- Fitzpatrick skin type 6 has very dark brown or black skin which is minimally sensitive to sun exposure.
- This skin type is not at a high risk of sun damage or skin cancer from sun exposure but is at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.
- Treatments which might cause adverse effects for darker skin tones 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 6 is the darkest skin tone and is minimally sensitive to sunlight.
The main risks associated with this skin type are vitamin D deficiency and dry or sensitive skin. These risks can be reduced by certain preventative measures and a good skincare routine. Other risks include certain treatments which may cause discoloration or skin complications for darker skin.
Identifying Skin Type 6
The Fitzpatrick classification system is usually accurate and has been widely accepted in dermatology. Unlike other skin types with light brown or white skin tones, this skin type has the most melanin – the pigment that gives your skin its color – is naturally protected from the sun, and has good tanning ability.
Typical features of skin type 6:
- Very dark brown or black skin color
- Dark brownish black eyes
- Black hair
Skin type 6’s reaction to sun exposure:
- Never burns
- Tans very easily
Skin type 6 vs skin type 5
Skin type 6 is similar to type 5, but can be distinguished in the following ways:
- It is darker in skin tone than type 5; type 6 will be black skin, whereas 5 will be brown.
- It will have black, and not brown, hair.
- It never burns; type 5 will sometimes burn, if only rarely.
Skin Type 6 Risks
While this skin type is not as susceptible to sun damage, 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 dark skin is more prone to skin discoloration and complications from certain treatments. These treatments include:
- Laser hair removal
- Tattoo removal
- Chemical peels
Skin type 6 naturally has a lot of melanin. This 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 6 has more eumelanin, and has more melanosome cell structures to carry the melanin, it is less susceptible to sun damage. This type also isn’t as at risk of skin cancer as lighter skin types – those with fair skin, red hair and freckles are more at risk.
Unprotected sun exposure can cause lead to sun damage which increases the risk of skin cancer. It can also lead to potentially undesirable visual skin changes. Although the risk is less than with other skin types, type 6 still risks skin aging and skin cancer with sun exposure.
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 6’s skin is heavily pigmented, it produces much less vitamin D than lighter skin tones when exposed to sunlight. This means that vitamin D deficiency is much more common with this skin type than with others.
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 dark skin like type 6.
Tattoo removal is done by using a laser over a number of sessions to break down the ink and allow it to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Like laser hair removal, this treatment has a higher risk of skin complications for those with darker skin like type 6.
Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment is similar to laser treatment as it uses light and heat to destroy targeted structures in the skin, but it uses a broader spectrum of wavelengths and can be used to combat multiple different conditions.
There is a higher risk of side effects when using this treatment on more heavily pigmented skin like this skin type. However, if conservative (weaker) IPL settings are used then this treatment can be safely undertaken with little risk of skin discoloration for this skin type.
Other skin treatments to avoid
Microdermabrasion, chemical peels and topical bleaching agents should all be avoided for skin type 6. 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.
How to Protect Skin Type 6
Protection from the sun
To protect this skin type from sun exposure, 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
Prevention and treatment of Vitamin D deficiency
To prevent or treat vitamin D deficiency, first, you can try spending more time in the sun – as long as your skin is properly protected. You can also eat more foods that contain vitamin D such as oily fish, red meat and egg yolks.
If this is not giving you enough vitamin D, you can also try vitamin D supplements. It is safe for most people to take 800–1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day, or 50,000 IU per month.
Skin care routine for skin type 6
Dark skin is more likely to lose water and become dry, leading to “ashy” (flaky) skin which might become irritated. It is therefore important to keep this skin type moisturized. You can use a moisturizer to treat dry skin, which should be applied straight after using a cleanser.
The use of nonabrasive cleansers and moisturizing toners that contain hyaluronic acid (HA), glycerin or ceramides will also help moisturize the skin. Skincare products should also be fragrance-free, because fragranced ones might irritate the skin.
Finally, to increase its effectiveness, sunscreen of SPF 15 or above should be applied at the end of your skincare routine but before any makeup is applied.
When to See a Doctor
Although people with dark skin are less likely to get skin cancer, when they do it 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.
Fitzpatrick skin type 6 is characterized by dark brown or black skin which is minimally sensitive to sun exposure. Although sun exposure is less of a risk for this people of this skin type, they should still protect themselves from it.
If this is your skin type, you should ensure you are getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, food or supplements, and you should ensure you use moisturizing skincare products to prevent skin dryness and sensitivity. You should also avoid microdermabrasion, chemical peels, topical bleaching agents and laser hair removal, because these can all have adverse effects on dark skin.
Finally, ensure you regularly check your skin for any abnormalities which might indicate skin cancer.