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What skin tone is considered dark?

What skin tone is considered dark?

Skin tone is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment that gives skin its color. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin tone is. So what exactly constitutes a dark skin tone? There are a few ways to look at this:

Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale

The Fitzpatrick scale is a commonly used system to classify different skin tones from lightest to darkest. It was developed in 1975 by dermatologist Thomas Fitzpatrick. The scale consists of six phototypes, with Type I being the lightest and Type VI being the darkest.

According to the Fitzpatrick scale, skin types IV, V, and VI are considered dark skin tones. Here’s a quick overview:

Type IV

Type IV skin is light brown or olive in tone. This skin type rarely burns and tans quite easily. Type IV skin is common among Mediterranean, some Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern populations.

Type V

Type V skin is brown in tone. This type rarely burns and tans easily. Type V skin is most common among Hispanic/Latino, African-American, Arab, Polynesian, and light-skinned African populations.

Type VI

Type VI skin is dark brown or black in tone. This type almost never burns and tans extremely easily. It’s most common among darker-skinned African and African-American populations.

So in summary, Types IV-VI on the Fitzpatrick scale are considered dark skin tones based on their level of melanin pigmentation.

Reflectance Spectrophotometry

Reflectance spectrophotometry is another method used to objectively determine skin tone. This scientific technique measures the amount of light reflected off the skin across different wavelengths.

Research has found that individuals with higher melanin levels exhibit lower total reflectance. Based on these reflectance measurements, skin tones are often categorized into three groups:

– Light reflectance: Lighter skin tones like pale white

– Medium reflectance: Beige, tan, or olive skin tones

– Dark reflectance: Darker brown and black skin tones

So skin tones that show low levels of reflectance are considered dark. Specific thresholds vary, but skin reflectance under 40% at 680 nm wavelength generally indicates a darker tone.

Subjective Perception

Beyond scientific scales, what’s considered a dark skin tone also has to do with subjective perception. For example, a given shade that appears dark on one person may look lighter on someone else based on contrast with their other features.

Some general guidelines:

– Deep brown to black skin tones are unambiguously perceived as dark. This includes Type VI on the Fitzpatrick scale.

– Medium-dark brown skin often falls into a grey area between light and dark tone. This includes Type IV-V skin.

– Olive or tannish skin with yellow undertones may be perceived as darker than very light pinkish-beige skin.

So while dark skin is objectively defined by high melanin levels, surrounding context also impacts whether a given shade is subjectively viewed as “dark” or not.

Global Prevalence

Globally, dark skin tones are most prevalent among populations living close to the equator, where increased melanin pigmentation developed as an evolutionary adaptation to protect against harmful UV radiation.

Some statistics on global distribution:

Region Prevalence of Dark Skin Tones
Africa 85-90%
Oceania 85-95% in Melanesia, 20-30% in Australia/New Zealand
South Asia 70-80%
Southeast Asia 20-30%
East Asia Less than 5%
Middle East 10-20%
Americas 15-25% overall, up to 80% in some Latin American regions
Europe 1-5%

This table illustrates that dark skin tones are indigenous to tropical regions, particularly Africa, South Asia, Australia-Oceania, and parts of the Americas. Lighter skin became prevalent in more temperate areas further from the equator. But migration and intermixing of peoples has led to diversity of skin tones worldwide.

Societal Perceptions

Throughout history and across cultures, skin tone has carried societal meanings and associations beyond just melanin content.

Lighter skin has often been valued and deemed attractive, especially among women. This has led to harmful colorism and discrimination against those with darker skin, especially in parts of Asia and Latin America.

Meanwhile, tanned white skin can be seen as healthy and exotic in Western cultures. But extremely dark skin is still subconsciously associated with unattractiveness and criminality by some.

So while dark skin objectively denotes higher melanin levels, societal perception of what constitutes an appealing “dark” tone versus an undesirable one is more complex. Beauty standards related to skin color are slowly evolving for the better.

Health Implications

Melanin content and skin tone can have implications for health and medical treatment. Those with dark skin tones are less prone to sun damage but more susceptible to certain conditions:

Lower Risks

– Skin cancer – High melanin protects against UV radiation

– Sunburn – Darker skin contains more eumelanin pigment which shields from UVB rays

– Folate depletion – Melanin helps preserve folate (vitamin B9) levels after sun exposure

Higher Risks

– Vitamin D deficiency – Dark skin absorbs less UVB needed to synthesize vitamin D

– Keloids – Darker skinned individuals prone to overgrowth of scar tissue

– Certain autoimmune disorders – Higher rates of conditions like lupus, vitiligo, and sarcoidosis

Doctors should be aware of these risks and tailor screening and treatment accordingly for diverse patients.

Cosmetics and Fashion for Darker Skin Tones

Beauty and fashion industries have not always catered well to darker skin tones. But representation and inclusion are improving:

– Make-up – More brands now offer foundation and concealers in deeper shades and better undertones for dark skin.

– Hair care – Products are available to meet needs of highly textured hair more common among those with darker skin.

– Fashion -Clothing colors and styles suited for dark skin are expanding thanks to diverse models and designers.

– Media – TV, movies, and magazines now feature more dark-skinned models and celebrate their beauty.

While there is still room to grow, dark skin tones are increasingly recognized for their beauty. Products and visual media help reinforce this message.


In summary, dark skin tones are defined by high levels of melanin pigmentation. They encompass Fitzpatrick scale types IV-VI, those with low skin reflectance, and brown to black visual perception. Globally, dark skin is most common near the equator and uncommon in regions further away. Throughout history, there has been discrimination and colorism against those with darker skin. But societal attitudes and representation are gradually improving to be more inclusive. Those with dark skin have some unique health considerations. Overall, having a dark skin tone encompasses a range of shades and experiences. The richness and beauty of human diversity should be recognized and celebrated.