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What is your skin type? - The Fitzpatrick Skin Scale | ellé derm

When we refer to Skin Type, we are referring to something more complex than dry skin, oily skin or combination skin.

This is known as the Fitzpatrick scale or Fitzpatrick skin system.

The Fitzpatrick skin system can help predict who is at risk of sunburn & melasma/hyperpigmentation by categorising skin according to how much melanin is present.

In general, those with Skin Type I to III have less active melanocytes. Their melanocytes produce less melanin and are less prone to melasma or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. 

Skin type I to III beauties can generally tolerate higher strength Retinol and Vitamin C. Their skin is also less prone to hormonal fluctuation.

We would still recommend Niacinamide (anti-inflammatory) and ingredients that have a low irritant profile to promote a healthy skin barrier.


What about our melanin rich beauties?
In contrast, Skin type IV to VI beauties have larger and more active melanocytes. They are more sensitive to inflammation and hormonal fluctuations.

Melanin rich beauties are most prone to melasma and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Those with melanin rich skin tone will generally experience hyperpigmentation from squeezing a pimple! If you have this skin type, you know exactly what we are talking about! 

When choosing ingredients to treat melasma or hyperpigmentation, melanin rich beauties should choose ingredients that are gentle and non irritating. 

Often, a combination of these ingredients are required for optimal result as they target the different stages in melanin synthesis.


✔️ Hydroquinone (although this is not recommended long term. Current practice suggest cycling three months on and discontinue for three months). 

✔️ Retinaldehyde

✔️ Niacinamide 

✔️ Low dose Vitamin C or Magnesium Ascorbate

✔️ Pea Extract Complex 

✔️ Licorice Root Extract

✔️ Soybean extract or Tumeric


The most successful formulation has been a combination of hydroquinonetretinoin, and moderate potency topical steroid (skin lightening cream) reported to clear or improve 60–80%. This is only available on prescription and the concentration will vary depending on skin type and severity of pigmentation. In general, those with skin type IV to VI should start on a low dose and titrate as tolerated. 

Care should also be taken when choosing ingredients in Skin Type I to III (fair skin type) because anything that can cause inflammation can also compromise the skin barrier. 



Author: Helen Lam (B Pharm) MPS

Pharmacist and cosmetic formulator





1) Gimes, P et al. (2019). New oral and topical approaches for the treatment of melasma. International Journal of Women's Dermatology. Access:


2) Plensdorf, S et al. (2017). Pigmentation Disorders: Diagnosis and Management. American Family Physician. 2017 Dec 15;96(12):797-804.


3) Oakley, A et al. (2020). Melasma. DermNet NZ: All About the Skin. Access:





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