The No-Fail Guide to Applying Bronzer

Portrait of a BIPOC Woman Applying Bronzer
Stocksy | Design by Zackary Angeline .

Bronzer is a great staple for any beauty bag. It can make your skin look like you have a sun-kissed tan, even when it's protected with sunscreen. You can also use it to wake up tired, pasty winter skin or to create the illusion of cheekbones while helping you play down some of your least favorite features. While bronzer can work wonders, if you use bronzer incorrectly, you can end up looking orange or dirty. That's why we've tapped renowned makeup artist Tobi Henney to share exactly how to choose the right bronzer formula for your skin, plus pro application tips.

Meet the Expert

Tobi Henney is a makeup artist based in New York City. Her client roster includes the likes of Ashley Graham, Barbara Palvin, Charlotte Lawrence, and more. She previously served as L'Oréal Paris Makeup Director for Australia.

Choose a Bronzer for Your Skin Tone

portrait of person with light contour

Bisual Studio / Stocksy

The first step is to choose the perfect bronzer for your skin tone. Most companies sell light, medium, and dark bronzers with some gradations in between. Some brands specialize in bronzers for darker skin, which is something to keep in mind if yours is naturally darker. Choose a shade that's no more than two shades darker than your skin.

Bronzers also come in various undertones: pink, peach, and yellow. This means that you'll want to find a bronzer that matches your undertone. If you're fair and sunburn easily, peach or pink bronzers are a great choice. Copper shades are nice on olive skin tones, while darker shades are perfect for dark skin. Avoid orange shades, which can look unnatural.

To help you decide, hold the bronzer up to your skin. Or better yet, head to a Sephora or department store to try a few before you buy. Keep in mind that you may need a different shade in winter than you do in summer when your skin is naturally darker.

charlotte tilbury bronze and go
Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow $68.00

Choosing a Formula: Powder, Cream, or Gel Bronzer?

cream powder and gel foundations

Magdalena M / Stocksy

If you have oily or normal skin, you'll find that a powder-based bronzer is your best choice. Use a short, fluffy blush brush to apply it.

Cream or gel-based bronzers work best for dry skin. Apply this with your finger or a sponge. As with most cream-based beauty products, it's important to ensure you blend it well into your skin or you risk looking like a clown.

Mix a bit of bronzer powder into your moisturizer for an all-over, but slight, glow. You can also put away the bronzer for winter and opt instead for a tinted moisturizer or tinted sunscreen.

Prepping Your Skin

person prepares face for makeup

ohlamour studio / Stocksy

This may sound obvious, but it must be said: bronzer should be one of the last products you use on your face. Apply foundation, concealer, and blush before your brush touches your bronzer.

You may also find it best to apply a light brushing of face powder before you apply bronzer. This can help prevent the bronzing powder or cream from sticking to your foundation, which may leave you looking blotchy.

Where to Apply Bronzer

person applies bronzer to cheeks

Miquel Llonch / Stocksy

A bronzer looks best when applied lightly to all of the spots where the sun naturally shines, including the temples, cheeks, nose, and chin. Some makeup artists also like to brush a bit onto the eyelids if the eye makeup is going to be light.

Applying bronzer to the neck is also a good idea, even though it's not a natural spot for the sun. This step prevents the slightly silly look of a white neck against a bronzed face.

summer skin velvet matte bronzer
Lawless Summer Skin Velvet Matte Bronzer $38.00

How to Apply Bronzer

person applies makeup after shower

Sergey Narevskih
/ Stocksy

To apply your bronzer, use a big brush dipped generously in the powder. You can blow off the excess before the brush touches your skin.

  1. Apply it first to the cheeks, moving up in a "C" formation to the temples. The key here is to blend, blend, blend. You don't want globs of color.
  2. For the nose, avoid a brown stripe by using a gentle touch and do plenty of blending. You don't want to skip the nose because our noses naturally get sun, but you do want to be careful.
  3. Move on to the neck, applying a light layer to the front of the neck and blending it in.

If you've gone overboard, use a clean cotton pad to buff some of it off of your face.

Thicker Lips, Better Cheekbones, and an Angular Jawline

Contouring is essentially using bronzers and blush to create definition on your face. The goal here is to create shadows to highlight your best parts (hello, cheekbones and jawbone!) and downplay any parts you're not a huge fan of.

You'll need a bronzer that's not too shimmery or orange. Brown bronzers tend to work best. Remember that you don't want to bring attention to the bronzer. It is meant to create an illusion.

nars laguna bronzing powder
Nars Bronzer Powder in Laguna $38.00

The Rest of Your Makeup

person finishes makeup with powder

Ivan Gener / Stocksy

Bronzer alone can appear dull. For a dewy look, apply a cream blush to the apples of your cheeks. The combination of bronzer and cream blush is absolutely gorgeous, so play with it until you like the look.

According to makeup artist Bobbi Brown, bronzer looks best on days when you don't wear a lot of foundation. You'll want to keep the rest of your makeup relatively light. Think mascara, a light sweep of eyeshadow, and a hint of color on your lips.

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