to Brown. Hair: Dark brown. Eyes: Green, Hazel or Blue. Sun Reaction: Slow to burn;tans very quickly.
- TYPE V: Skin: Dark Brown. Hair: Dark Brown or Black. Eyes: Brown or dark brown. Sun Reaction: Rarely burns.
- TYPE VI: Skin: Deeply pigmented dark brown or black. Hair: Black. Eyes: Dark brown. Sun Reaction: Never burns.
Syneron has an easy reference chart that explains the potential damage to skin based on treatment types offered.
Laser hair removal is one of the most popular cosmetic laser treatments performed. Safe and effective treatment for darker skin types can be of concern. Aesthetic lasers target water, red hemoglobin or brown melanin. Skin Types IV – VI (typically Hispanics, Mediterraneans, Asians, Indians and individuals of African descent), have a higher concentration of melanin which means a greater risk of damage if the cosmetic laser setting is incorrect. Permanent damage can include hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, scarring or burning. It is important that you understand the effects of your cosmetic laser on patients of all skin types. Doctors and technicians should ensure that they are properly trained.
The National Laser Institute offers information on laser hair removal and how to properly address patients of varying skin types.
Remember each laser system and / or handpiece can have a different effect on your patients due to their skin type. Make sure you how your equipment functions all skin types whether tanned or not.