Among the most common misconceptions about skin phototypes, there is the belief that people with fair skin cannot tan, while those with dark skin cannot get sunburned. What is the actual truth?
Can all skin types tan?
Is tanning possible, regardless of one's skin type?
Each individual possesses their own melanin level, the brown pigment that gives skin its shade, which explains the diversity of phototypes. Additionally, two types of melanin are distinguished, synthesised in different proportions depending on the individual: the eumelanin, which is quite dark and protective, and the pheomelanin, which is lighter and less reactive to the sun. It is indeed the quantity of melanin that varies from one phototype to another, not the number of melanocytes, the cells responsible for its synthesis. This biological difference is the cause of disparities in terms of tanning efficiency and sensitivity to sunburn according to phototypes.
However, even though skin colour influences its ability to tan, all skin types can achieve a sun-kissed hue. This will, of course, occur to varying degrees and will not require the same duration of exposure. Indeed, compared to darker skin types, individuals with fair skin synthesise less eumelanin when exposed to the sun. However, people with albinism or a specific skin condition are exceptions to this.
It's worth noting that all skin types are susceptible to sunburn and the damage caused by UV rays (hyperpigmentation, skin ageing, dryness, cancers...) occurs regardless of the phototype, although fair skin is naturally more sensitive. Therefore, it is advised for everyone to use a sun care product before each exposure and to reapply every two hours in case of prolonged exposure or in case of swimming and heavy perspiration.
Tanning achieved according to phototypes.
The complexion achieved after sun exposure primarily depends on the phototype in question. Here is an overview of the degree of tanning one can expect based on their skin tone.
The phototype 0.
This phototype pertains to individuals with albinism, that is, those suffering from a partial or total lack of melanin. This genetic condition inhibits their melanocytes from synthesising melanin. As a result, the skin of individuals with albinism is extremely light, while their hair is white or a very pale blonde. Regardless of the weather or the degree of sun exposure, these individuals will not tan but are highly susceptible to sunburn.
The phototype 1.
Phototype 1 pertains to individuals who are red or blonde-haired. With light-coloured eyes, these individuals also stand out due to their freckles. They are highly susceptible to sunburn and must pay great attention to the protection of their skin. Their skin may tan very slightly but will always remain fair.
The Phototype 2.
Individuals belonging to this category have blonde to light brown hair and fair skin. They may sometimes exhibit freckles, especially after intense sun exposure. The skin of these individuals can tan but also redden. When they protect themselves with sun care products, they are highly likely to have a slightly to moderately tanned complexion by the end of their holiday.
The Phototype 3.
This refers to an intermediate phototype. Individuals with this phototype have blonde to brown hair and their skin is naturally light to slightly tanned. They do not have freckles. Depending on their eye colour, they are more or less sensitive to the acceleration of skin ageing under the sun, with light eyes being particularly susceptible. The rate of tanning or skin burning occurs gradually, resulting in a moderate tan.
The Phototype 4.
Individuals belonging to this group have chestnut or brown hair. Their skin is fairly tanned and devoid of freckles. It tans quickly to achieve a dark complexion and sunburns are rare.
The Phototype 5.
Individuals belonging to phototype 5 have dark hair and eyes, and their skin is naturally very dark. They tan quite easily, which makes their skin even more bronzed than usual. They are less prone to superficial sunburn, but their skin is not entirely protected from the negative effects of UV rays.
The phototype 6.
This phototype represents individuals with very dark skin. Their hair and eyes are black. These individuals are also less susceptible to superficial sunburn, but this does not mean they are completely protected from UV rays. They naturally have a deep tan but can still tan further when exposed to the sun.
SHARMA V. & al. Skin typing: Fitzpatrick grading and others. Clinics in Dermatology (2019).