- Fitzpatrick skin type 4 is characterized by olive or light brown skin which is mildly sensitive to sun exposure.
- This skin type is at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than types 1–3.
- Treatments which might cause skin complications for darker skin types should be avoided.
- Try to avoid any damage to the face from spots or acne, since this skin type risks post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark patches forming after skin injuries or blemishes).
- 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 4 is an olive or light brown skin tone and is mildly sensitive to sunlight.
The main risks for this skin type are sun damage and skin cancer from sun exposure, vitamin D deficiency, and some skin treatments which are likely to cause skin complications for darker skin tones. You should ensure you properly protect yourself from the sun, avoid certain treatments, and tailor your skincare routine to your skin type.
Do You Have Skin Type 4?
The Fitzpatrick classification system has been widely accepted in dermatology and can be used to tell you how your skin is likely to react to the sun. Unlike fair skin, this skin type has a lot of melanin – the pigment that gives your skin its color – making it naturally protected from the sun with good tanning ability.
Typical features of skin type 4:
- Olive or light brown skin
- Dark brown eyes
- Dark brown hair
Skin type 4’s reaction to sun exposure:
- Rarely burns
- Tans with ease
Skin type 4 vs skin type 3
Skin type 4 can be distinguished from type 3 in the following ways:
- It will have darker skin – type 3 will have creamy white to light olive skin.
- It will have dark brown eyes – type 3 will have lighter brown or hazel eyes.
- It will never have dark blond hair, whereas type 3 sometimes will.
- It will tan much easier than type 3 and will rarely burn.
Skin type 4 vs skin type 5
Type 4 can be distinguished from type 5 in the following ways:
- It will have lighter skin – type 5 will have brown or dark brown skin.
- It will never have black hair, whereas type 5 might.
- It will burn slightly more than type 5.
Skin Type 4 Safety
This skin type is not as susceptible to sun damage as types 1–3, but it is still at risk of some types of skin cancer as a result of sun exposure. It is also at an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency.
There are a number of other treatments which should be avoided for this skin type, since darker skin is more prone to skin complications from certain treatments. These treatments include:
- Laser hair removal
- Chemical peels
- Topical bleaching agents
Risks of sun exposure
Skin type 4 naturally has more melanin than types 1–3. This is the pigment that gives your skin its color, but melanin pigmentation 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 4 has more eumelanin, and has more melanosome cell structures (which carry the melanin) it is less susceptible to sun damage.
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. Type 4 still risks skin aging and skin cancer with sun exposure. However, it isn’t as at risk of skin cancer as lighter skin types – those with fair skin, red hair and freckles are more at risk.
Vitamin D deficiency
When your skin is exposed to Ultraviolet B rays in sunlight it produces vitamin D3. Vitamin D is important for overall health because it helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, keeping your muscles, bones and teeth healthy.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a number of issues like bone weakness and depression; it also leads to an increased risk of the flu, heart disease and cancer.
Because skin type 4’s skin is quite pigmented, it produces less vitamin D than lighter skin tones when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency, therefore, is a risk for this skin type.
Even though this skin type is less affected by sun exposure, the use of tanning beds should be avoided, because they are an avoidable risk factor for developing skin cancer, and most tanning beds are relatively ineffective at increasing vitamin D production.
Laser hair removal
Laser hair removal removes hair by using a laser to heat up and destroy hair follicles in the skin. This treatment is more likely to have adverse effects (such as skin blistering and crusting) on darker skin like type 4.
Further skin treatments to avoid
Microdermabrasion, chemical peels and topical bleaching agents should all be avoided for skin type 4. Microdermabrasion and chemical peels resurface the outer layer of skin, and can cause hyperpigmentation (darker patches of skin) when performed on darker skin. Topical bleaching agents are used to lighten the skin, and can cause dryness, irritation and hyperpigmentation on darker skin.
Protecting Skin Type 4
To protect this skin type from the sun you should:
- Apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or above 15–30 minutes before going into the sun.
- Limit your time in the sun as much as possible.
- Cover your arms and legs and wear protective sunglasses when you will be in the sun for extended periods.
- Regularly check your skin for abnormalities.
To get more vitamin D, if you are deficient in it, you can spend more time in the sun if you are properly protected. You can also eat foods high in vitamin D such as egg yolks, oily fish and red meats. If this is not proving effective, you can try vitamin D supplements, taking 800–1000 IU (international units) per day or 50,000 IU per month.
Skin type 4’s skin care routine
Skin type 4, often of Hispanic or multiracial ethnicity, is prone to melasma, where darker patches appear on the skin. This can be caused by sun exposure. To increase sunscreen’s effectiveness, apply it at the end of your skincare routine but before any makeup is applied.
This skin type is also prone to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, where dark patches appear after an injury or blemish heals. As such, preventing damage to the skin is very important for this skin type.
Go for gentle cleansers and fragrance-free products which will not irritate the skin. Furthermore, because acne can damage the skin and cause hyperpigmentation, you should use natural remedies and avoid popping spots. Chemical peels can also cause hyperpigmentation for this skin type and should be avoided.
Signs You Should See a Dermatologist
Skin cancer on darker skin often goes undetected. It is therefore important to check your skin for signs of skin cancer at least once a month. You should check for 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
- Patches of skin that feel rough or dry
- Sores that have difficulty healing or won’t heal
If you notice any of these abnormalities and if they persist for more than four weeks you should contact your dermatologist or doctor.
Skin type 4 has olive or light brown skin and is mildly sensitive to sunlight. It is still at risk of sun damage and some types of skin cancer from sun exposure, so it should protect itself from the sun whenever possible.
This skin type should ensure it gets enough vitamin D either from the sun, food or supplements. It should avoid treatments which aren’t suited to darker skin tones, such as laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, chemical peels and topical bleaching agents. It should also gently cleanse and moisturize the skin, preventing damage which might cause post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Finally, you should regularly check your skin for any abnormalities which might indicate skin cancer.