The big summer test: do you know which phototype you are?
Before exposing your body to sunlight, you need a good sunscreen. And before you choose one, you also need to know what phototype you are – i.e. to what extent your skin reacts to UV radiation. This is the level of sensitivity that determines which product you should use.
The phototype scale was developed in 1975 by Harvard dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, which is why it is also called the Fitzpatrick scale. It is based on the discovery that genetically determined hair colour, eye colour and skin colour (or the amount of melanin in it) determine the outcome of your tan (its intensity and the health risks).
He also incorporated the earlier Von Luschan’s chromatic scale into his own, as it classified skin type by comparing the tone before exposure to the sun to 36 opaque glass tiles with increasing intensity of tone.
Nowadays, you just need to answer five simple questions to find out your own phototype:
1. What is your (original) hair colour?
A. very light or red
B. blonde or light brown
C. dark blonde, brown to chestnut brown
D. dark brown to black
2. What colour are your eyes?
A. bright blue
B. dark blue, green or grey
C. brown, hazel
D. brown to black-brown
3. Before sunbathing, your skin is:
A. very light
B. light, slightly rosy
C. medium light, beige
D. light brown, with an olive touch
4. Do you have freckles?
A. yes, lots of them, almost everywhere
B. quite a lot
C. you might find a few here and there
D. not really
5. In the sun, your skin:
A. goes bright red and never tans
B. often burns and only rarely goes brown (or only on some parts of your body)
C. is usually fine in the sun, tans beautifully and only burns on rare occasions and then only slightly
D. gets a bronze tan that everyone envies you for
Mainly As = Phototype I
The sun is your enemy, which means your sunscreen is your best friend. You should always opt for the highest SPF and you won’t last longer than 10 minutes without it. You should apply SPF 50/50+ even when you are in the countryside or your garden. At the beach, where the sun is even more intense, make sure you keep in the shade.
Mainly Bs = Phototype II
You should also be careful in the sun. Your skin can cope for 20 minutes at most without a sunscreen. At the beach, stay in the shade and use SPF 50/50+. At home, in the park, or on the way to work, and when the sun is not as bright, still go for at least SPF 30. You won’t get an even tan anyway.
Mainly Cs = Phototype III
Your skin and tanning have a positive relationship. It can handle normal Central European sun for around 30 minutes without sunscreen. When you sunbathe, you go brown. You may have got burnt once or twice, but only in extreme climates. SPF 30 is fine for you, even at the beach.
Mainly Ds = Phototype IV
As soon as you go outside, you get a tan. You don’t know what it’s like to burn, so you hear admiring comments like “You’ve been on holiday again!” all the time. You can handle 45 minutes without sunscreen, although for health reasons, it is still best to cover up. A lower SPF of 15-20 is fine for you.
More Resilient Phototypes
Phototypes I to IV are usually the ones that need most protection—however, there’s of course phototype V found mainly in people of South-Asian and Middle-Eastern descent, and phototype VI for those with the most resilient, black skin. Neither phototype tends to have a problem with tanning, but skin cancer is still a risk, which means that using products with SPF 15-20 is definitely advisable.