Growing up, I spent most of my summers outdoors playing in humid city streets. My olive skin tanned easily, so by mid-August, I was often a ruddy creamy caramel color. I didn’t pay any mind to this back then, but my older relatives chided me for not having fair skin. Over the years, those remarks, coupled with the images of porcelain white Asian starlets, convinced me that anything less than a pearly pale complexion was unacceptable.

By my senior year of high school, my skincare mantra was essentially “the lighter, the better.” Though I couldn’t help it if my skin tanned easily, I increasingly spent more time indoors. When I went to the beach with friends, I brought a beach umbrella to huddle under while everyone else lay out on beach towels. While a dermatologist probably would have commended me, I now believe in a more balanced relationship with the sun.

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About a year ago, a blood test revealed I had a Vitamin D deficiency, a common issue that can lead to weak bones and muscles. Sun exposure helps your body produce the nutrient naturally. As sunscreen ads and beauty editorials have told us, it is important to prevent your body from getting too many UVA and UVB rays. But it is just as imperative to synthesize enough Vitamin D, which is only found in few foods, for optimal health.

In addition to staying out of the sun in my high school days, I saved and scrimped what little money I made tutoring on weekends to buy skincare products that promised to whiten my complexion. In hindsight, none of the whitening products seemed to have any effect on my skin other than irritating it and the brightening serums and creams only provided temporary solutions.

Through trial and error, I found that my skin not only looked better, but also felt most comfortable when it was properly cleansed, exfoliated, and hydrated. I learned that good skin didn’t equate to white or even pale skin—or the opposite end of the spectrum, the Western obsession with being forever tan.

Today, as long as my skin was smooth, plump, and blemish-free, I’m satisfied. I know if my face picks up pigmentation in the warmer months, the color will naturally fade come wintertime. By accepting this natural process, I can now dedicate my beauty focus to things like finding a great gentle, yet effective cleanser or the best moisturizer for my dehydrated skin.

I’ll admit that accepting my skin tone in its natural state was not an overnight epiphany, but rather a realization that developed over a few years. I started thinking about my skin more from a health perspective rather than from a purely aesthetic mindset—and this has saved me time, money, and stress in recent years.

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