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Let’s cut to the chase: Real tans—and, shudder, tanning beds—are out. But glowing, sun-kissed skin is in. Enter the beauty of a good bronzer. A quick dusting is all it takes to look fresh, healthy, and like you just got back from a tropical island. Still, bronzers are somewhat risky (at least in a makeup sense) in that choosing the right color or finish can quickly land you in Oompa Loompa territory. To ensure you stay out of the orange zone, choose a bronzer no more than one shade darker than your skin tone. Oh, and beware of sparkle; while subtle shimmer makes for a pretty radiance, pass on formulas with large chunks of glitter, which can end up looking garish.
Now that we’ve armed you with those helpful tips, take your pick from any of these best bronzers and get glowing.
Best Overall: Urban Decay Beached Bronzer
Finely-milled pigments give this formula its silky smooth, blendable, and streak-free texture. Available in two universally-flattering hues, the pigments are also infused with a special technology that makes for long-lasting color. And while the finish is matte, it still has enough dimension to it that it never comes across as flat.
Best Budget: Maybelline City Bronzer and Contour Powder
Close your eyes and you’d swear you were using a much (much) more expensive product. Finely milled pigments coupled with whipped cocoa butter make it insanely silky, and the color goes on sheer, so you can still see the texture of your skin underneath. Still, it’s easily buildable, and pulls double duty as a contour color, too.
Best Palette: Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow Contour Duo
Consider this a one-stop-shop for glowing skin. Use the two included shades individually or mixed together to bronze, sculpt, and highlight to your heart’s content. Pearl and gold pigments make for the perfect amount of luminosity, and can we talk about how chic the case is?
Best Matte: Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk’r Instant Warmth Bronzer
Not only does this bronzer have a featherweight feel, but it’s also transfer-resistant, ideal for all-day, everyday wear. The finish is definitely matte, though soft enough to never look chalky, and also comes in eight shades for all skin tones, the most of any in the bunch.
Best Cream: RMS Beauty Buriti Bronzer
Don’t be put off by how dark this looks in the jar; the deep tone goes on extremely sheer and can easily be built up, making it a good universal pick. It also has no grey or orangey undertones, ensuring a believably glow-y end result. The rich buriti oil (sourced from the nuts of a Brazilian palm tree, FYI) base keeps it creamy and hydrating. Reach for it in the dead of winter when your skin needs not only a hint of color but a hit of moisture, too.
Best Liquid: Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer Ultra-Light Glowing Fluid in 11
Not only does this work perfectly to deliver just the right subtle touch of color and glow, but it’s also a top-notch multi-tasker; the liquid works equally well as a highlighter, shadow, even dabbed on top of lips. Also nice: You can use your fingertips to apply and blend it in, making it choice for times when a tool-free application is a must.
Best Drugstore: Physician’s Formula Murmuru Butter Bronzer
This brand consistently comes up with some of the best-selling bronzers in the mass market. Our current favorite: This pressed powder with a gloriously creamy texture, thanks to the infusion of hydrating murumuru butter (say that three times fast). It blends in seamlessly and also has a tropical scent that elicits major vacation vibes.
Best Splurge: Guerlain Terracotta The Bronzing Powder
This staple has reigned supreme in the bronzer game forever (since its debut in 1984, to be exact). We’re not sure if it’s the super-smooth texture, the array of shades that look completely natural on all skin tones, or the oh-so-subtle shimmer finish that’s responsible for its popularity, though we have a feeling it’s all three. The bottom bronzer line: This powder is worth every penny.
Best for Fair Skin: Benefit Hoola Matte Bronzing Powder in Lite
Back in the day, the best-selling Hoola bronzer only came in one shade. And while it was indeed flattering on a wide range of skin tones, the intense pigments meant it could be a bit much on pale complexions. Now it comes in four shades, including this one, the same fan-favorite formula in a slightly more subdued shade that makes even the lightest of skin look believably sun-kissed.
Best for Olive Skin: Make Bronzing Brick in Marfa
This baked powder is jet-milled for an undetectable feel and flawless finish, and also has the addition of good-for-your-skin vitamins C and E. With the perfect mix of peach and brown undertones, it’s particularly pretty on medium and olive skin tones.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Lawless Summer Skin Velvet Matte Bronzer
If your skin is sensitive, you’ll appreciate that this formula is free of a long-list of potentially irritating ingredients, including fragrance and parabens. Anyone will appreciate the silky matte texture and two shades that leave your complexion with perfectly sun-kissed, never streaky, color.