How To Describe Skin Tones Using The Right Terms
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How To Describe Skin Tones Using The Right Terms

You most likely have been to a professional because of an unknown skin ailment or condition. Being able to identify your skin tone and condition is important. Experts know how to describe skin tones using the right terms, and we want to teach you how to do it, too.

There are several reasons why it is important to distinguish skin tones, including avoiding sounding racist or generating a negative social stigma. However, up-and-coming dermatologists should also look educate themselves about different skin tones since the skin reflects conditions in the body.

Skin tone knowledge also makes it easier for beauticians and cosmetologists to decide what products and potential treatments to use for clients with different skin tones. If you love to put on makeup, knowing the products that match your skin tone will make the difference in achieving beautiful makeup that meets your needs.

When it comes to specific treatments, for example, laser therapy and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light), in some cases, it is important to know the patient's skin tone. Regardless of whether it is a homemade application of the treatment or performed in a specialized center, it is necessary to specifically determine the skin tone to regulate the machines' power so that the application of the treatment is effective.

Understanding skin tones effectively can provide tremendous advantages in numerous areas and medical roles. In this article, we will cover in-depth how to distinguish and describe different skin tones in medical terms.

How to Describe Skin Tones According to their Classification

Skin tones can be classified in a variety of ways. Some are based on scientific theories, while others are based on colors. Here we present the correct classifications according to each type:

Fitzpatrick Scale

Skin tones are generally classified using the Fitzpatrick Scale in medical and scientific terms. Within this classification are six subgroups:

  • Type I (Ivory)
  • Type II (Beige)
  • Type III (Light Chestnut)
  • Type IV (Medium Chestnut)
  • Type V (Dark Brown)
  • Type VI (Very Dark Brown)

Very Specific Colors

It's a good idea to use very specific colors to describe skin tones. This simplifies the distinction between each and will prevent confusion or distorted perceptions. Among the most common colors used to classify skin tones are the following: Tawny or light yellow, Khaki or light brown with small shades of yellow, ochre or yellow going to orange, Sepia that would be a reddish-brown, Mole to describe the grayish marro, Sarcolina to refer to the flesh color, among others.


Descriptive Words

We need to use terms and words that help us describe skin tone more accurately. It is best to use terms and words that are a little more common and understandable to everyone to do so. Among this group, words such as dark, warm, deep, pale, pink (among others) stand out. When using this type of classification, we must be careful not to use words in a way that seems offensive or unpleasant.

Medical Terms

In medicine and science, different terms are used to describe differences in skin tones, including the Fitzpatrick Scale. They can be used to identify a wide variety of disorders that affect the skin differently, depending on the symptoms they exhibit.

The grayish or pale hue of the skin may indicate an oxygen deficiency or an insufficient blood supply to an area of the skin, indicating kidney failure, excess iron, or heart failure.

Excess bilirubin could cause yellow skin, which could signify liver problems. Another example is vitiligo, a condition characterized by the complete loss of skin pigment due to the destruction of all skin cells that produce melanin.

Different classifications and descriptions of skin tones exist, as seen in the image above. We will use each classification according to the area we are developing. All classifications described above are valid and correct. However, the most common and relevant applications are in the medical and aesthetic industries, which explains their universal recognition.

So What are the Skin Tones?

As we identify the different skin tones and their different classifications, we can dive a little deeper into each of them and discover more about how they differ from one another.

Type I

Ivory hue: This type of skin is relatively light, sensitive, and has few imperfections. However, it is prone to sun damage compared with the other skin types.

Type II

Beige hue: This skin type is fair, but not as fair as that of people with skin type I. It is a shade that poses a little less risk of sun damage but still has a degree of sensitivity, with more freckles apparent among its characteristics.


Type III

Light Brown tone: This type of skin is between light brown and pale brown, with a tanner appearance than types I and II. Those with this kind of skin do not suffer as badly from exposure to the sun because their skin color already tends to be slightly dark.

Type IV

Medium Brown Tone: They have a skin tone between olive and dark brown, the tanning process is more accelerated than in the other skin types, but it doesn't usually cause severe damage.

Type V

Dark brown hue: In this type of skin, the distribution of color is more accentuated. That is, there is a greater presence of dark color. Despite this, it hardly burns when tanned. Generally, people who have this type of skin are of Asian or African descent.

Type VI

Very dark brown hue: This is the darkest skin tone has a low risk of sunburn and other conditions such as skin cancer.

Understand Skin Tones Better

Now, where do all these skin tones come from? The key to describing skin tones and their varieties is to know their origin.

Firstly, skin tone is defined as the visible surface of the skin from which we can distinguish its color. It is rather complicated to identify the skin tone because so many tones are available. However, several options can make the task easier. Here are the most impressive:

  • Evaluate the color of the jawline: The color of the skin at the jawline gives us an idea of a person's skin tone because the area near the jaw is less susceptible to sun damage or other environmental factors. It is recommended to do the test under natural light.
  • Vein test: The color of our veins is also a good indicator to determine the skin tone we present. It can be done by looking at the veins of the wrists. If these have a blue or purple color, the skin tone is classified between types of tones I and II (light). On the other hand, if the veins have a green color, the skin tone would be between types III and IV (Light and dark brown).
  • Sun Test: The sun is a great tool to discover and identify our skin tone. If during tanning our skin turns red and we present irritation, surely the skin tone would be classified between light tones (Type I and II), whereas if after exposure to solar radiation we attain a light tan without any irritation, we are classified as dark (Type III to VI).


Continuing in the dynamics to understand more about skin tones, we must also delve into the process by which the skin acquires its color. Anatomically, this process involves the cells of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) producing a certain amount of melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its color. For that reason, it can be considered that the skin tone will be largely determined by genetics.

As discussed above, skin color is usually evaluated through the Fitzpatrick scale with its six types of shades and the effects of sun exposure; however, there are other ways to perform the evaluation process considering different criteria.

Tones are categorized on a scale from light to dark. It organizes tones by light, light-medium, medium, and dark. Different skin tones are used to use a numerical scale between 1 and 8, where 1 represents the lightest tone and 8 the darkest. Digital image analysis can also be used to assess skin tones using tools like spectrophotometers or colorimeters and techniques usually used by scientists, dermatologists, or researchers.

Risks and Conditions that Certain Skin Tones Can Acquire

In addition to understanding the different options we have to describe and identify skin tones, we should also be aware of the conditions and risks they may suffer while at the same time highlighting the care and treatments for each.

Many factors can alter and modify your color, including heredity and genetics. The main factor is sunlight. Excessive sun exposure can alter the color of your skin and even cause permanent changes such as dark spots. It may also cause the skin to become dull and lack its natural glow.

However, the geographical location in which the individual lives could also impact the skin tone. In climates with low temperatures, the skin tone tends to be lighter, while in warm climates, dark tones predominate.

To prevent these conditions, personal care should be tailored to the climate. Maintaining hygiene and an adequate skin cleansing routine will be essential to avoid diseases. The correct use of sunscreen and moisturizers are the perfect allies for healthy skin. For more information on ways to keep your skin looking bright and youthful, visit our blog!