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Fitzpatrick Scale Breakdown: What You Need to Know

The Fitzpatrick skin phototypes (FSP) were developed in Boston in 1975 to help determine a patient’s risk of burning or tanning when exposed to UV light.  Fitzpatrick initially based the scale on a person’s skin and eye color. 

The current scale, which is pictured below, classifies skin from types I to VI.  Type I refers to skin that always burns, while type VI refers to skin that never burns. In general, a lower FSP means a person’s skin burns more easily than it tans. A higher FSP means that a person’s skin does not burn easily.

As it relates to the spa industry, the scale is often used to determine the setting on a laser when performing laser hair removal. Lasers can cause burns and hypopigmentation when the correct setting is not used for patients with darker skin coloring or those who have a tan. Because most lasers target pigment, a person’s risk of burns or hypopigmentation is usually greater if they have a darker skin tone.

For these reasons, it’s critical that spa and salon employees use the scale to determine a patient’s FSP prior to selecting a setting on a laser to get the best results and insure against burns and hypopigmentation.  Additionally, prior to any treatments, you can ask a patient a series of questions to determine their FSP, which can be found here.

Although laser treatments are associated with hypopigmentation, other skin treatments that damage tissue can result in the same outcome.  A little planning prior to using a laser in your establishment can go a long way to keep your customers satisfied and safe and keep you from a potential insurance claim.