How to Apply Bronzer (The Correct Way) for a Glowy Complexion

Contour queen.

<p>JLco - Ana Suanes/Getty Images</p>

JLco - Ana Suanes/Getty Images

Bronzer’s one of those “bonus” makeup items that can sometimes end up neglected at the bottom of a makeup bag (if you own one at all!). Yet, when applied well, it consistently delivers the most wow-worthy results with very minimal effort required. If you’re a bit intimidated by bronzer, we’re here to instill some confidence. We asked professional makeup products for a step-by-step rundown on how to apply bronzer the correct way so you can look glowy and gorgeous without fail.

What Does Bronzer Do?

Bronzer’s main goal is to mimic the effect of the sun on your skin by creating a golden-y tanned effect. “Bronzers are an easy way to add a beautiful glow to the skin without the risks from sun exposure, like sunburn or even skin cancer,” notes celebrity makeup artist Sarah Egan. “Bronzers come in a variety of forms—sticks, creams and powders—and are typically formulas with some shimmer.”

Bronzer Vs. Contour

Though often conflated, bronzer and contour aren’t necessarily the same thing. While bronzer lends a sun-kissed effect, “contour is meant to enhance the bone structure by creating or deepening shadows,” Cantor explains. The products are fundamentally different, too. While bronzer has orange and golden undertones with some built-in shimmer or radiance, contour has gray undertones and a matte finish to help mimic a shadow.

How to Apply Powder Bronzer

Powder bronzes are applied with a big fluffy brush and blended in. “Be sure to set your liquid and cream products first before applying your powder bronzer to avoid a patchy, uneven finish,” says celebrity makeup artist Bryan Cantor.

One of his favorites is Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish Divine Bronzer ($39, Pat McGrath). It’s a longwear option with blurring technology and a micro-velvet finish. “It ensures a flawless application with no caking, patchiness or streaking,” he says. Another top-tier pick is the Makeup by Mario SoftSculpt Bronzer ($32, Makeup By Mario), which is a multipurpose formula available in six shades that creates a subtly bronzed complexion and soft definition.

How to Apply Liquid or Cream Bronzer

Cream or gel bronzers are ideally applied with clean fingers, a makeup sponge, or foundation brush and blended well. “If you are applying a cream, liquid or gel bronzer, apply it before powdering and blend the edges with the leftover product on your foundation brush or sponge for a seamless finish,” Cantor says.

For a stick bronzer option—which makes for easy application—try Rare Beauty Warm Wishes Effortless Bronzer Stick ($26, Sephora), which is one of Egan’s faves. The Chantecaille Radiance Gel Bronzer ($48, Chantecaille) is another option that offers a “weightless, luminous formula with a special polymer that gives a smooth, natural finish,” Cantor says.

3 Bronzer Application Methods

So what’s the correct way to apply bronzer? There are a few different approaches you can take depending on the vibe you’re going for.

Natural, Beachy Look

For this approach—which is perfect for everyday wear—you’ll apply the bronzer to places where the sun naturally hits your face. “Start by applying bronzer in an upside down ‘U’ shape from one temple, up along your hairline, and finishing at the other temple,” Cantor instructs. “Then, apply bronzer in a ‘W’ shape across your cheekbones and nose.” You can also apply to the tip of your chin.

Golden Glam Aesthetic

An alternative is to create a more dramatic look that reads high glam, which is perfect for big events. “Apply your bronzer in a ‘3’ shape on both sides of your face from your temple down around your eye and under your cheekbone, then back to just in front of your ear and down and across your jawline, stopping just before your chin,” says Cantor. You can also apply bronzer as a nose contour by creating a line of bronzer along the side of your nose. Finish by applying just a touch to your hairline.

Body Bronzer

Bronzer is not just limited to your face; you can apply it to your body, too. Not only does it create a temporary bronzed effect, but it helps even out skin tone to blur the look of scars, veins and uneven texture. For this, you’ll choose a color that’s about one shade darker than your complexion and apply evenly.

For a great body bronzer, check out Hi Beautiful You Be You Body Perfecting Bronzer ($57.50, Hi Beautiful You). This transfer-resistant formula glides on easily, won’t look patchy or streaky, and moisturizes. Cay Skin Isle Glow Body Lotion SPF 45 ($38, Cay Skin) is another option—it has SPF 45 to protect skin from the sun while imparting a shimmery, glowy bronzed finish.

Bronzer Application Pro Tips

When using bronzer, follow this expert advice.

  • Don’t Go Too Dark: “One of the most common bronzer mistakes is using a shade that is too dark,” Egan says. Instead, reach for a bronzer that’s one or two shades darker than your natural skin tone. Anything darker will look unnatural and won’t blend well. (You may need different shades depending on the time of year.)

  • Keep Shimmer to a Minimum: Many bronzers have some built-in shimmer. For a more natural look, Egan recommends using a product with a minimal amount of radiance versus one that’s extremely shimmery or even glittery. “Over time shimmery bronzers make the skin look sweaty instead of glowy,” she warns.

  • Only Apply to Key Areas: “A mistake that many people make when applying bronzer is to apply it all over the face instead of on key features,” Cantor says. “This creates a very fake-looking effect. If you want to look more tan all over use a sunless tanner first to deepen your skin tone, and then choose a bronzer that corresponds to your new skin tone.”

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