The story of colour scales

The first scientific classification of skin colour was made by Felix von Luschan, an Austrian anthropologist who spent most of his career in Berlin before the First World War. He created what is known as ‘the von Luschan chromatic scale’ which divided skin colour into 36 shades. He created 36 opaque glass tiles, each coloured with a different skin shade,  which could be held against a person’s skin to determine their number on the scale. Given the era, you will not be surprised to hear that this all had a racist overtone. Von Luschan was a member of the German Society for Racial Hygiene – ‘hygiene’ meaning cleansing the Nordic races by sterilisation and other techniques. Nonetheless, von Luschan’s classification of skin types remains.

The next step in skin type classification was taken by Thomas B Fitzpatrick, a 20th century dermatologist. Much of his research work was to do with the effects of sunburn on the development of melanomas (skin cancers), and on the production of sunscreens. In 1975, he devised his own scale of skin colour types, called ‘the Fitzpatrick scale’, as shown below. This incorporates the earlier von Luschan classification (shown in brackets).

  • Type I (scores 0–6). This type of skin always burns, and never tans (pale white; blond or red hair; blue eyes; freckles).
  • Type II (scores 7–13) This type of skin usually burns, and tans minimally (white; fair; blond or red hair; blue, green, or hazel eyes)
  • Type III (scores 14–20) This type of skin sometimes suffers mild burns, but tans uniformly (cream white; fair with any hair or eye color)
  • Type IV (scores 21–27) This type of skin burns minimally, but always tans well (moderate brown)
  • Type V (scores 28–34) This type of skin very rarely burns, but tans very easily (dark brown)
  • Type VI (scores 35–36) This type of skin never burns, and never tans (deeply pigmented dark brown to darkest brown).

This all has significance in the modern day ’emojis’. If you send and receive lots of texts, you’re probably very familiar with ‘smileys’ and other pictorial representations, such as ’emoticons’. Emoticons are human expressions represented by typeable characters e.g. 🙂 and 🙁 . Unicode is a system for coding standardised characters and pictures of things in a numerical and alphabetical system. One manifestation of this is the Wingdings or Dingbat fonts on your computer.

The Unicode system includes 49 emojis that represent people or body parts. These can then be altered by ‘modify characters’ to show different skin colours, according to the Fitzpatrick scale. Here’s an example of some of them.

U+ 1F474 1F475 1F476 1F477 1F478 1F47C 1F481 1F482 1F483 1F485
emoji 👴 👵 👶 👷 👸 👼 💁 💂 💃 💅
FITZ-1-2 👴🏻 👵🏻 👶🏻 👷🏻 👸🏻 👼🏻 💁🏻 💂🏻 💃🏻 💅🏻
FITZ-3 👴🏼 ������🏼 👶🏼 👷🏼 👸🏼 👼🏼 💁🏼 💂🏼 💃🏼 💅🏼
FITZ-4 👴🏽 👵🏽 👶🏽 👷🏽 👸🏽 👼🏽 💁🏽 💂🏽 💃🏽 💅🏽
FITZ-5 👴🏾 👵🏾 👶🏾 👷🏾 👸🏾 👼🏾 💁🏾 💂🏾 💃🏾 💅🏾
FITZ-6 👴🏿 👵🏿 👶🏿 👷🏿 👸🏿 👼🏿 💁🏿 💂🏿 💃🏿 💅🏿

It has been suggested that this also has racial overtones. But it seems very reasonable to me that the whole world does not wish to find itself represented as white Anglo-Saxons.

I am sure Jesus, as an IF47C, is fed up with Western Art portraying him as a blond FITZ-1-2, and would prefer to be portrayed as an FITZ-4-5.

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