Digital dermoscopy to determine skin melanin index as an objective indicator of skin pigmentation

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Sara Majewski, Chantelle Carneiro, Erin Ibler, Peter Boor, Gary Tran, Mary C Martini, Salvatore Di Loro, Alfred W. Rademaker, Dennis P. West, Beatrice Nardone


Clinical assessment of skin photosensitivity is subjectively determined by erythema and tanning responses to sunlight recalled by the subject, alternatively known as Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype (SPT). Responses may be unreliable due to recall bias, subjective bias by clinicians and subjects, and lack of cultural sensitivity of the questions. Analysis of red-green-blue (RGB) color spacing of digital images may provide an objective determination of SPT. This paper presents the studies to assess the melanin index (MI), as determined by RGB images obtained by both standard digital camera as well as by videodermoscope, and to correlate the MI with SPT based upon subjects’ verbal responses to standardized questions administered by a dermatologist.
   A sample of subjects representing all SPTs I–VI was selected. Both the digital camera and videodermoscope were calibrated at standard illumination, light source and white balance. Images of constitutive skin of the upper ventral arm were taken of each subject using both instruments. The studies showed that 58 subjects (20 M, 38 F) were enrolled in the study (mean age: 47 years; range: 20–89), stratified to skin phototype I–VI. MI obtained by using both digital camera and videodermoscope increased significantly as the SPT increased (p = 0.004 and p < 0.0001, respectively) and positively correlated with dermatologist-assessed SPT (Spearman correlation, r = 0.48 and r = 0.84, respectively). Digital imaging can quantify melanin content in order to quantitatively approximate skin pigmentation in all skin phototypes including Type VI skin. This methodology holds promise as a simple, non-invasive, rapid and objective approach to reliably determine skin phototype and, with further investigation, may prove to be both practical and useful in the prediction of skin cancer risk.


Melanin Index; Fitzpatrick Skin Phototype; digital imaging

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