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If you find yourself stuck on how to choose and use bronzer, you're not alone. Fact is, bronzer can be tricky to shop for and even trickier to apply correctly—but when a well-selected bronzer is applied correctly, it warms up and rejuvenates a dull, sallow, or too-pale complexion.
The Paula's Choice Research Team has expert tips on how to get that enviable sun-kissed glow while avoiding every faux tan faux pas and, of course, without resorting to skin-damaging sun exposure. Read on to discover how to select the right finish, shade and applicator for an easy yet flawless bronze look!
The key to shopping for the right bronzer involves two things: knowing your skin type, and skin tone. First up is skin type…
The selection process starts with choosing the best bronzer for your skin type. Generally speaking, if you have normal, oily, or combination skin, go for pressed-powder bronzers. Those with normal to dry skin do may want to consider cream or cream-to-powder formulas and those with very oily skin or breakout-prone skin often find bronzing powders, gels, or liquids ideal. There's really no best type of bronzer; much of it is experimenting to see which you prefer.
By far the majority of bronzes are the pressed-powder type because those are so easy to use. If you have dry skin, don't worry. Powder bronzers can work for you, too! The secret is prepping skin beforehand with a good moisturizer (that offers sun protection) and choosing a powder with a silkier formula—of which there are many.
Here are some of our favorite bronzers by skin types:
Normal to Oily or Combination Skin:
Very Oily/Breakout-Prone Skin:
Normal to Dry Skin:
The next step is the tricky part: choosing a shade. As a general rule of thumb, select a shade that is one to two shades darker than your natural skin tone. For example, if you have very fair skin, your bronzer need not be any darker than light-medium.
For most people, the trickiest part of picking a shade is selecting one with a suitable undertone for their skin. Knowing whether your undertone is warm, cool or neutral is the key to ensuring that your bronzer matches your skin and looks as natural as possible. Not sure of your skin's undertone? This article will help!
If your skin has warm or sallow undertones, you're in luck because the majority of golden-brown shades will work beautifully. For skin with yellow undertones, try warm peach shades that have a tan to soft brown undertone.
Those with cool or neutral to beige undertones in their skin will have more difficulty finding bronzing options that look natural on their skin but worry no more: There is little to no difference between a bronzing powder and a pressed powder—those with difficult undertones may have an easier time "bronzing" with a pressed powder like L'Oreal True Match Super-Blendable Powder ($10.95) or Paula's Choice Healthy Finish Pressed Powder SPF 15 ($14.95) as an alternative to a product labeled "bronzing powder".
Tip: Shine dominates the world of bronzers, so be sure to check how it looks in natural, direct lighting. This is especially true if you have oily skin. Adding shimmer makes oily skin look even shinier. Many people prefer to have a little glimmer in their faux glow, but it's good to know exactly how shiny the finish is before applying.
Some people wonder at what point in the makeup routine is bronzer applied. As a general rule, bronzing powders can be applied after your foundation, concealer, and pressed or loose powder is on; cream or cream-to-powder bronzers can go on before you apply setting powder; liquid or gel bronzers can be applied right after foundation, before finishing powder. If desired, apply a bit of blush to the apples of cheeks, matching the texture of your bronzer (for example, apply powder blush over bronzing powder rather than cream blush over bronzing powder).
When it comes to applying bronzer like a pro, the mantra is "easy does it". The golden rule is to use as little product as possible so that the end result is believably natural. Remember, you can always add more!
Building color gradually is the best way to avoid the beginner's mistake of over-applying. Bronzer should give skin a sun-kissed flush, so apply to areas of the face where the light would shine if it were directly above—where your forehead meets your hairline, down the bridge of your nose, the tip of your chin, and the apples of cheeks.
For a more contoured look, some people find it helpful to imagine the "3" shape, while applying bronzer. On both sides of the face, make the "3" shape starting at the forehead along the hair line, and use your brush to follow along the hollow of the cheek and just under the jawline. Keep it sheer and build as needed.
A common pitfall is using your blush or powder brush to apply your bronzer, but this type of double-duty with your brushes is a no-no. Unless you're good about cleaning your brushes every day (and really, who is?) using one brush for more than one color product can result in muddy, uneven application.
The takeaway is this: if you're going to use a bronzer, use a separate brush.
For powder bronzers, use a medium-sized fluffy but firm brush for the most control. Sweep the brush over the powder and tap off any excess before applying. Some may find an angled brush is helpful for applying bronzer to smaller faces; we like Sonia Kashuk's Large Angled Contour Brush No. 113. For all-over bronzing, try M.A.C. 134 Large Powder Brush or, for more precision, the company's 138 Tapered Face Brush.
A flat or pointed makeup sponge or any synthetic-hair foundation brush are recommended for applying cream or cream-to-powder bronzers, but fingers work, too; apply a small amount of product to the sponge then use a stippling effect to bronze one area at a time. For bronzing gels or liquids, use fingertips to dot and blend, but do so quickly, as these products dry fast!
Make sure to check out the final look in natural lighting! If the bronzer looks too dark, or was applied too heavily, use a clean powder brush (one with densely packed hair) to pick up and blend out the excess product by rubbing the brush in small circular motions. Double check to make sure there are no hard edges—if there are, blend them out using a slightly dampened makeup sponge.
With the tips and product recommendations above, everyone can enjoy a soft, sun kissed look without incurring any of the damage that comes from getting a tan from the sun or, even worse, tanning beds!
The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Makeup.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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