Black woman applying sunscreen in mirror
Credit: Getty Images

As summer ends, I’d like to give thanks to a product that has done wonders for my self-esteem and for my literal health. In an age of 12-step skincare routines and fancy serums, I found that the true “secret” to beautiful skin was much simpler than all of that: sunscreen.

My first memories of sunscreen involve my grandmother slathering handfuls of blue Avon bug repellent on my body before our family outings. It was a necessary but hated ritual, and I decided that, as an adult, I’d give up on the ordeal entirely. Years passed, and as my face and body remained free from sticky, gloppy sunscreen, I was unknowingly about to experience a different kind of skin trouble.

Hyperpigmentation, or darker patches of skin where more melanin is present, became the bane of my existence during my teens and burgeoning twenties. I often piled on concealer and foundation in an attempt to “fix” the dark spots sprinkled along my forehead and chin. As I delved deeper into the world of skincare, I spent hours scouring the internet each week for lightening creams and spot correctors, throwing my money at any product that claimed it could give me an even complexion. Vitamin C serums, retinol creams, and exfoliating pads ran amuck in my beauty cabinet—but I still didn’t see results. I wasted money and time on these products because I was only focused on the superficial layers of my skin. It wasn’t until I ran across a Twitter thread on hyperpigmentation that I realized the one thing I avoided for years was actually the only miracle I needed.

Sunscreen is usually marketed as a shield against UV rays that can cause sunburn, a phenomenon that darker-skinned Black women like myself rarely think we have to worry about (but we do). I also didn’t understand that UV rays worsen hyperpigmentation, pushing pigment deeper into the skin, resulting in even darker blemishes that take longer to fade. In other words, no matter how dedicated I was to a good vitamin C product or skincare regimen, it would do me no good if I wasn’t wearing SPF.

That young girl who once vowed to never touch sunscreen again has disappeared. After a few months of daily sunscreen application, I finally began to see my hyperpigmentation fade. I give thanks to my new routine, along with the complexion-clearing serums I already had, for giving me skin that glows. Now every morning as I apply my sunscreen, I’m reminded to focus not only on the appearance of my skin, but the health and future of it as well. This is why I’ve decided that—although a good concealer can still come in handy—the best makeup really isn’t makeup at all.