Self-reported skin colour and erythemal sensitivity vs. objectively measured constitutive skin colour in an African population with predominantly dark skin

Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2015 Nov;31(6):315-24. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12191. Epub 2015 Aug 24.


Background: Skin colour is an important factor in skin-related diseases. Accurate determination of skin colour is important for disease prevention and supporting healthy sun behaviour, yet such data are lacking for dark skin types.

Methods: Self-perceived, natural skin colour and sun-skin reaction were compared with objectively measured skin colour among an African population with predominantly dark skin. Unexposed skin of 556 adults (70.1% Black) was measured with a reflectance spectrophotometer to calculate an individual typology angle (°ITA). Participants reported self-perceived skin colour and erythemal sensitivity.

Results: There was a strong, positive monotonic correlation between self-reported and measured skin colour (Spearman ρ = 0.6438, P < 0.001), but only a weak correlation between self-reported erythemal sensitivity and measured skin colour (Spearman ρ = 0.2713, P < 0.001). Self-report biases in underestimation and overestimation of skin colour were evident. Many participants with 'dark brown' and 'black' skin had difficulty in classifying erythemal sensitivity.

Conclusions: In Africa, self-reported skin colour could potentially be used in lieu of spectrophotometer measurements, but options for questions on sunburn and tanning require suitable adjustment. Our study provides evidence of range in °ITA values among residents in Africa and reinforces previous results that self-report may be reliable for determining skin colour, but not erythemal sensitivity, for dark skin individuals.

Keywords: Africa; erythemal sensitivity; self-report; skin colour; spectrophotometer.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black People*
  • Erythema / diagnosis*
  • Erythema / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Report*
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Pigmentation*
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Sunlight / adverse effects
  • Young Adult