Every Which Way to Apply Bronzer—and Make It Look Real

Updated 01/28/18
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Ania Milczarczyk wearing bronzer makeup
@AniaMilczarczyk

Bronzer truly is the real beauty cure-all. Not enough sleep? Bronzer will wake up your complexion. Been feeling under the weather? Sallowness is no match for bronzer. Sun's out and you're still the color of milk? Hello, bronzer.

Yet I have at least a dozen friends who won't go near it, citing a fear of looking orange or it transferring onto their pristine white collars as their reasons for steering clear. Just like fake tan, it's all too easy to scoop up the wrong shade and end up a very different hue to what you'd imagined, or so be at a loss when it comes to application that you just bottle it altogether.

We enlisted the help of Bobbi Brown Pro Makeup Artist Amy Conway, who knows a thing or two about getting a (natural) glow. "The number one mistake lots of women make is going for the wrong color. We tend to look at a bronzer and plump for the darkest one so we're sure it'll show up and give us a nice bit of color," warned Conway. "But in reality, it's more about layering and starting with a very soft color and building it up."

When it comes to finding your perfect shade, Conway had this to say, "Most women have either golden tones or cinnamon tones in their skin. An English rose sort of complexion should use a cinnamon-toned bronzer, and someone with more of a yellow undertone should go for golden-toned bronzer," explained Conway. "Black or Asian skin tones can go with either golden or cinnamon. Usually, to counteract the ashiness that can be common with darker skin, I often recommend the more cinnamon-toned bronzer."

Read on for Conway's top tips for perfect application every time.

How to Do the Sun-Kissed Sweep

The coolest, most natural way to apply bronzer right now? That'll be the sun-kissed sweep. It's a clever trick that mimics a tan where the sun would hit you if you spent the day sunbathing. "You want to take your bronzer over the nose and on the higher-up part of your cheeks," explained Conway. "This is essentially an anti-contour, as you don't apply it in the hollows of your cheeks, but it's still super flattering. Start on your forehead, and buff that in around on the top of your cheeks and under your eyes and on your nose."

If you want even more afternoon-in-Antibes vibes, Conway said to opt for a bronzer with a slightly red undertone, however, if you have a lot of redness in your skin naturally, stick to a more classic bronze tone, and avoid bronzing the nose.

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NARS Laguna Bronzing Powder $29
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Make It Seamless

No one wants a stripy face, thank you very much. In order to get a totally airbrushed finish, Conway had the following words of wisdom: "Blend, blend, blend! It really is your best friend in this instance. Especially make sure you get everything around your hairline. A real giveaway is that that white line around the hair."

You can always start with a large powder brush and then go over your bronzer with a buffing brush or sponge to make sure it's totally perfect. Conway suggested this: "A sheer powder brush is great so you can layer the product. It's much more mistake-proof than one with really dense fibers."

Don't just stop there if you're wearing your hair up: "Don't forget to bronze behind your ears," Conway says. "The sun would hit you there, too, so you want the color to tie together properly."

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Bobbi Brown Bronzer Brush $38
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Choose the Right Texture

Of course, there's always the question of what texture to use? With creams, gels and powders available, it can be hard to know what's right for you and how to go about applying it.

As a rule of thumb, oilier skin types, or anyone prone to a bit of 4 p.m. shine, are better off sticking to a powder, as it'll help mop up excess oil and keep your skin on the matte side. That being said, there are plenty of great liquid bronzers like Giorgio Armani's Maestro Liquid Summer Bronzer ($64), which you can blend with your regular foundation and then apply. If your skin's more on the dry side, you might like the dewy finish of a cream bronzer to help add luster to the skin.

In terms of layering up, your best bet is to pair like with like, so if you wear powder foundation, stick to powder bronzer to avoid pilling. If you can't quit your BareMinerals Original Foundation and really want to use a creamy bronzer, make sure to warm it up nicely on your fingertips so it smooths on, use it sparingly and blend it generously with a damp makeup sponge. If you're wearing a liquid base and want to start adding powders, do a light layer of a translucent setting powder first to give the bronzer a bit of grip on your skin.

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Giorgio Armani Maestro Liquid Summer $40
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Get Some Glow

Who wouldn't want a little bit of Victoria's Secret Angel radiance with their sun-kissed tan? Nothing complements the warmth of bronzer like a soft glow. "A lot of women want glow and bronzer, but they don't want a heavy, obvious look—they want an almost watery glow," mused Conway. "To get that look, pair your bronzer with a highlighter or illuminating balm." Patting some creamy illuminator on the higher points of your face (top of your cheekbones, temples and Cupid's bow) if you have drier skin, or powder highlighter if your skin is a little more oily, will give you that lit-from-within look.

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RMS Living Luminizer $30
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And If It Does Go Wrong…

Remember, makeup is not a tattoo. So if it goes a little bit pear-shaped, it's easy (and painless) to fix. "If you're finding you get a lot of transfer onto your clothes, do try Bobbi Brown Gel Bronzer. [Ed. note: It also has SPF!] It has the most amazing long-wear finish and will only come off in the bath or the shower," advised Conway. 

If you've simply applied too much and need to steer your look back from Barbados to Biarritz? "Go back to the brush you used for foundation and gently press it onto the area where there's excess bronzer. It'll pick up any residue," said Conway.

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Bobbi Brown All Over Bronzing Gel $25
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