If you asked me in 2006 what the purpose of bronzer was, I would say to cover your entire face in orange glitter to look super, super ~hot~. I’m proud to say I’ve come a long way since then, thanks not only to my improved makeup skills, but also to the improved bronzer formulas. While we used to be limited to the single bronzer shade of burnt Cheeto, we now have zillions of options in colors, textures, and finishes. But with all these new products, figuring out how to use bronzer is as challenging as ever. So we turned to celeb makeup artist Hung Vanngo to break down exactly how to apply bronzer, even for beginners.
But let’s real quick go over the real purpose of bronzer first. “You’re looking to add warmth with bronzer, not color,” Vanngo says. “Bronzer is all about making the skin look healthier.” Which means you’re not trying to give your face a fake tan—you’re just trying to warm it up. With that in mind, keep reading for all the bronzer tips from Vanngo, YouTube, and a girl who wore way too much bronzer back in the day and has learned from her mistakes (yours truly).
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What type of brush do you use for bronzer?
Real Techniques Powder Brush
For a soft, all-over bronze, Vanngo says to try a bronzer brush that’s large, fluffy, and tapered. But don’t just smash the middle of the bristles in bronzer and rub it on your face—application technique is just as important as tools. Vanngo says to also roll the sides of the brush over the bronzer for a more even bristle distribution, then tap the brush off to avoid too much product before blending.
What is the difference between contour and bronzer?
Guerlain Terracotta Matte Contouring Powder
Take a good, hard look at your bronzer. Does it have even a hint of shimmer in it? If yes, then it’s a bronzer. Yep, it’s that simple. Since contouring is all about absorbing light, any reflection from shimmer would defeat the purpose. Still, if you really hate the shimmery look (or have oily skin and don’t want the extra shine), you can definitely use a matte powder foundation or contour powder as a bronzer. But if you have dry skin and love a little extra sheen, find a bronzer with a bit of glimmer to it to boost your bronzy glow.
Is cream or powder bronzer better?
RMS Beauty Buriti Bronzer
Speaking of dry skin, if you deal with dullness and flakes on the reg, you’d benefit from using a cream cream bronzer instead of powder, which can make your makeup look cakey if you’re dry. Try using your clean fingers or a damp makeup sponge (my favorite will always be a BeautyBlender) to dab and blend the cream bronzer over and around your face without messing with your foundation.
What is liquid bronzer used for?
Nars Laguna Liquid Bronzer
Although a liquid bronzer seems like the trickiest of the bronzers, it can also look the most realistic when done right. If you’re going for a makeup-free look, use a liquid bronzer on your bare skin or mix a few drops in with your face lotion for a DIY tinted moisturizer. You can also add a few drops to your foundation for a little boost of bronze, or even layer it over the top of your makeup with your duo-fiber stippling brush and buff it out. Pretty much as long as you don’t use too much of the bronzer, you can’t go wrong.
Best bronzer for pale skin
Physicians Formula Murumuru Butter Bronzer in Light Bronzer
Even the lightest bronzers can turn orange really fast on someone with a super-pale complexion, so look for a product that leans more taupe than tan (and the same goes when contouring pale skin). This drugstore bronzer has absolutely zero orange tones whatsoever and adds just enough warmth and sheen (thank you, teeny pearl pigments) without looking intense.
Best bronzer for fair skin
Becca Sunlit Bronzer in Capri Coast
The most shimmery of the bunch, this bronzing powder could double as a highlighter for someone with a medium or dark skin tone. But since we’re on the topic of fair skin, here’s what you need to know: This bronzer has more of a golden tone than orange or red, which is perfect for adding warmth to fair skin without straight-up setting it on fire, know what I mean?
Best bronzer for light skin
Benefit Hoola Matte Bronzing Powder
When choosing a bronzer for lighter skin tones, Vanngo has one major tip: Go with a shade that’s not too warm. “I use a semi-matte bronzer in a neutral shade on lighter complexions to help give more definition to the face,” he says. A bronzer that truly needs no introduction, Benefit’s Hoola is a classic go-to for light-to-medium skin tones. Since this neutral bronzer also has a matte finish, you can also use it as a contour.
Best bronzer for medium skin
Marc Jacobs Beauty O!Mega Bronzer Perfect Tan
Vanngo’s top pick for medium skin tones is this matte bronzing powder by Marc Jacobs, which is a rich terracotta shade. If your setting powder tends to change the color of your skin or you lose some of your definition, Vanngo recommends going back with a bronzer like this one to fix it. “After the setting powder is applied, I blend bronzer all over to tie the look together and to add dimension to the perimeter of the face, the jawline, and the cheeks,” he says.
Best bronzer for dark skin
Anastasia Beverly Hills Powder Bronzer in Mahogany
Vanngo recommends a bronzer with orange undertones to add warmth to olive and darker skin tones. “For my clients with deeper complexions, my goal is to reverse contour with highlighter, and then to add in warmth with bronzer if their skin tone is olive-to-deep,” Vanngo says. In other words, start with a highlighter to bring forward the high points of your face, then add warmth along your cheekbones with a bronzing powder like this one from Anastasia Beverly Hills.
Best bronzer for deep skin
Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk’r Instant Warmth Bronzer in Mocha Mami
This bronzer shade has a reddish undertone, which is exactly what those with deep skin tones should look for in a bronzer. A swipe of this soft-matte formula along the cheekbones and forehead gives your skin a warm, natural-looking flush and creates beautiful dimension without packing on the products.
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