The Fitzpatrick Scale

  • When determining your client’s skin type, the Fitzpatrick scale is a great tool that was originally developed in 1975 to assess the risk of skin cancer using a numerical scale that measures the amount of melanin in the skin after sun exposure. 
  • Physical features are used in this scale; for example, skin tone, eye colour and natural hair colour.  This scale is commonly used in more recent times to determine the suitability for certain beauty treatments such as laser.

Type 1

Extremely fair skin, always burns, never tans

Type 2

Fair skin, always burns, sometimes tans

Type 3

Medium skin, sometimes burns, always tans

Type 4

Moderately pigmented brown skin, never burns, always tans

Type 5

Olive skin, rarely burns, always tans

Type 6

Markedly pigmented black skin, never burns, always tans

  • Cosmetic tattoo artists use this scale to determine the level of melanin in the client’s skin. However, you must take into account the extent to which natural skin colour influences the healed result of the tattoo and the pigment chosen. 
  • For example, a client who is classified under type 1 of the Fitzpatrick scale will generally produce lower levels of melanin in their skin and will therefore typically have a cool undertone.  Pigment will show up very easily in the skin, therefore warming modifiers may be used accordingly.
  • Client’s with type 4 or 5 on the scale will typically have higher levels of melanin in their skin, therefore certain pigments will not show up in the skin as well. This scale is only a reference point for determining skin types; more assessments must be made such as the vein test, before commencing pigment selection. 
  • When performing a cosmetic tattoo procedure, the Fitzpatrick scale is useful when determining a client’s susceptibility to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).  Those prone to PIH are types 4 – 6 in the Fitzpatrick scale.
  • Clients who develop PIH have hyperactive melanocyte cells, which can be over stimulated due to skin irritation/trauma, resulting in an excess of melanin production causing dark discoloured spots over the tattooed are.  
  • If this occurs the healed tattoo will appear patchy. If in doubt perform a patch test, and check for any discolouration before treatment. 

Identifying your client’s skin tone

Below are methods that help determine a client’s skin tone.  Note that each method must be used in conjunction with another to determine the right tone, not just on their own.

Tip: Pigment + Skin tone + Healing over time = final tattoo result after the healing cycle of the skin.

Below are methods that help determine a client’s skin tone.  Note that each method must be used in conjunction with another to determine the right tone, not just on their own.

Tip: Pigment + Skin tone + Healing over time = final tattoo result after the healing cycle of the skin.

You will come to see that most of your clients will have a cool undertone, especially your mature clients as skin becomes cooler as we age.  If you practice from a warmer climate you will also find that a lot of clients will have cooler skin tones due to the environment and sun damage to the skin.

The Face Test

  • To properly assess your clients skin tone during their consultation, take off any foundation/makeup off the client’s face making sure you have a mag lamp or preferably natural light directed to their face.  The corners of the mouth and sides of the nose is where the client’s undertone will be most evident. 
  • Peachy, golden or yellow pigments evident in the skin will determine that the client is a warm tone.
  • Pink blues and reds will determine that the client is a cool tone.
  • Tip: think blue – ocean – cool | golden/yellow – sun – warm
  • If you can see a mix of both cool and warm pigments in their skin, then the client is likely neutral toned.

Tip: If you are having difficulty identifying your clients skin tone, place a white sheet of paper next to their face as a baseline, as this will help your eyes identify any contrast.

The Vein Test

  • Just below the wrist on the inner part of your client’s forearm is where you will find visible veins to then determine your client’s undertone.
  • Green veins = warm undertone
  • Bluish/purple veins = cool undertone

The Eye Test 

Cool toned clients will typically have these characteristics.

  • Hazel or blue eyes with grey flecks
  • Naturally Blonde, brown or blonde hair with platinum tones

Warm toned clients will typically have these characteristics.

  • Golden brown, green or hazel eyes with gold flecks
  • Naturally Strawberry blonde auburn or black hair with gold tones

The Jewellery Test

  • Another way to determine your client’s undertone is to ask your client if they prefer to wear gold or silver jewellery, and what more flattering on their skin.
  • If your client prefers silver, they will be a cool undertone.  If they prefer gold, they will be a warm undertone.
  • If both silver and gold are suited to the client’s skin, they may have neutral undertones.

The Sun Test

  • How hour client’s skin reacts to the sun is another indicator when determining skin tone.
  • If their skin burns easily and turns pink after sun exposure, they will be cool toned.
  • If their skin tans easily they will likely be warm toned.
  • Some clients skin may tan easily but after a period of time turn pink or burn easily, in this case they may be either a cool or warm tone, therefore relying other assessments is important.