How To Use Bronzer Like The Pros Do


Bronzer can very quickly deliver a major glow-up or… it can go so very, very wrong. There’s no shortage of bronzer mishap horror stories, mostly because the details – color, formula, placement, blending, etc. – have to line up perfectly.

“[For example], many people choose a bronzer that is too orange for their coloring and it winds up looking muddy or fake,” says celebrity makeup artist Bryan Cantor. “Also, it’s important to find the right formula for your skin type so that your bronzer will not only look natural but will also last for hours – even in the heat of the summer.”

On that note, let’s talk formulas and choosing the right shade!

How To Choose a Bronzer

Just because one product looks dope on your BFF or a fave beauty influencer, that doesn’t mean it’s going to suit you the same way. It could work, obvi, but it’s not a given. Step one to nailing the bronzer game is finding a product that’s perfect for you, and that requires knowing what’s out there.

Liquid: This is a thinner formula that’s either water or oil-based and is especially good for dry skin or combo skin. It’s also going to deliver more of that dewy/melty finish. “After your skin absorbs the moisture from the product, you will be left with an incredibly natural-looking finish that seems to be a part of your skin rather than just a product you applied on top,” says Cantor.

Liquid bronzer is a little more difficult to work with, but it’s great for mixing with your foundation to get an all-over dewy glow. Check these Cover FX Custom Bronzer Drops, $29.

Pressed Powder: Reach for a pressed powder bronzer if you’ve got oily, combo, or normal skin. It’s not ideal for dry skin since it can exacerbate dryness, and it can also emphasize pores if you have large pores. Cantor says they’re better in humid climates or during the summer when the air has more moisture in it. Also, a baked powder is going to be less drying than a pressed powder, so choose according to your needs. 

Powder formulas are probably the easiest formula to work with. We love the new Kosas The Sun Show Moisturizing Baked Bronzer, $34, which is a baked bronzer with a subtle shimmer that gives a stunning radiant glow.

Cream: “Cream formulas are best for dry skin and are best worn in winter months when the air is extra dry,” says Cantor. “I would avoid cream formulas altogether in the summer, as even those with dry skin will get moisture from the air and may find that cream formulas do not stay as well.”

Cream also includes most contour stick formulas, which often have a buttery cream consistency. If you want to try a cream that stays in place, check out Huda Beauty Tantour, $30, which is a cream-to-powder matte formula that’s easy to blend and apply. The contour-meets-bronzer shades are perfect for sculpting and giving that sun-kissed glow.

Gel: Gel bronzers have a thicker texture than liquid so they’re a bit easier to control. They are almost always water-based, so they’re a good alternative to liquid bronzers if you have oily or acne-prone skin but still want that dewy lit look. Cantor says they are also longer lasting than liquid and cream products in the heat and humidity, so they’re fab for summer or humid climates.

All the above can come in two different types: matte and radiant. “A matte bronzer can be used to sculpt the face and also create a tan-like effect,” says makeup artist Amber Amos. “Radiant bronzers have a little shimmer [and] are great to fake or accentuate a sun-kissed glow, but may not be the best when sculpting or contouring.”

What About Bronzer For Deeper Complexions?

It’s no secret that the beauty industry has historically failed to cater to the needs of deeper complexions. Not only has foundation been damn near impossible to find, but other cosmetics, including bronzer, have been notoriously absent in the marketplace. However, brands such as Fenty and Uoma Beauty have been some of the brands to help build momentum in this sphere. Amos says, “Bronzer can absolutely enhance darker complexions. It can be used to sculpt or add radiance just as it would on fairer skin tones.” We love this video created by Fenty:

Check out these 10 amazing bronzers that work for all skin tones. 

Bronzer Application Do’s & Don’t’s:

  • Do: Choose a bronzer that’s one or two shades darker than your complexion. Too dark and it’ll look muddy, too light and it won’t be noticed.
  • Don’t: Keep using the same bronzer all year round. Cantor says, “If your skin tone changes from winter to summer, so should your bronzer.”
  • Do: Make use of color theory to find a flattering hue. Amos says, “If you’re more cool go with a silver undertone, and if you’re more warm go with golden undertones.”
  • Don’t: Stress about it. When in doubt, think of the color you turn when you get a little bit of sun, or consider which jewelry metal flatters your skin best. And bonus: Amos says rose gold hues will work on everyone.
  • Do: Experiment with light shimmer and luminosity. Have fun with it!
  • Don’t: Go too heavy on the ultra-glittery stuff (unless that’s what you’re going for). “These types of bronzers never look natural, as the sun does not make your skin sparkly,” says Cantor. Flakey glitter creates a real lewk and that’s OK but know what you’re working with.
  • Do: Use a light hand and blend like you mean it. “It’s easier to slowly build up the bronzer than applying a bunch and attempting to blend out,” says Amos. “I usually like to apply with a blush brush if I’m just adding a bit of color and a contour or sculpting brush when I’m using bronzer to get a snatched face.”
  • Don’t: Overdo it. Cantor says, “It should look like you were frolicking in the sun for a few hours – not like you stayed in a tanning bed for a few days.”
  • Do: Apply in strategic spots. Generally, bronzer should be applied in a “3” shape along your hairline, just under the cheek, and at the jawline. Really get in there with your fingers, brushes, and blending tools.
  • Don’t: Feel bad if you don’t nail it right away. Practice makes perfect!

What’s your fave bronzer? Let us know in the comments below.