How does knowing my skin type help to estimate risk of skin cancer and melanoma?
Your skin type is a measure of how your skin behaves when exposed to Ultraviolet rays (UV rays) from either the sun or from tanning lamps. Unfortunately, all of the children in the above photo are at risk of skin cancer, from the blond child to the African-American child.
How Can I Tell What Skin Type I Am?
In the 1970s, Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Dermatologist of Harvard’s Department of Dermatology, first described the different skin types, regarding how readily one’s skin would burn or tan. These Fitzpatrick Skin Types run from type 1 to type VI, as follows:
Fitzpatrick Skin Type Skin color/Tendency to burn or tan with sun exposure
I: Pale white, sometimes with freckles, blond or red hair
Always burns, never tans, but sometimes freckles
II: White, sometimes minimal tanning after sun exposure; blond or redheaded with blue eyes; Burns easily, but can tan minimally later
III: White color, but brown after sun exposure; generally brown hair
IV: Light brown skin; Generally tans easily, but can burn with exposure
to the sun
V: Brown skin; Rarely burns, and can tan easily
VI: Dark or black African-American skin; Generally does not burn
The child in the photo below would generally be considered Type 1:
The women in the photo below would generally be considered Type III or Type IV, depending upon her tendency to burn with sun exposure:
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer, and melanoma. Unfortunately, the incidence (number of cases per year) of skin cancer has been on the rise for many years now, and the Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that melanoma, a cancer of the pigment-producing cells of the skin, will be diagnosed in over 190,000 Americans this year, with about 7230 fatalities. That’s one American fatality from melanoma every 50 minutes!
The pigmented lesion below would tend to raise the concern of many of us Dermatologists. The warning signs of melanoma are Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color dark or different shades, Diameter enlarging, or Evolving features (changing). This lesion has an irregular Border, and several shades of Color, and it's also Asymmetric, so it meets the A, B, and C warning signs, so it should be brought to the attention of a Board-certified Dermatologist promptly.
Why is it important to be careful about Ultraviolet light exposure?
Data from the Centers for Disease Control shows an increase in both the incidence of and the fatality rate of melanoma between 2003 and 2013, particularly in certain Southern and Midwestern states, including Tennessee. Dermatologists like myself feel that increasing exposure to UV light from the sun and from tanning salons is a factor in this increase.
So knowing which Fitzpatrick Skin Type you and your family members fall into helps to estimate the risk of skin cancer. That risk would be generally be higher for people with Fitzpatrick Skin Types I to III. But remember that people with all Fitzpatrick Skin Types can develop skin cancer, so it’s a wise move to get a baseline evaluation by a Board-certified Dermatologist, particularly if you or a family member has skin lesions or moles.
Remember Bob Marley, the Reggae musician who died of melanoma that developed on his toe at the age of 36. He would be over 74 years old now if he had come to the attention of a Dermatologist when he first noted a changing pigmented lesion on his toe. So melanoma can affect people with all Fitzpatrick skin types.
Be aware that we have over 1500 cases of melanoma in people below the age of 21 each year in the United States, and over 200 cases in people below the age of 12. And melanoma is harder to diagnose in children. So it's especially important to encourage kids to use sun protection, including broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against both the traditional UVB and the newly-appreciated dangerous UVA rays.
How can I get help getting a skin checkup?
You or a family member can find Board-certified Dermatologists close to you at the American Academy of Dermatology’s “Find a Dermatologist” site. Plug in your zip code, and you’ll get a list of Dermatologists close to you. My own Dermatology practice is in Cordova, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, TN, and there are over 13,500 Dermatologists in the United States. Furthermore, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery supports a search site (ASDS.org) that allows people to find Dermatologists willing to participate in free skin cancer screenings, by zip code. The Skin Cancer Foundation also supports a screening program in different cities around the country annually. All three organizations have photos of melanoma on their web sites. The American Society for Mohs Surgery also has information on this topic on their web site.
The photo below is myself with several of the skincare products manufactured and distributed by Big River Silk Skincare Inc., a skincare products company of which I am the president, which makes an Anti-wrinkle cream - GlycoShea Facial&Neck Cream. We also distribute a great broad-spectrum sunscreen - Vanicream Sunscreen Sport SPF 35 - which is fragrance-free and parabens-free. We actually make products for the whole family, so check us out at www.Bigriversilkskincare.com.
George Woodbury Jr. M.D. 04/27/2019
Board-certified Dermatologist at Rheumatology and Dermatology Associates PC