According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Dermatology, there are six skin types that represent the range of skin sensitivity to UV light and the likelihood of tanning after sun exposure.

Skin Type I – is the lightest and most sensitive of the skin types. People with Skin Type I are the most likely to burn when exposed to sunlight. Some people with Skin Type I experience freckling when exposed to the sun. Both outdoor and indoor tanning should be kept to a minimum with people of this skin type.

Skin Type II – People who usually burn easily, sometimes severely, and suffer from skin peeling when exposed to sunlight. Skin Type II people usually have fair skin, blue or hazel eyes, blonde or red hair and have, like Skin Type I people, fair white skin.

Skin Type III – This category includes people who both burn and tan moderately. The average Caucasian person with white skin fits in this category.

Skin Type IV – People in this category burn minimally, but tan with relative ease. Skin Type IV individuals tend to develop Immediate Pigment Darkening (IPD) reaction when exposed to the sun. IPD occurs during exposure to UV rays and results from alteration of existing melanin (oxidation, redistribution). As a result of being exposed to UV rays, the skin’s pigment darkens. The condition may fade rapidly or persist for several days.

Skin Type V – People who rarely burn and have an easy time tanning. Skin Type V individuals almost always exhibit IPD reaction. People with brown skin, such as East Indians and Hispanics, tend to have Skin Type V.

Skin Type VI – People who never burn and tan almost immediately when exposed to the sun. Skin Type VI individuals exhibit IPD reaction. People of African and South Indian descent usually have Skin Type VI.

Effect of Skin Type on Tanning

The primary difference between the six skin types is the amount of melanin produced by the melanocytes in the skin. Skin Type I individuals tend to produce very little melanin which is why their skin burns easily and they are at greater risk for suffering long-term skin damage. If you burn easily, it’s best not to stay out in the sun too long; it also may be a good idea to give up the idea of getting that perfect tan, as you might end up doing more harm to your skin than good.

People with darker skin tone, Skin Type V or VI, are constantly producing melanin in their skin and are thus less prone to burning. People who produce large amounts of melanin usually have no need to tan as their skin is already quite dark.

In the middle of the spectrum are people with skin types III & IV. For people in the middle, tanning without burning is definitely a possibility. However it is still advised to use either sunblock or sunscreen to ensure adequate UV protection.