No two people share the same skin color. Some women and men have lighter skin with little melanin, whereas others have darker shades of skin with higher amounts of melatonin. For years, cosmetic providers used the Fitzpatrick skin tone scale to determine which lasers are safe for the skin, but this scale was not always inclusive for patients with darker skin. 

When Google unveiled the Monk skin tone scale, things started to take a better turn for those patients with darker skin. Containing more colors than the Fitzpatrick scale, the Monk scale not only provided a better representation of true skin coloration, but it also made skin analysis easier. Read on to find out more about the difference between these scales. 

What Is the Fitzpatrick Scale?

The Fitzpatrick scale is a system developed by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick in 1975, which classified human skin tone into six categories. These tones went from pale to very dark, and they were used as a guide to determine how the skin reacts to UV radiation. For example, while fair skin (type II) usually burned and had difficulty tanning, dark brown skin (type V) very rarely burned but could tan easily. 

In the cosmetic world, the Fitzpatrick scale is used to determine one’s skin response to laser treatment. This allows for the correct wavelength to be chosen so that the laser does not cause lesions or unwanted side effects. For instance, lighter skin tones could safely handle more potent skin rejuvenation treatments, whereas patients with darker skin could only handle low-level lasers. Failure to choose the right wavelength could potentially lead to hyperpigmentation, as the laser could attack the naturally producing melanin in the skin.

While cosmetic providers still use the Fitzpatrick scale, it brings numerous limitations for darker skin tones. Among the six colors classified by the scale, four are for lighter skin, with only two options for dark skin tones.

What Is the Monk Scale?

In response to the limitations of the Fitzpatrick scale, Harvard professor Dr. Ellis Monk came up with a new scale in collaboration with Google: the Monk scale. Monk spent years researching the sociological impact of skin color on the black population and found the old scale incomplete. 

Instead of having six colors like the Fitzpatrick option, the Monk scale features 10 – four were for lighter skin tones, as the Fitzpatrick scale uses, but the darker tones are split into six shades. This reduced bias in categorizing color while making it more inclusive. Moreover, while the Fitzpatrick scale categorizes skin tones from light to dark, Monk took a more cultural approach. Because of this, the social categories for the Monk scale included Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, and others.

Why Does It Matter Which Scale Is Used?

The main difference between the scales lies in the number of skin tones each system has, with Monk proving superior. While the Monk scale was created to promote inclusivity, cosmetic providers have also begun adopting this system more and more. This is due in large part to the rising interest in cosmetic laser surgery, which is not always suitable for women and men with darker skin types.

By using an inclusive scale with more categories, there is a greater chance of choosing the correct wavelength. Should the skin not be appropriately categorized, the risk of hyperpigmentation is high, as the laser can lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Which Scale Is for You?

The Fitzpatrick and Monk scales can offer insight into where your skin tone is situated. That said, the scales are different, with Monk being more beneficial for patients with a darker complexion. Call Dr. Ariel Ostad now and schedule an appointment to determine your skin tone and the suitable procedures.

For more information about the Monk and Fitzpatrick tone scales, please contact Dr. Ariel Ostad at 212-517-7900. He can offer you all the information you need for the appropriate treatment. You can also fill out our online contact form, and we will get in touch with you shortly.

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