When bronzer is bad, it can be really bad. You’ve all seen “bronzer gone wrong” —orange-y, too sparkly or dirty looking—but when bronzer is applied correctly, it can perk up your face, add definition and give you a beautiful, believable healthy glow.

Bronzer, when chosen wisely and applied correctly, can be a terrific asset and a great addition to your makeup bag. It’s also a great way to add a little life to your skin throughout the fall and winter.

The key is to find the color, formula and texture that work best with your skin type. I prefer a bronzer with a matte finish, rather than one with shimmer, since it can be worn all over without being detected. If you try to use a bronzer with shimmer in it all over your face, it’s hard to make it look “real” and the point of bronzer is to look sun-kissed and healthy.

Shimmer is best used sparingly and as an accent. I steer towards ones with a subtle, well-milled iridescence so it’s soft and gently reflects light, instead of looking sparkly and glittery. Remember, believability is the goal.

If you don’t wear much foundation or powder, but still want to wear bronzer, try using a cream bronzer. I like to use a dual fiber brush when applying creamy products to the face. The way the fibers fan out make it very easy to blend color seamlessly (I love the MAC #188 brush). Using a cream blush allows the product to sink into the skin and look like a natural flush, so it’s not sitting on top of the skin like it does with powders.

The best way to apply bronzer

Matte bronzers can be applied to the cheekbones, chin, a bit on the forehead—anywhere the sun would touch your skin and give you a hint of color. If you’re using a cream bronzer with a touch of luminosity in it, only sweep it on the cheekbones so you don’t get too shimmery looking, which can read as plain old greasy after a few hours. The same rules apply to powder bronzers. Limit the area you apply shimmery bronzer to just the cheekbones. That said, you can be more liberal with a matte powder bronzer. They’re infinitely more blendable when applied over foundation that’s set with powder.

Whichever formulation you choose, be sure to remember this rule of thumb: “like with like.” If you’re using a cream blush, make sure you apply it after foundation and before powder. You want to keep the textures the same for blending. If you’re using a powder blush, bronzer or luminizer, use it after you’ve powdered. Trying to apply a cream bronzer over powdered skin will end up looking blotchy, spotty and messy.

Pay attention to your skin type

In general, dry skin can handle powders or creams. Oily and acne-prone skin is best served by powders. That’s because when you have oily skin, you tend to have large pores, and cream products can exaggerate the size of pores, making them more noticeable. (Another reason why I don’t like bronzers that are super shimmery: If you have larger pores, the powder can sit in the pores and draw your eye to them, ruining any illusion of your bronzer looking like a natural sun-kissed glow.)

Bronzer can be tricky if you have fair skin. Colors can go orange very quickly on fair skinned women, so choose a color that is more neutral. You’re looking to add a little warmth, rather than going for the Gisele Bunchen, bronzed Brazilian look. And if you are a woman of color, I adore a bit of bronzer on the cheeks. It adds a subtle, warm glow and looks great with a bit of a rusty color over it for a bit of extra color. Opt for warm bronzy colors and make sure the one you choose doesn’t look ashy on the skin.

In general, I suggest the “less is more” approach when it comes to bronzer. It’s always best to err on the side of caution, rather than on the side of Snooki.

My favorite bronzers:


NARS Matte Bronzing Sticks (Tuomota and Cap Vert)

MAC HyperReal foundation (use color two shades darker as a bronzer)

Josie Maran Argan Cream Bronzer in Beach #1


Benefit “Hoola”


MAC Mineralize Skin Finish in “Dark” (Try “Medium” for lighter tones)

MAC “Matte Bronze”

Shiseido Luminizing Satin Face Color in “Soft Beam Gold” (BE 206)

Cargo Matte Bronzer in “Medium”

CoverGirl Queen “Brown Bronze”