Few things have the power to instantly transform your look like a great bronzer. But what classifies a formula as the best bronzer is complicated. There's the obvious: At its core, a bronzer's purpose is to add depth and warmth to your skin, says Danessa Myricks, makeup artist and CEO of Danessa Myricks Beauty. But a fantastic one can do so much morelike give the illusion of cheek filler or make it look as if you're fresh off a trip to Ibiza when you haven't left your couch since the pandemic began.
How to pick your perfect shade
With bronzer, the goal is for it to look as natural as possible. When selecting a bronzer, think about what naturally happens when you're in the sun, says Myricks. Let your body give you clues. Identify the deeper tones that surface on your chest, shoulders, and arms, and use that as a gauge.
A safe place to start is a color two shades deeper than your natural skin tone, then go darker if you want a contrast that's more intense. Makeup artist Kasey Spickard says fair skin tones will look best with a bronzer that has neutral undertonesi.e., shades that don't lean too warm or cool. Terra-cotta hues with a slightly reddish undertone beautifully complement tan and olive skin. Meanwhile, bronzers that lean golden work best on deep skin, while formulas with a brick-red base play up deep skin with red and brown undertones.
And if you don't quite know what undertones you have? Stick with something neutral, says Spickard, which no matter your skin tone will still give you a natural flush.
How to choose the right formula for your skin type
Like all other types of makeup, take your skin type into consideration when choosing a formula. Powders are the least intimidating and easiest to use, especially if you're a beginner. They work on all skin types but are best for oily skin. If you have dry or combo skin, make sure you are doing proper physical or chemical exfoliation regularly, says Spickard. That way your bronzer and blush won't catch on dry skin and create a patchy application.
Myricks personally prefers cream bronzers since they look most natural, are versatile and buildable, and last longest on your skin. If you have dry skin or just love a fresh, dewy look, she recommends tapping her Dew Wet Balm in Hot Water over any shade of bronzer. It's super easy to apply and can be worn on bare skin or over powders on any skin tone, she says.
How to apply bronzer
As is my philosophy with all makeup, start with less and build from there, says Spickard. Tap a large fluffy brush once or twice into the pan to load the brush with product, then make a fish face. From there you'll want sweep bronzer in a 3 shape over the perimeter of your facestarting at your temples, down the side of your hair, over the tops of your cheekbones, and along your jawline. Then, using whatever product you have left on your brush, you'll want to blend along the sides of your nose, the tip of your chin, and your neck.
If you feel like you've applied too much, take a clean fluffy brush or your fingers and buff out any areas where it's too heavy. Myricks adds not to forget to buff it into the top of your ears and your hairline for the most natural finish. Now that you've got all that down, here are the best bronzers makeup artists swear by.
Best Overall: Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Bronzer
This matte, silky powder received nothing but glowing praise from our Beauty Awards judgesa mix of editors, influencers, and makeup artists. In other words: a tough crowd to please. After months of being stuck indoors, I'm officially as pale as I ever get, says contributor Erin Parker. Thankfully, I've had this flawless matte bronzer at the readyit's seriously undetectable and blends in so naturally. The true matte powder is honestly perfect for faking a tan (and accentuating your bone structure) quickly and effectively. This is the kind of bronzer you'll always get plenty of use out of, no matter where we're at in the makeup trend cycle.
Best Cream Bronzer: Danessa Myricks Power Bronzer
A matte cream bronzer is a perfect solution for powder lovers who want the ease of use and the matte finish of powder but with the flawless, undetectable finish a cream provides, says Myricks. She recommends her Power Bronzer, which applies like a cream but dries down matte: This can also be a great solution for women with more combination or oily skin, as cream-based products last longer throughout the day and help hold back shine.
Best Bronzing Powder: Benefit Cosmetics Hoola
You really can't beat a classic. Hoola is well loved for it's insanely easy- to-blend texture, totally matte finish, and the fact that it's cool enough to realistically contour with and also warm enough to make you look vacation-ready. After years of offering a single shade, the brand now has options for a range of skin tones.
Best Bronzer and Contour Duo: Victoria Beckham Beauty Matte Bronzing Brick
While sure, you can use bronzer to shape your face, it's technically recommended that contouring should be done with a cool-toned powder since you're emphasizing shadows. This duo from Cheekbone Queen Victoria Beckham includes a cool- tones powder for definition, and a warmer shade to add a sun-kissed effect to your skin. Both powders are insanely fine and seamless, and the packaging is beautiful and luxe.
Best Bronzer for Dry Skin: Saie Sun Melt Natural Cream Bronzer
This yummy bronzer has a balmy texture, making it perfect for skin types on the drier side. The formula even has skin-care ingredients like colloidal oatmeal and grapeseed oil to soothe and moisturize skin. Even if you don't need the extra moisture, you'll appreciate the dewy but not shiny finish and easy-to- blend texture.
Best Blurring Bronzer: GloWish by Huda Beauty Soft Radiance Bronzing Powder
This silky bronzer has a mix of shimmering and matte powders, so your left with an airbrushed, luminous finish that blurs pores and imperfections. One swipe gives you a natural look, but it can be built up for more warmth if that's your style.
Best Drugstore Bronzer: Physicians Formula Butter Bronzer Murumuru Butter Bronzer
Butter Bronzer has a cult following for a reason. Despite being a powder, it has an almost buttery cream feel, so it never skips or looks patchy, and it has a nice satin finish. It's very buildable, so you can make it work if you like a natural or more glam look. Plus, it smells like a tropical vacation.
Best Liquid Bronzer: BareMinerals Bare Pro Glow Bronzer
Liquid bronzers don't get a ton of love in favor of powder formulas, but they're the secret to a truly seamless faux glow. I love the classic BareMinerals bronzers, but my current favorite is the liquid version', says Spickard. It's not too warm or orangey, and I love doing a liquid bronzer on a no-makeup day. I just buff it right onto clean skin. I also like to layer this under powder bronzer to make it last all day.
Best Clean Bronzer: Tower 28 Beauty Bronzino Illuminating Bronzer
This bronzer is a little intimidating in the pan, but gently buffed onto your skin, it's truly stunning. It has almost a balmlike texture that leaves a glossy glow and a hint of shimmer. Although it's incredibly dewy, it's not sticky or greasy, and it makes you look alive in 2.5 seconds. Since it's so glowy, it means you can skip highlighter as well.
Best Shimmer Bronzer: Hourglass Cosmetics Ambient Lighting Bronzer
This powder is very neutral, so it never reads orangemaking it a great natural bronzer for fair skin. However, the real selling point that makes it worth its $52 price tag is its luminous finish. The bronzer is formulated using what the brand calls photoluminescent technology, which essentially means it reflects light to blur your skin and add a lit-from-within glow. While some powders can look flat, because this one is so finely milled and has light-reflecting particles, it actually makes skin look dewierbut definitely not sparkly.
Best Buildable Bronzer: Milk Makeup Matte Bronzer
A stick bronzer makes application a breeze, and Milk really hit it out of the park with this chubby twist-up. Thanks to the bigger size, you can quickly add warmth to your cheeks, nose, and forehead, or use a brush or sponge for more detailed shading. It blends in in seconds but stays put all day. Plus, it's the perfect neutral tone.
Best Shade Range: Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk'r Bronzer
My personal favorite bronzer is the Fenty Beauty Sun Stalkr Bronzer in Private Island, says Spickard. It goes on so smoothly, never patchy. It's also a favorite among ishonest staffers for the inclusive shade rangethere are eight that span from very fair to deepand realistic undertones. No matter what shade you are, you'll never look orange or ashy.
Best Bronzer Duo: Jouer Sunswept Bronzer
Sometimes it takes a little mixing and matching to get the perfect shade for you, which is why Spickard loves these duos. He likes to blend the shades together to create a sun-kissed glow that is very natural. The powders are finely milled, so it's hard to go overboard. The formula is also vegan and cruelty-free.
Best Bronzer for Fair Skin: Maybelline City Bronzer
If you're fair and like to use a bronzer to add depth, shade Light 001 is the answer to your prayers. There's not even a hint of orange; it just gives your skin a nice glow and definition. The powder is really buildable, which is ideal for pale skin, and it has a velvet matte finish thanks to the inclusion of whipped cocoa butter.
Best Bronzer for Light Skin: Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer in Milk Chocolate
This bronzer looks beautiful both in the pan and on your skin, and because it's made with real cocoa powder, it smells incredible as well. This buildable bronzer doesn't pull orange, and the Milk Chocolate shade is particularly great for light skin. The deeper shades are just as good, and all three can be used to add warmth and definition.
Best Bronzer for Medium Skin: Chanel Soleil Tan De Chanel
This bronzer is on the expensive side, but the hamburger-sized jar will last you a lifetime. While it's a cream product, it dries down to a powder that doesn't budge. The beautiful texture buffs right into your skin, and it can be used both to add warmth and sculpt your face. It also looks incredible on your vanity or top shelf.
Best Bronzer for Deep Skin: Mented Cosmetics Bronzer
It's still frustratingly uncommon to find bronzers that work for dark skin, but Mented is here to change the game. Created by women of color, for women of color, these bronzers are richly pigmented, buildable, and insanely smooth. They're also enriched with vitamins A and E for skin-care benefits; plus, they're vegan and cruelty-free.
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