The No-Fail Guide to Applying Bronzer

Three women applying makeup

Bronzer is a great staple for any beauty bag. It can make your skin look sun-kissed even when it's protected with sunscreen; it can wake up tired, pasty winter skin; and it can create the illusion of cheekbones while helping you play down some of your least favorite features.

But if you use bronzer incorrectly, you can end up looking orange or dirty. Here's how to ensure you do it right every single time.


The Importance of Choosing the Correct Bronzer for Your Skin Tone

When choosing the perfect bronzer, we recommend shying away from the shimmery bronzers, which can look very fake. Instead, choose a matte bronzer.

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. 

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. Hold up the bronzer to your skin to choose. Or better yet, head to a Sephora to try a few before you buy.


Keep in mind you might need a different shade in winter than summer when your skin is naturally darker.

How to Choose the Right Bronzer

Powder-based bronzer is best for oily or normal skin. Use a short, fluffy blush brush to apply.

Cream or gel-based bronzers work best for dry skin. Apply with your finger or a sponge.

As with most cream-based beauty products, it's important to blend well into your skin or you risk looking like a clown.

Mix in 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.

Prep Your Skin

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. 

I recommend applying a light brushing of face powder before you apply bronzer so that the bronzing powder or cream doesn't stick to your foundation leaving you looking blotchy. 

The Must-Hit Spots for Bronzer

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 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) because a white neck will look silly against a bronzed face. 

How to Apply Bronzer

To apply, use a big brush dipped generously in the powder. I typically blow off the excess before the brush touches my skin.

Apply 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. 

For the nose, avoid a brown stripe by using a gentle touch and blend, blend, blending. You don't want to skip the nose because our noses naturally get sun, but you do want to be careful. 

Move on to the neck, applying a light layer to the front of the neck and blending in.

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

How to Create Thicker Lips, Better Cheekbones and a More Angular Jawline With Bronzer

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: You don't want to bring attention to the bronzer. It is meant to create an illusion.

The Rest of Your Makeup

Bronzer alone can appear dull. For a dewy look, apply cream blush to the apples of your cheeks. The combination of bronzer and cream blush is absolutely gorgeous.

According to makeup artist Bobbi Brown, bronzer looks best on days 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 eye shadow, and a hint of color on your lips.