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Here’s How to Apply Bronzer For a Year-Round Glow

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There are endless makeup products we’ve tried in an effort to achieve that effortless, golden glow—and none of them have shown up for us the way good bronzer has. Between our time spent indoors working from home and waiting out winter’s cold and dreary months, our complexions have been craving that sunkissed warmth that only the sunny days—or, in this case—a great bronzer can bring. That’s why it’s earned a permanent place in our makeup kits, no matter the time of year.

Bronzer is a multitasking makeup product that truly does it all. Whether it’s a matte formula or laced with shimmer, bronzer has the power to sculpt our jawlines, lift our cheekbones, and define our features in a way that can only be described as pure wow. Plus, it instantly gives us that just-stepped-off-the-beach glow (no passport-needed).

When it comes to bronzer, application is everything, and it can be used for so much more than just adding warmth, depending on where you place it (more on that below). Ready to learn how to apply bronzer for your face shape, your specific skin tone, and more? We asked makeup pros Maria Ortega, Georina Graham, and Kendal Fedail for their step-by-step bronzing tips to keep you glowing through every season. (P.S. Check out our list of the best bronzers based on Ipster reviews.)


About the Experts:

Maria Ortega is a professional makeup artist based in New York City.
Georgina Graham is a London-based celeb makeup artist who has worked on notable faces like Jennifer Lopez, Alexa Chung, Florence Welch, and Naomi Campbell.
Kendal Fedail is a Los Angeles-based celebrity makeup artist and content creator with a roster of clients including Nicola Peltz, Dove Cameron, Ava Michelle, and more.

Time to Get That Glow. Here’s How to Bronze in 5 Steps

1. Prep Skin For Flawless Makeup

Cleanse and moisturize: Before you apply contour, bronzer, or any beauty products to your face, it's always a good idea to start with clean, hydrated skin. Wash your face using your go-to cleanser, then make sure to apply a moisturizer all over your skin (we love MURAD Essential C Day Moisture Broad SPectrum SPF 30 PA+++ to get skin fresh and protected from any sun damage).

Layer on Skincare: For the rest of your skincare, Graham recommends the lasagna technique. “My makeup technique is all about building individual layers and letting the products you are working with sink in for a minute or two,” she tells us. “I massage skin with a little oil and/or moisturizer, then leave that to sink into the skin. After a few minutes, blot the skin with a tissue to remove the excess, apply foundation and conceal any imperfections. Then, let that sink in, and blot the skin with a tissue again.”

Apply Primer: Primer not only keeps your makeup in place, but also helps create a smooth base for blending (not sure which primer to pick? We help you choose here). After primer, apply your foundation and concealer as usual, and you’re ready to start bronzing!

2. Pick Your Bronzer Shade

We’ve all been there—blending on bronzer only to reveal an orange glow instead of golden and glowy skin. That’s because, when it comes to choosing the right bronzer, your skin tone definitely matters.
“When selecting a bronzer it's important to not go too dark,” Ortega says. “Ideally it should be about two shades darker than your skin tone and with the same undertone,” she says.

“For example, if you have pink undertones, stay in that family when purchasing a bronzer and it will look most natural. If you have olive or yellow undertones you can go with a neutral or even a warmer tone.”
For dark skin tones, Ortega loves FENTY BEAUTY Blush in Mocha Miami and Thick Mint or BENEFIT Hoola Matte Bronzer in Toasted, noting that many darker skin tones don’t know there are bronzers or contour powders for deeper skin tones and that they can be more difficult to find.

3. Choose Your Formula

There are four main types of bronzing products: powder, cream, gel, and liquid bronzers. “For a more natural-looking finish, I recommend a cream or gel formula. If you have oily skin or prefer more of a matte finish, use a powder formula instead,” says Fedail.” We broke them down to help you choose yours below.
Powder Bronzer: “Powder bronzer is good for all skin types, especially oily skin or combination skin,” says Ortega. “Powder is [also] the fastest and easiest to use when you’re a beginner dabbling with makeup or have only a few minutes in the morning. [They] come in shimmer finish or matte finish (we love TARTE Amazonian Clay Waterproof Bronzer), so a dry skin type can go for a shimmer finish, while a more oily skin type can opt for a matte bronzer. Normal skin types can go for either.” 

To apply, swirl a powder brush into the bronzing powder and sweep it across your forehead, the bridge of your nose, and the apples of your cheeks for an all-over glow.

Gel or Cream Bronzers: Gel or cream bronzer is great for dry or normal skin types, because it won't settle onto dry patches or flakes (just be sure to apply it before any powders to prevent cakeyness). For cream or gel bronzers that come in a compact, use a makeup sponge to dab and blend into skin. If the bronzer comes in a stick form (we love MILK MAKEUP Matte Cream Bronzer Stick in Baked) you can apply it directly from the tube and blend it in with your fingers or a makeup sponge.
Ortega adds that gel (and also the liquid bronzers we mention below) are ideal for mixing or layering with other products for a natural finish. “You can apply multiple ways; one is by mixing it in with your foundation, or applying it to your face with fingers and adding foundation over it. You can also opt to apply it over foundation just where you want more glow.” Ortega loves Chantecaille Radiance Gel Bronzer for a beachy glow.

Liquid Bronzer: These are ideal for those who have dry skin or want a dewy and silky-finish makeup look. Ortega says, “You can apply it with a brush over the face alone or over foundation with a fluffy brush or a kabuki brush.” Simply apply the liquid over your liquid foundation (we love WANDER BEAUTY Nude Illusion Liquid Foundation) on the apples of your cheeks, your temples, and the bridge of your nose, and blend in circular motions. 

4. When in Doubt, Apply in a 3-Shape

We dive into applying bronzer for your specific face shape below, but here’s a tried-and-true technique that never fails. 

Create a 3-Shape: Sweep your bronzer brush along your hairline on your forehead, then follow your hairline down to your cheekbones, onto the apple of your cheeks and then back up below your cheekbones. Just remember to blend in sweeping circular motions to avoid any harsh lines or splotches.

Add More Glow: Blend bronzer along the sides and bridge of your nose for an extra dose of sun-kissed brilliance. Tie it all together with a matching blush (we love THEBALM COSMETICS Big Date Blush), for a natural, flushed effect.

Blush Up for Warmth: “After applying bronzer, use the same makeup brush to apply a touch of blush to the center of the cheeks. Swirl a bit of peach or pink and it’ll blend into the bronzer for a super pretty flush,” says Graham.

Now for The Specifics: Here’s How to Apply Bronzer For Your Unique Face Shape

If You Have a Heart-Shaped Face:

The widest part of your face is your forehead and the narrowest part is your chin. Blend a matte bronzing powder on your temple and just above the hollow of your cheek. Then, start at the temple and swoop down from your hairline into the hollow of your cheek. Add a small amount on the tip of your chin for an extra kiss of color.

If You have a Square-Shaped Face:

This means the length of your face is roughly equal to the width of your face, and you generally have a straight, defined jawline. Sweep a powder bronzer in a “W” shape across the apples of your cheeks and the bridge of your nose, mimicking where the sun would naturally hit.

If You Have an Oval-Shaped Face:

Usually the length of your face is a bit longer than the width of your face, and you have a rounded jawline. Bronzing for this face shape is pretty simple: Apply a light dusting of your bronzer to the apples of your cheeks, and blend to your hairline.

If You Have a Rectangle-Shaped Face:

Rectangle-shaped faces are similarly shaped to square-shaped faces. The only difference is that the length of your face is longer than the width. Sweep some matte bronzer along the top of your cheekbones and at the tip of your chin. Finish by applying some bronzer close to your hairline across your forehead, and you're all set for a beautiful, bronzed glow.

If You Have a Round-Shaped Face:

Usually the widest part of a round face is your cheekbones, while the forehead and chin are narrower. Begin by applying your bronzer on the apples of your cheeks, then sweeping up and out slightly onto your temple, close to your hairline.

Bronzing vs. Contouring: Is There A Difference?

They may be used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same. Let’s dive into both.

Contouring means adding shadows and light to your facial features by blending matte shades darker than your skin tone onto places where natural shadows fall. Contouring is often complemented by adding highlighter (or its less-shimmery cousin, illuminator) to reflect light and add overall dimension.

Bronzing often uses shades warmer than your contour shade. “For adding warmth and a natural glow, you want to add bronzer to the high points on your face that the sun would naturally hit,” says Ortega. You would generally apply bronzer to the cheeks, the temples, across your nose, chin, neck, and also forehead.” 

Want more multitasking products and makeup tips to upgrade your beauty routine? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
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Hannah Cassidy
Hannah is a beauty editor at IPSY and has been creating content for fashion, beauty, and wellness in Los Angeles for over five years. Outside of the beauty world, she’s an avid vintage collector and dog mom to Pumpkin and Turtle.
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Article Last Updated January 11, 2023 12:00 AM