June’s arrival means a few things for my beauty routine: higher SPF, of course, and packing on the bronzer. During winter months, bronzer acts as a sort of magic trick to convince people that you aren’t pasty white, though you are. In early summer, it helps enhance your glow to give your skin a sun-kissed (but not Jersey Shore–level) sheen.
Having said all of that, it’s shockingly easy to go wrong with bronzer: In seconds, your skin can become orange or a shade (or three) darker than your natural skin tone. In high school, I veered dangerously between golden and flat-out orange, one too many times. Almost a decade’s worth of bronzer use later, I feel confident enough in my skills to pass on some lessons.
First and foremost, if you’re new to bronzer, figure out whether you’re a cream or powder person. One quick way to find out: If you have dry skin, and haven’t had much bronzer experience, I recommend cream; if you’re oily, go with a powder. (Powder bronzers also work extremely well under powder foundations, if you use one.) Next, apply the bronzer in a “three” shape: Start at your hairline, then bring it down into the hollows of your cheeks, then sweep it across your jaw. The key to ensuring that it looks natural is to start super light, build with a bit more product, and then blend with a big brush. Then continue to blend, and blend, and blend, until you’ve blended for so long that you’ve almost forgotten what you’re blending in the first place. Bronzer that isn’t blended well enough will reveal that your tan, golden skin is faux. Then make sure to check your makeup in natural light. Natural light is the cruelest, most unforgiving light possible, so if your bronzer looks good outside, you’re good to go. I keep a mirror by my window and look in it every time I do my makeup.
I should add here that picking a color is another important element of the bronzer process. My advice? If you want a more chiseled, contoured look, buy a bronzer that’s a shade darker than your skin tone — it will help make natural-looking shadows on your face. If you want a soft, sun-kissed look, go with something that’s closer to your natural skin tone.
How well a bronzer looks on your skin also has a lot to do with the product itself. You can prep and blend as diligently as humanly possible, but if the formula isn’t right, it’s not going to buff out flawlessly. As usual, I’ve tried everything, and have suffered through looking patchy, orange, cakey, and just plain weird, all so that you don’t have to. With that, I present to you my all-time favorites.
The best cream bronzers
The price on this is, admittedly, unfortunate. But there’s a reason you see this product everywhere. It’s in almost every celebrity GRWM (that’s a “get ready with me” video on YouTube) or Vogue Beauty tutorial because it is one of the best damn bronzers ever. The formula is incredible — it blends so seamlessly and so easily that a bare-minimum sweep from a brush will buff it right into your skin. And the color is on point, having never ever made me look orange.
Milk encourages people to use their fingers to blend in this product, which I do: I rub my (clean) fingers into this product and tap it along the three shape for the most clean and subtle bronzing effect. This is the best way to achieve a soft bronze effect in the most natural way possible. My go-to for daytime bronze glam.
I know I’ve confessed this to you guys before, but this Contour Stick from KKW Beauty is one of my all-time favorite bronzing products on the market. It won an Allure award, too, which confirmed that I’m not getting brainwashed by Kardashian marketing. Much like the Tom Ford, there’s a bit of oiliness to this product, which makes it blend straight into your skin. No matter how much I put on, this product always leaves me looking like a glowing, bronzed goddess — never orange, never Snooki. The brush that comes with this is really great for working the product in as well. I use this in the shade Dark Creme Contour 1.
The best powder bronzers
Moving onto powders. This bronzer from Marc Jacobs is amazing; it’ll buff right into your skin and will not make you look patchy. Perfect for light, soft, daytime bronzing, this product is my powder go-to for “I look like this all the time” glam. Instead of really getting into my hollows for a defined contour, I like using a bigger brush with the product and sweeping it across my skin in the “three” formation to simulate an all-around tan. It’s also a huge compact, so you’re getting your money’s worth.
In any discussion about natural-looking bronzers (as in, my group chat with other lunatics who care about skin care and makeup as much as me), this product comes up again and again. It’s probably the most buildable product I’ve ever used, meaning you can keep it subtle for some daytime or office-light chiseling, or you can pack it on for a more dramatic contoured effect. It’s matte, and there are no sparkles or anything in it, so it’s perfect for giving you a beautiful, subtle depth. I can’t recommend this product enough. I wear it in the shade Chocolate and Dark Chocolate, depending on how tan I am.
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