People with fair skin are more likely to sunburn than are people with dark skin. That's because people with darker skin have more melanin, which offers some protection from sunburn but not from UV-induced skin damage.

Skin color is determined by the number, distribution and type of pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. Dermatologists refer to the degrees of pigmentation in skin as skin types. Skin types range from very little pigment (type I) to very darkly pigmented (type VI). How easily you burn depends on your skin type and how light or dark your skin is.

Classification of skin types
Skin type Skin color Reaction to sun exposure
Type I Pale white skin Always burns, never tans
Type II White skin Burns easily, tans minimally
Type III White skin Burns minimally, tans easily
Type IV Light brown or olive skin Burns minimally, tans easily
Type V Brown skin Rarely burns, tans easily and darkly
Type VI Dark brown or black skin Rarely burns, always tans, deeply pigmented

Regardless of your skin type, the sun's energy penetrates deeply into the skin and damages DNA of skin cells. This damage may ultimately lead to skin cancer, including melanoma. Even people with type V or VI skin can develop skin cancer, often on the palms, fingers or other more lightly pigmented areas of their bodies.

In addition to skin type, living in a sunny or high-altitude climate increases your risk of sunburn. People who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than are people who live in colder climates. In addition, living at higher elevations, where the sunlight is strongest, exposes you to more radiation and increases your chances of sunburn and skin damage.

Apr. 14, 2011