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Beauty Life & Style

How different skin types react to the sun exposure

women on a beach. PA Photo/iStock.

By Katie Wright

As the summer stretches out before us it is important to know how to protect your skin from the sun, no matter how much melanin you have to begin with.

“People with lighter skin tones are much more likely to experience skin damage from UV rays, and are more prone to getting skin cancer as a result of sun exposure,” says says LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Pareena Patel. “However, people with darker skin of every ethnicity aren’t exempt from the damaging effect of the sun.”

Experts use the Fitzpatrick phototype scale to classify skin from one to six, depending on how it reacts to UV rays – identifying your skin type can help determine what level of sun protection you should be using.
Type 1: Pale skin

“Individuals with skin type one tend to have very light skin, often with freckles and reddish hair, with blue or grey eyes,” Patel says. “UV rays will affect these individuals very quickly, and they will likely sunburn within around 10 minutes of sun exposure, often resulting in no tanning and peeling skin.”
This skin type is the most vulnerable to sun damage, so you should always be wearing an SPF of at least 30 with high UVA protection too.

Type 2: Fair skin
People with skin type two also have very fair skin, however they are “more likely to have blonde or light brown hair. These individuals tend to be from a European or Scandinavian background,” Patel says.

“Exposure to UV rays will leave these individuals sunburnt within around 20 minutes and the skin will only tan slightly or after very prolonged sun exposure.”

Therefore, SPF 30 or above is advised, and Patel points out that you should always apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going out in the sun: “It will take 15 minutes to soak into the skin and add that protective layer, so you don’t get burnt.”

Type 3: Lightly tanned skin
Skin type three is usually characterised by “light brown skin with dark blonde or brunette hair, typically with grey or brown eyes.

“UV rays will usually burn this skin type within around 30 minutes, however the skin usually tans relatively easily,” Patel says, but she still recommends SPF 30 to ensure adequate protection.

“Those with skin type three are still very susceptible to the long term effects of sun damage, such as premature ageing, hyperpigmentation and skin cancer.”

Type 4: Olive skin tones
People of Mediterranean, Asian or Latino heritage usually have skin type four, which means “light brown or olive-coloured skin,” Patel says.

“UV radiation will lead to sunburn for these individuals within around 50 minutes, but the skin will quickly become deeply tanned.”

Although this skin type may not burn as easily, you should still be using SPF 30 sunscreen, Patel says, and applying it generously: “Whilst the damage may not be immediate, UVA rays can cause premature skin ageing.

“Choose a sun cream with both UVB and UVA protection, and apply the equivalent of two teaspoons of cream for the head, neck and arms.”

Type 5: Dark brown skin
“Those with skin type five usually have dark brown skin, dark hair and dark eyes and are likely to have an East Indian, Native American, Latino or African background,” Patel says.

As increased melanin offers natural sun protection, this skin type usually only begins to burn after an hour, but melanin doesn’t prevent hyperpigmentation, she warns.

“Hyperpigmentaton is particularly common with people with darker skin tones, as sun exposure can cause some areas to become more pronounced as their body produces more melanin, so using sun protection will help to maintain a more even skin tone.”

Type 6: Very dark brown or black skin
“Individuals with skin type six will usually have dark brown skin, dark hair and eyes, commonly with African or Aboriginal heritage,” Patel says. Skin doesn’t become much darker when exposed to sun and will only burn after around 90 minutes.

“However, similar to the other skin tones, people with this skin tone are not exempt from the long-term impact of the sun’s harmful rays, whether it’s ageing, pigmentation or damage beneath the surface. Therefore, they should still wear sun cream.”

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