SkinType Pigmentation in relation to Sunless Tanning Skin Finish Products

By Darla
In Blog
Mar 18th, 2014

SkinType Pigmentation in relation to Sunless Tanning Skin Finish Products  (Fitzpatrick Skintype scale)


Skin Type Classification in the Tanning Industry is based on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type scale.  This is the most commonly used skin typing scheme, which classifies a person’s skin type by their response to Sun exposure in relation to the degree of burning and tanning experienced. This system was developed by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick MD, PHD.

The spray tanning clients skins natural (untanned)  pigmentation level is important in the Sunless Tanning Industry, because the amount of visible pigment the client has in their skin, even though they are not actively UV Tanning, will reflect how a sunless tan looks and wears on their skin.

All sunless tan products add a sheer (transparent) colorant to the surface of the skin. This allows the skins natural tones, colors, and even visible imperfections to show through the sheer brown tint. The final visible tan will be a melding of the normal skin tone pigments and the colorant added to the skin surface by the self tanning product.  For this reason no two clients will ever look exactly the same in tan colour, tone, depth, richness etc. Each tan will be unique to that client. As individual as their skin.

Your skin type is a composition of your genetic background, your colouring or pigmentation level (skin melanin content), and you tanning ability. You are not more than one skin type, and your skin type does not change with life.

The skins UV sensitivity can change with age, and many medications can increase skin UV sensitivity. But barring any health conditions that alter skins  pigmentation  (Vitiligo for example),  your “skintype” will always be the same that you were born with.


Skin Type Basics


Understanding some basics about skin typing, and how each type works with any DHA based self tanner, can better prepare you to accurately match sunless products to your client needs. This positions you to effectively produce the most natural looking coloration, with a longer wearing tan, that fades smoother and more evenly.

First you need to remember three things:

  • Skin Typing is only a rough GUIDE to help. It is not “set in stone”, and you will find clients that don’t easily fall into a specific discernable type. Don’t panic it’s ok, and normal.
  • Be willing to work with your client, and feel free to experiment outside their skin type if it seems warranted, everyone’s skin is unique. So be flexible. The main thing is to have a happy client, with a great tan. Even if that means spraying a seemingly Type 4 skin type with your lightest solution, or a type one with a dark solution. Just take the time to spot test first, checking results at 24 hours wear (after showering)  and you should be fine.
  • If you still don’t understand skin types, again, don’t stress. You can still give clients great tans, with very little understanding of skin types. As mentioned above, it is only a guide to help you. Just use caution and spray a bit lighter, or lower DHA product when you are unsure.

A few things can quickly give you all the information you need to help decide the best spray solutions for almost any client.


Some Quick Tricks


Quiz your client before you spray them the first time.

If they have ever used sunless tanners before, what were their results? Did light or dark products work best? Then you should also choose a similar product, in the same DHA range.

Drugstore products are not as dark as professional grade sunless tanning solutions, and a product labeled “dark” may not be as dark as a competitors “dark” So try to get a range, from their experiences with more than one product. Or better, the DHA percentage level they used with the best results.

Do they turn orange easily? Then be careful not to apply to dark a product (to high a DHA level) or over saturate. Do not allow this client to wear solution over 8-12 hours without showering, until you know how their skin develops color. Longer wear produces darker color, but can also make them more prone to orange tones.

If they wear facial foundation cosmetics that blend into their facial skin, do they use light, medium or dark products? Use the matching self tanning DHA level range (light, medium or dark)


Skin Type Breakdown  (use untanned skin coloration, natural hair shade)


What do they look like?

  • Dark eyed and dark haired is usually a darker skin type.
  • Light pale eyes, and light skin and hair, is usually a lighter skin type.


How do they react in the sun or a tanning bed??

  • Always Burns-Never Tans – Type 1 – Fair hair with freckles Caucasian.

Has very fair pale, ivory, porcelain or white skin Red and or blond hair. Light blue, grey or green eyes, UV exposed skin usually has freckles, often in profusion,  may have reddish to ruddy undertones in skin. Blisters heavily and burns easily to angry red.  Burns in 15 mins or less. Face is sun sensitive.

  • Burns easily, gets a light tan with difficulty– Type 2 – Fair to medium haired, fair skinned Caucasian

Has fair, cream, or beige skin. May have some freckles. Light to dark sandy red, blond, or  brown hair, light to dark green or blue eye. Blisters and burns easily, pink to red. Can tan to a very light beige with multiple exposure, never tans darkly. Burns in 15-25 minutes, face is moderately sun sensitive.

  • Tans easily medium, slow to burn –Type 3 – Medium Caucasian

Most common Caucasian skin type in the USA. Has cream to medium skin, often golden or honey skin tones, or olive tones. Sandy to brown hair with green, hazel or blue eyes are the most common profile. But this type can be any hair/eye color combo. Tans slowly but you can build color to a medium depth with continued exposure. Slow to burn, but you do burn with enough exposure, normally you do not blister easily. Burns in 25 – 40 min of exposure. Face is normal sensitivity.

  • Tans Easily darkly, rarely burns – Type 4 – Mediterranean type Caucasian

Has medium to dark skin, , often with caramel tones, paired with dark brown hair. Green, hazel or brown, or ebony eyes are the most common. Tans quickly and easily, good medium to dark depth, rarely burns, never blisters. Takes more than 40 mins to burn. Face rarely burns.

  • Tans easily to a dark rich brown, rarely burns – Type 5 – Mid eastern skin types, some Hispanics, or Black skin tones

Has medium to dark skin tones, natural brown, bronze or rich brown skin with dark brown to black hair Normally paired with brown and dark brown eyes. Tans easily and quickly to a deep rich brown. Never burns (visibly) never blisters.

  • Tans very easily, never burns– Type 6 – dark Black skin types

Has dark skin, which is naturally black in tone. Skin tones of mahogany to espresso. Natural black hair, dark brown or black eyes. Never burns or blisters.


In most cases you tailor your sunless solution more toward the clients skintype – NOT just to the final color they tell you they want.

For example, the pale skin type one who comes in and says she wants to be as dark as the latest Sport Illustrated Cover Girl Model, (who is a skintype 3) will be very disappointed if you spray her with you darker 12%-14% solutions.

Usually she will be dark – but dark orange.  Or she may have a great dark tan, that fades to a crackly looking alligator skin mess, in 2-3 days.

Instead try spraying the client with a lower DHA level product, such as 5%-8% ranges.  She may not be as dark as she wants, but she will look better overall, her tan will wear and fade better, and she will look brown rather than brassy gold or orangey – which is commonly seen when you spray a client with two high a DHA level for their skin type.


What happens when you mismatch solution depth and skintype?


A Mismatch between a clients skin type and the DHA level range of the sunless tanner applied can produce: poor or uneven fading, faster fading tans, less flattering or unnatural coloration, orangey or brassy toned tans, crackly, spotty alligator skin fading.

A good match produces a tan that does not scream “fake”, flatters the client in a variety of lighting, fades evenly and smoothly, and gradually, and can be easily maintained by the client with regular exfoliation, moisturizing, and resprays.

If you are still unsure where to start, always apply less solution, as opposed to more, or a slightly lower DHA level, as opposed to a darker range.

Have client return the next day, so you can check their tan, and reapply a second thin coat for free. Now you will know how much solution, and what ranges, they will need for the next visit, note it in their file.

You can always add more products to skin, but it is difficult to remove an orange tan.

Next up, I will address some spray tan issues specific to each skin type, and the fix.

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