- Fitzpatrick skin type VI is characterized by dark brown skin that tans very easily and almost never sunburns.
- This type rarely develops skin cancer from sun exposure, but is at a high risk of vitamin D deficiency and hyperpigmentation.
- Black people within this group are more likely to have dry skin, while Asian people are at a slightly higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation.
- Although cases are quite rare, type VI individuals should still be aware of potential signs of skin cancer, as these can be difficult to recognize on dark skin.
The Fitzpatrick skin type classification system groups skin into six different types based on color and how it reacts to sun exposure. Of the six types, type VI is the darkest in color and the most resistant to the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
The primary risks associated with this type are vitamin D deficiency and hyperpigmentation. These risks can be reduced with a controlled amount of sun exposure, vitamin supplementation and a well-maintained skin care routine.
People with type VI skin are typically of African, Austronesian, Australian Aboriginal or South Asian ancestry. Everyone with this skin type will share similar skin care needs, however black people are more likely to experience skin dryness, while Asian people are more prone to hyperpigmentation.
Identifying Skin Type VI
Two kinds of melanin contribute to determining the color of human hair and skin; eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is the darker pigment, and may be either black or brown; pheomelanin is lighter, and may have a yellow, pink or red coloration.
Of the six Fitzpatrick skin types, type VI contains the most eumelanin, and has the lowest ratio of pheomelanin content. Melanosomes, the cellular structures responsible for storing melanin, are more abundant and more widely dispersed in type VI skin than any other type. As a result, this group exhibits the darkest range of skin and hair colors.
Typical features of skin type VI:
- Deep dark-brown skin
- Very dark-brown, near-black eyes
- Black hair
Skin type VI’s reaction to sun exposure:
- Almost never burns
- Tans readily and profusely
Skin type VI vs. skin type V
Skin type VI is similar to type V, but the following characteristics distinguish it:
- A darker range of skin colors than type V, which may have medium-brown skin
- Hair color is always black; type V sometimes has dark-brown hair
- Almost never burns due to sun exposure; type V burns more easily, although rarely
Skin Type VI Risks
Although people within this group are at low risk of sustaining sunburns, they can still develop skin cancer as a result of long-term exposure to UV radiation. They are also at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than any other skin type.
Type VI is also the most at risk of developing hyperpigmentation as a result of the inflammation caused by certain skin treatments. These include topical bleaching creams, as well as laser and skin resurfacing procedures.
The two forms of melanin react differently to UV radiation. Eumelanin absorbs rays and cancels out its damaging effects, while pheomelanin responds to it by creating a state of oxidation that effectively worsens the damage done to the skin.
Due to their skin’s high eumelanin content and low ratio of pheomelanin, type VI individuals are quite resistant to sunburn and other damaging effects of sun exposure. Most people within this category can safely spend 60 minutes in the sun per day without risking sunburn.
However, this group is still mildly at risk of developing skin cancer and signs of skin aging, especially when spending time in the sun without protection. Hyperpigmentation can also sometimes be triggered or worsened by sun exposure.
Vitamin D deficiency
A certain amount of exposure to UV radiation is necessary for human health, as it drives the body’s production of vitamin D. This vitamin helps to maintain the health of muscles, bones and teeth, as well as to balance calcium and phosphate levels.
As type VI skin has the highest eumelanin content, a large proportion of the UV radiation they are exposed to is neutralized and does not contribute to vitamin D synthesis. As such, they are very vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency.
A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to further health issues, including depression, low bone density and an elevated risk of heart disease, cancer and the flu.
Despite their resistance to UV radiation, those with skin type VI should still avoid the use of tanning beds. Tanning beds present an avoidable risk factor that may increase a person’s chances of developing signs of aging and skin cancer, and contribute little to vitamin D production.
Other treatments to avoid
Some topical treatments and in-office procedures pose an increased risk of hyperpigmentation for those with darker skin. For this reason, the type VI group should avoid such treatments as:
- Laser hair removal
- Tattoo removal
- Intense pulsed light treatments (weaker settings of IPL present a reduced risk)
- Chemical peels
- Skin lightening creams
How to Protect Skin Type VI
Protection from the sun
Skin type VI will benefit from sun protection strategies as follows:
- Apply sunscreen at the end of your skin care routine, but before applying any makeup
- Apply a sunscreen of SPF 15 or above every time you go outdoors
- Limit your time in the sun to about one hour per day
- Wear protective sunglasses and clothing that covers arms and legs during extended periods of sun exposure
- Be mindful of potential signs of skin cancer
Prevention and treatment of vitamin D deficiency
Type VI individuals can avoid vitamin D deficiency by spending at least 25 minutes in the sun on a daily basis. If weather conditions or lifestyle make this amount of sun exposure impossible, it can be substituted with 800–1000 IU of vitamin D supplements each day.
Certain foods can also help increase vitamin D levels. Foods rich in this nutrient include eggs, red meat and oily fish such as trout and salmon.
Skin care routine for skin type VI
People within the type VI group should avoid harsh exfoliants such as chemical peels and abrasive scrubs. The irritation caused by these products can cause the skin to become inflamed, risking the development of hyperpigmentation.
This group should also avoid skin lightening topicals and any products containing artificial preservatives or fragrances, as these also carry a risk of causing inflammation.
Type VI Asian and black people face separate additional skin care concerns, which should be considered when structuring a skin care routine.
Skin care for black people
People of African descent tend to be more susceptible to moisture loss, dryness and flaking, which can lead to irritation and an ashy complexion. As such, regular moisturization is essential to keep skin healthy and vibrant.
Choose gentle cleansers and moisturizing toners containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin or ceramides. Products such as these can help to encourage moisture retention in the skin.
Skin care for Asian people
Asian people are at a higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation as a result of skin inflammation than other demographics within the type VI group. They can mitigate this risk by using gentle cleansers with soothing ingredients to avoid irritating or inflaming their skin.
When to See a Doctor
Although type VI is highly resistant to sun exposure, skin cancer can still develop due to exposure to UV radiation. Because the first signs often go unnoticed on darker skin, those within types IV–VI also face a disproportionately high mortality rate due to delayed diagnosis of skin cancer.
Each of the three main forms of skin cancer exhibits a particular set of symptoms when it develops on darker skin. Basal cell carcinoma presents as dark, shiny, translucent bumps; squamous cell carcinoma causes scaling patches of red skin, raised growths and open sores.
Melanoma is the rarest but most severe of the three, and is more likely to affect those with darker skin. It develops inside the melanocytes—the cellular structures in which melanin is produced—and manifests as dark, scattered blotches that resemble ink stains.
|Cancer||Symptoms||Appearance on Dark Skin|
|Basal cell carcinoma||Translucent, shiny bumps on the face and neck||Bumps are either black or dark-brown in color|
|Squamous cell carcinoma||Inflamed, red, peeling skin, open sores and wart-like growths||Bumps develop on the waist area, legs and feet|
|Melanoma||Scattered dark blotches resembling ink stains, which swell and become bumpy when left untreated||Blotches are either black or dark-brown in color|
Fitzpatrick skin type VI is characterized by dark-brown skin that tans very easily and almost never burns due to sun exposure. However, people of this type are very vulnerable to hyperpigmentation and vitamin D deficiency.
If you fall within this category, you can ensure adequate vitamin D intake with at least 25 minutes of sun exposure each day, or with a combination of diet and supplements. To reduce your risk of developing hyperpigmentation, avoid the use of skin bleaching agents, laser treatments and skin resurfacing procedures
Type VI skin tends to be dry or sensitive, so ensure you use skin care products that encourage skin hydration in order to reduce your risk of experiencing dry and irritated skin. Avoid products containing fragrances and preservatives, as these may trigger skin dryness and irritation.
Although type VI is highly resistant to sun damage, people within this group are still susceptible to developing skin cancer. Wear sunscreen when outdoors, avoid the use of tanning beds, and be mindful of the early signs of skin cancer, which can sometimes be difficult to recognize on darker skin.
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