- Fitzpatrick skin type III is characterized by pink to medium-beige colored skin that tans relatively easily.
- This skin type is less likely to burn due to sun exposure than types I and II, however it is at a higher risk of incurring sun damage than type IV.
- As type III is moderately at risk of sunburn and developing sun exposure-related skin cancer, sun protection is still vital.
The Fitzpatrick skin type classification system divides skin into six distinct categories based on color and sensitivity to the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Of the six types, skin type III is the third lightest in color and the third most sensitive to UV radiation.
Skin type III is distinct from types I and II in that it is more resistant to sunburn and tans far more readily. However, it is still moderately sensitive to sun damage, and is slightly more likely to burn than it is to tan. For this reason, people within this group should still diligently practice sun safety.
How to Know if You Have Skin Type III
Human skin and hair contains two different types of melanin, and it is the balance between these two types that determines skin and hair color. Eumelanin is the darker form of melanin, and is either brown or black in color. Pheomelanin is the lighter pigment and is either red, pink or yellow.
People with skin type III have a unique balance of these two forms of melanin, which results in a wide variety of potential skin tones. Depending on the ratio of the two forms, their skin color will range from a deep pink to a golden or olive-tinted beige.
Pheomelanin responds to contact with UV light by producing free radicals, triggering oxidation and effectively worsening sun damage; eumelanin instead absorbs UV radiation, and has a sun protection effect. The unique balance between these two forms of melanin is responsible for type III’s moderate response to sun exposure.
Typical features of skin type III:
- Skin ranges from reddish-pink to medium-beige in color, with golden or olive undertones
- Brown or dark blue eyes
- Dark blond, brown or black hair
Reaction to sun exposure:
- Sometimes burns; tans slowly
- Sunburns cause redness, irritation and mild peeling
- Tans a golden brown color
Skin type III vs. skin type II
Although types II and III share some similarities in skin tone, type III does exhibit a number of qualities that sets it apart.
Skin type III characteristics:
- Slightly darker skin than type II, which is typically a light pink or beige
- Darker eye color; type II may have blue, green, gray or hazel eyes
- Darker hair color; type II usually has blond or brown hair
- Less likely to sunburn than type II
- Tans much more readily; type II can tan, but rarely and with difficulty
Skin type III vs. skin type IV
Skin type III is fairly easy to distinguish from type IV.
Skin type III characteristics:
- Lighter skin than type IV, which will be olive or light brown
- May have brown or blue eyes; type IV almost always has dark brown eyes
- Lighter range of potential hair color; type IV will have dark brown or black hair
- More likely to burn due to sun exposure; type IV rarely burns
Skin Type III Risk Factors
Although to a lesser degree than types I and II, individuals with Fitzpatrick skin type III are still at moderate risk of sunburn. They are also susceptible to the long-term effects of sun damage, including photoaging, hyperpigmentation and skin cancer.
For these reasons, those with type III are advised to always take sun protection measures, and avoid the use of skin care products and in-office procedures that increase sun sensitivity.
UV radiation causes direct damage to the molecular structure of skin cells’ DNA. This damage impedes the normal repair process which results in compromised cellular functionality and cell death.
In the short term, the effects of sun damage can cause an inflammatory response in the skin that leads to the development of sunburn. In the long term, this can lead to permanent skin damage that may manifest as a duller complexion, looser, drier skin, the early development of signs of aging and some forms of skin cancer.
The same principles that apply to sun exposure are the same for UV tanning beds. Similar risks are associated with tanning bed use and should therefore be avoided.
High-risk skin treatments
For type III skin, over-the-counter (OTC) skin care products such as retinoids, glycolic acid peels and topicals containing benzoyl peroxide should be avoided, as they increase sun sensitivity.
Other products such as harsh exfoliants and certain skin resurfacing procedures may also increase susceptibility to sun damage. Those with skin type III should use these treatments only occasionally, and should be especially diligent in avoiding sun exposure immediately after.
Heightened sensitivity to the sun can be caused by:
- Retinoids for the first few months of treatment
- Glycolic acid chemical peels, but this sensitivity can be expected to resolve within 1 week of stopping treatment
- Acne treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide
- Skin resurfacing procedures such as microdermabrasion and laser treatments, as well as some harsh OTC exfoliants (however effects are usually minor)
Skin Type III Safety Recommendations
To protect this skin type from sun exposure, you should:
- Apply a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher 15–30 minutes before going in the sun; reapply every 2 hours
- Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when UV radiation is at its peak
- 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 sunglasses with UV protection
Skin care routine for skin type III
If you fall within this group, one of the first things you should consider in regard to your skin care routine is which products will sensitize your skin to the effects of UV radiation. When selecting a new product, ensure it is free of such ingredients as retinoids, glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide to avoid causing photosensitivity.
It is important to apply sunscreen as part of your regular skin care routine. Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above should be applied daily at the end of your morning skin care routine but before any makeup is applied. A foundation with high SPF can also help protect your skin from the sun, however such a product cannot replace a single-purpose sunscreen.
Certain harsh scrubs and chemical exfoliants, such as alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) can strip away the protective outer layers of skin. This leaves the tender underlying skin more vulnerable to the damaging effects of sun exposure. For this reason, people with skin type III should avoid abrasive exfoliants and use gentle cleansers and toners instead.
When to See a Doctor: Signs of Cancer
As people with type III are at moderate risk of developing skin cancer, they should be mindful of early warning signs. If you notice any of these abnormalities, contact your dermatologist or doctor.
- Appearance of new moles
- Changes in existing moles
- Bleeding or irritated moles
- Dark patches of skin
- Flat and scaly patches of skin
For more information on skin cancer and how to recognize it, refer to the official website of the National Cancer Institute.
Fitzpatrick skin type III is characterized by pink to beige skin that tans with little difficulty and is moderately vulnerable to sun damage. People within this group are advised to take sun protection measures in order to keep their skin healthy and prevent the development of signs of skin aging and skin cancer.
Those with this skin type should regularly apply skin care products formulated for sun protection, and avoid the use of treatments that increase sun sensitivity. They should also limit their time in the sun, avoid tanning beds, and tailor their skin care routines to maximize sun protection.
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