- Fitzpatrick skin type 3 is characterized by creamy white to light olive skin which is moderately sensitive to sun exposure.
- This skin type is at a higher risk of sun damage and some kinds of skin cancer than types 4–6, so protection from the sun is vital.
- Treatments which might increase sun sensitivity should be avoided.
- You should check your skin regularly for abnormalities which might indicate skin cancer.
The Fitzpatrick skin type scale classifies skin into six distinct types based on its color to estimate its response to sun exposure. Type 3 is not as pale as types 1 and 2 but is still sensitive to sunlight. Because of this, if this is your skin type you should still ensure you protect your skin from sun exposure as much as possible.
How to Know if You Have Skin Type 3
The Fitzpatrick classification system is usually accurate and has been widely accepted in dermatology. This skin type has less protective melanin – the pigment that gives your skin its color – than light brown and dark brown tones. This type is therefore relatively unprotected from the sun.
Typical features of skin type 3:
- Creamy white to light olive skin color
- Hazel or brown eyes
- Dark blond or brown hair
Skin type 3’s reaction to sun exposure:
- Sometimes burns mildly
- Tans gradually to olive
Skin type 3 vs skin type 2
Skin type 3 is relatively easy to distinguish from type 2:
- It isn’t as pale as type 2 and will have creamy white to light olive skin tone.
- It will not have light blue, dark blue, gray or green eyes – only hazel or brown.
- It will not have light blond or red hair – only dark blond or brown.
- It finds it easy to tan; type 2 finds it difficult.
Skin type 3 vs skin type 4
Skin type 3 is also easy to distinguish from type 4:
- It has lighter skin than type 4, which will have olive or light brown skin.
- It has lighter colored eyes; type 4 has only dark brown eyes.
- It has lighter colored hair; type 4 has only dark brown hair.
- It sometimes burns mildly from sun exposure; type 4 rarely ever burns.
Skin Type 3 Risk Factors
Fitzpatrick skin type 3, while not at as high a risk of sun damage and some types of skin cancer as types 1 and 2, is still at risk. Apart from sun exposure, tanning beds and treatments or products which increase sun sensitivity should be avoided whenever possible.
Unprotected sun exposure can lead to sun damage which increases the risk of skin cancer. It can also lead to potentially undesirable visual skin changes.
Skin pigmentation affects how protected you are from the sun. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its color, but it also protects your skin from the sun. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin absorbs ultraviolet (UV) rays, but pheomelanin does not. Because skin type 3 has less eumelanin, and has fewer melanosome cell structures to carry the melanin, it is more susceptible to sun damage.
Skin cancer occurs more often in people with red hair and fair skin who burn and freckle after sun exposure. While this skin type does not often freckle, it does sometimes burn and is at risk of skin cancer from sun exposure.
Using a tanning bed can increase vitamin D production and improve mood for those with vitamin D deficiency. However, like sun exposure, it also risks sun damage, skin aging and skin cancer.
Like skin types 1 and 2, type 3 is able to meet its vitamin D needs with very little daily exposure to sunlight, meaning tanning beds will provide only cosmetic utility. Because this skin type is sensitive to sun exposure, the use of tanning beds should be avoided.
High risk skin treatments
Treatments such as retinoids, glycolic acid peels and those which contain benzoyl peroxide, as well as products such as harsh exfoliants, should be avoided as they increase sun sensitivity:
- Retinoids cause sun sensitivity for the first few months of treatment.
- Glycolic acid chemical peels can increase sun sensitivity, but this sensitivity is reversed within a week of terminating treatment.
- Acne treatments which contain benzoyl peroxide might also cause sun sensitivity.
- Sun sensitivity can be increased by harsh exfoliating treatments such as microdermabrasion, laser treatments and some surface exfoliants like harsh facial scrubs. However, the increased sun sensitivity from these treatments is minimal. These should also be avoided for those with sensitive skin.
While these treatments should be avoided whenever possible, if you use them ensure you take extra precautions to reduce sun exposure.
Skin Type 3 Safety Recommendations
To protect this skin type from sun exposure, you should:
- Apply a stronger sunscreen of SPF 30 or above 15–30 minutes before going into the sun and reapply it at least every 2 hours
- Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Avoid products and treatments which increase sun sensitivity
- Stay in the shade whenever possible
- Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible
- Wear a wide-brim hat to protect your head and shoulders
- Wear UV blocking sunglasses
- Regularly check your skin for any abnormalities
Skin care routine for skin type 3
For this skin type, one of the first things you should consider for your skincare routine is whether products will increase your sun sensitivity. Glycolic acid chemical peels and retinoids both increase sun sensitivity, but there are many more products and ingredients which can have this effect. As such, it is best to check whether each product is likely to increase sun sensitivity before use.
It is important to apply sunscreen as part of your skincare routine. To increase its effectiveness, sunscreen of SPF 30 or above should be applied at the end of your routine but before any makeup is applied. A foundation with high SPF can also protect your skin from the sun. However, this should not replace a single-purpose sunscreen.
When to See a Doctor: Signs of Cancer
It is important to check your skin for signs of skin cancer. You should check your skin at least once a month for any abnormalities such as:
- New moles
- Changes in already existing moles
- Moles that bleed or become irritated
- Darker patches of skin
- Flat and scaly patches
- Red firm lumps which might be ulcerated
These are all potential signs of skin cancer. If you notice any of these abnormalities and if they persist for more than four weeks you should contact your dermatologist or doctor.
Fitzpatrick skin type 3 is characterized by creamy white to light olive skin which is moderately sensitive to sun exposure. Ensuring you properly protect this skin type is crucial for keeping it healthy and preventing skin aging and cancer.
If this is your skin type, you should use sun-protecting products and avoid ones which increase sun sensitivity. You should also limit your time in the sun, avoid tanning beds and tailor your skincare routine to maximize sun protection. Finally, ensure you regularly check for skin abnormalities which might indicate skin cancer.