Skin Tone and Your Skin Health

Skin Tone and Your Skin Health

What is SKIN TONE and why does it matter when choosing skincare products?

Most women know their skin tone matters when choosing clothing or color palettes for makeup, such as foundation, eye shadow or lipstick. But knowing your true skin tone also plays a direct role your skin health and will aid in choosing which skincare products work best for you.

Your skin tone is a direct result of the amount of melanin your skin produces and can be the difference between skin that is sensitive and burns easily or skin that may never burn but can be deeply pigmented or prone to discoloration (hyperpigmentation).

No two dark spots are alike. Dark spots can develop from multiple triggers, including: exposure to UV rays, scarring, infection and skin irritation, or even melasma/chloasma which is triggered by hormonal changes during pregnancy and exacerbated by UV exposure. (Freckles, unlike age spots or dark spots, are inborn and do not fall into the category of hyperpigmentation).

Human skin color is determined primarily by the amount and type of melanin (or skin pigment) it contains and can range from almost black/dark brown to very high concentrations of white with a pinkish tinge due to sub-dermal blood vessels. Variations in skin color are mainly genetic in origin.

Despite what you may assume about skin hue and sensitivity, light skin can in fact withstand stress much better than skin of a darker tone. The reason lies below the surface. Pigmented cells in brown skin are larger and more loosely packed, which means the skin is often sensitive and tends to overreact to certain stimuli. For example, darker skin is more likely to scar and get irritated. Long after a blemish or cut heals, a dark mark is likely to linger on the skin. Even doing the right thing, like using a sunscreen, can result in an unforeseen blotchy or reddened response.

Skin color may be the result of genetic adaptations which protect from sunburn, skin infections and skin cancer, vitamin D deficiency, or damage to skin cells. Sunlight intensity is associated with darker skin color while areas with low UV levels lead to skin lightening. This information is important to know when choosing skincare products, especially when it comes to sun damage protection and skin lightening choices.


Skin type (or hue) is commonly classified using the Fitzpatrick Classification. It is a useful guideline that was designed as a means to calibrate the skin’s response to sun exposure, with regard to how it might respond to chemical treatments and the risk of hyperpigmentation. Skin type can also be classified as oily, sensitive or dry, etc.

The six categories of the Fitzpatrick Skin Types are:

1. Type I (white) always burns, never tans. Tends to have freckles, red, brown, auburn, chestnut, or blond hair, blue, hazel, green or grey eyes.

2. Type II (white) usually burns, never tans. Tends to have light or dark hair, blue, green, hazel, brown or grey eyes.

3. Type III (light brown) burns occasionally, gradually tans. Usually has brown hair and blue, green, hazel, brown, or, rarely, dark brown eyes.

4. Type IV (moderate brown) minimally burns, always tans. Tends to have black to dark brown hair and blue, green, hazel, brown or dark brown eyes.

5. Type V (dark brown) rarely burns, profusely tans. Black hair and brown or hazel eyes.

6. Type VI (black) never burns, deeply pigmented. Black hair and dark brown eyes, with minor variations.

Don’t be deceived by the airbrushed models on magazine covers, only a rare few have a perfectly even skin tone. Time, sun damage and other factors will generally contribute to freckles, age spots, discolorations, or a “blotchy” complexion for the rest.


The pigment-producing cells of the skin are called melanocytes and they are the major determinant of your hair and skin color. Melanocytes are located at the bottom layer of the epidermis and are the first line of defense against skin cancer. Even subtle environmental changes can affect melanocytes and change skin tone. By using sun protection and caring for your skin, you can avoid unwanted discoloration due to over-active pigmentation.

It can’t be said often enough: People of all skin types need to use sun protection! While those with darker skin tones or skin of color may think they’re naturally protected from sun damage, they are actually more prone to react to exposure with dark marks and splotches. While those with darker skin are less likely to develop skin cancer, when they do, it is more often the deadly melanoma and usually diagnosed late due to a lack of understanding about how it appears on dark skin.

For protection, medical experts recommend using products containing titanium oxide or zinc oxide dimethicone; both are physical rather than chemical barriers, which can irritate the skin and break down after a couple of hours. The recommended daily sun protection factor (SPF) is 30. Because sunscreen loses its effectiveness after two hours, it needs to be reapplied. Another option is to spritz with a sunscreen spray, or dust the face with a loose SPF-fortified foundation powder.

The sun is your skin’s enemy. No matter the original cause of skin discoloration, the sun actively plays a role in exacerbating wrinkles, fine lines and unwanted dark patches and spots. Sunscreen is by far the single most important skincare product you should use, without it, the sun’s UV rays will send your melanocytes into overdrive.

As you age, the overall level of skin pigment also increases, which is why adults often have a deeper baseline skin tone than they did as children. It also contributes to age spots or “liver spots,” those unwelcome blotchy skin discolorations.

These flat brown patches are generally limited to sun exposed skin (like the face, backs of hands and forearms) and show up around age 40. By the age of 70, nearly ninety percent of all Caucasians have at least one age spot. Fortunately, they are benign and do not tend to darken with repeat sun exposure. Freckles, on the other hand, typically develop in childhood. They are much smaller and they do get darker during the sunny summer months and then fade during the winter.


So what can you do about uneven skin tone? Of course you can use camouflaging make up or concealer to hide dark spots, but there is also a variety of methods and products designed to target and reduce skin discoloration directly including micodermabrasion and topical skin lighteners.

You will see some immediate results with skin bleaching/brightening products, but the best results will be achieved after six to twelve months of continued use. Natural Zinc Oxide moisturizers will also restore hydration and defend against free-radical skin damage, protecting skin from damaging UVB and UVA rays. The effectiveness of any treatment will vary according to one’s skin type, how often the product is applied and in what amount. It is normally advised to use the same treatment for four to six weeks to determine the effectiveness.