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How To Find the Right Bronzer for Your Skin & How To Apply Correctly

How To Find the Right Bronzer for Your Skin & How To Apply Correctly

From contouring to last-minute eyeshadow looks, our Bronzer, like the other products in our efficient and innovative Makeup Stacks, is designed to account for multiple steps of your makeup routine. However, the wrong shade or incorrect application techniques can turn a glowing, chiseled face into a muddy, overdone accident in a flash. 

Let’s take a look at what exactly makes some bronzer better than others and learn the right application techniques from the pros.

What Exactly Is Bronzer vs. Contour?

While we often use these words interchangeably, bronzer and contour are two totally different products. 


When comparing the two, a bronzer will almost always look warmer in color than a contouring product does. Typically, bronzers are more commonly found in powder form, although there are some great liquid bronzer and bronzer stick options on the market. These are good for a blendable bronzer.

Bronzer isn’t meant to really carve out the face like contour is. It’s best applied with a big fluffy brush, like our Stack Brush BFF as an easy way to make your skin look like it has more color or a shimmery tint to it. In the wintertime when skies are overcast, you can bring a little warmth to your face to wake it up, and bronzer used during the warmer summer months can really make a tan stand out. 

To fake a “just got back from the beach” glowy look, sweep bronzer onto the high points of the face. Start at the top of your forehead, move on to your cheekbones, and make your way down, along your jawline. Make sure you use a light hand and blend the product out for a seamless transition, free of harsh lines or dark patches.


On the other hand, a contour product is going to be somewhat cool or neutral. That is because contour is used to sculpt the face and carve out certain features. These cooler tones will quite give your face shadow and dimension and should be applied in a strategic way, as opposed to liberally. 

No two people will contour their faces the same, as no two people have the exact bone structure. 

Contour can be found in both cream and powder formulas, and they can be applied with a damp makeup sponge or one of several types of brushes.

What Makes a Good Bronzer?

The right bronzer will have a medium payoff, allowing you to get some color on your face without looking harsh or overdone. The right formula should also be smooth, buttery, and very fine, to give you a blended, airbrushed look. Rough, dry formulas can look streaky, and often don’t blend out as well as you’d like them to. 

A little shimmer is okay, but be wary of bronzers that are overloaded with glimmery pigments. If you apply bronzer to the top of your forehead, where many of us first start to sweat, or where the natural oils from our hair naturally fade makeup away, a smooth and slightly dewy look can turn into a hot mess real fast. Furthermore, glittery flecks can get caught and build up on bumpy, rough patches in your skin, giving you a type of dimension and shadow you didn’t ask for. 

Whether you live in a consistently overcast city, or just do a great job with applying SPF every day, the right bronzer will bring a fresh, radiant touch of color to your skin in the most subtle yet striking way. Overall, the right bronzer will give you a “your skin but better” glow no matter where you are or what month it may be.

Finding Bronzer To Match Your Skin Tone

When trying to find the right bronzer for your skin tone, you should follow the same rules of foundation and concealer color matching. Selecting a shade too dark for your skin will not make you look super chiseled or sunkissed like you just came off the beach. Instead, it can overpower your skin and look unnatural.

When it comes to finding the right concealer, you may want to go a shade or two lighter than your natural skin tone. For example, if your foundation is “light” you need to look for a fair shade of concealer. When looking for the right bronzer, you should do the reverse. Moving up just one color family should be sufficient enough to achieve a radiant glow. 

Not all bronzers are as easily labeled as to what skin tone they are meant for, but ours are. All shades of our powder bronzer are clearly labeled to indicate if they are meant for a fair, medium, or deep skin tone, making it easy to find your most flattering option. 

Undertones Matter When Choosing a Bronzer

Knowing your undertone can make or break a look, or help you decide what shade might be right for you if you’re stuck between two options. Cool-toned skin may have an overall peachy or pink hue, with the veins in your hands and wrists looking purple or indigo. On the other hand, warm-toned skin will have a golden or olive-colored appearance with veins looking green. 

If neither of those really apply to you and your veins are a neutral shade of blue, look for neutral complexion products. Opting for something too warm can leave you looking orange while opting for something too cool can leave you looking ashy, washed out, and sometimes even a little gray.

Should You Choose Cream or Powder Bronzer?

Most bronzers come in powder form. Again, contour is meant for sculpting, and bronzer is used for bringing color and warmth to your face. For this reason, most cream products are traditionally used as a contouring tool, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them as a bronzer. They just need to be applied in a little bit of a different manner.

If you have dryer skin or just live in a colder environment and haven’t found a cream bronzer that you love, consider looking for a cream shade of concealer with a bit of a warmer undertone to use as a cream bronzer. Our Cream Concealer is an ideal, lightweight alternative, coming in 19 shades, with a variety of undertones.

Cream Bronzer Application Tips

After you have applied foundation and/or concealer to any blemishes you’d like to cover, swirl a clean finger around the tray of your darker shade and very lightly, working in sections, dot the concealer where you’d normally apply your powder bronzer. Avoid drawing harsh or sharp lines onto your face like you would for contouring. 

Bronzer is meant to be applied much more liberally, and a series of dots instead of one sharp, singular line is much easier to blend out. A damp makeup sponge will be the best tool to diffuse and blend the color into your skin and up into your hairline, jawline, and outward. 

As always, make sure you set any cream products with a light layer of translucent powder, applied with a fluffy brush and a light hand. If you want an extra kick of color or need more staying power, go over that section with powder bronzer afterward. 

For a more natural look, or if you live in a hot, humid climate, sticking with a powder bronzer is your best alternative. Powder bronzers are also generally easier if you have combination or oily skin. Our powder bronzer is lightweight, buildable, and applies great with both the fluffy powder brush from our Four-Piece Brush Set and the Stack Brush BFF (one’s included free in every Subtl Beauty purchase). 

A smooth matte finish, especially when paired with our Shine Control Pressed Powder, will help absorb extra oil, tone down unwanted shine, and also help to eliminate free radicals, thanks to its green tea extract infusion. Best of all, our bronzer, in addition to all of our products, has enough product to last for at least 60 applications. 

Powder Bronzer Application Tips

Begin your makeup routine as you normally would. Start with a clean and moisturized face before applying foundation or concealer and set it with translucent powder. Next, use a fluffy brush and swirl it around your bronzer pan a few times with a light hand. Lightly tap off any excess and start on your forehead.

Using soft motions, swirl the pigment around the top of your forehead and out toward your temples, making sure you blend it into your hairline, especially if your hair is going to be pulled back with a headband or put up into a ponytail. Really make sure the pigment is properly blended into your skin so you don’t have any harsh lines.

Next, liberally bring the pigment down onto your cheeks, applying in a diagonal motion from the top of your ear downward. Unlike with contour, you don’t need to be so precise here. Just try to make sure you don’t take the bronzer any more inward than past the outer edge of your eye. You can then sweep a little bit of bronzer along your jawline to add some definition and color without going overboard. Many refer to this as applying it in the shape of a “three.”

Some Sculpting Ideas

For a super sunkissed look, sweep the bronzer across the bridge of your nose and out toward your cheeks. Powder bronzer and a light fluffy eyeshadow brush are also an easy way to contour out the nose without it looking too dark or harsh, giving you a much softer look than cream contour. 

Using the lightest hand and a minimal amount of product, work powder bronzer from the bottom sides of your nose upward, stopping about a centimeter below your eyebrows. Use a clean brush to blend out and diffuse the bronzer, erasing any harsh lines and creating a seamless finish.

However, just because bronzer and contour are not exactly the same doesn’t mean you can’t sculpt your face with it. You can use an angle brush or flat top brush, like our stippling brush, to really press the pigment into your cheekbones and along your jawline for a little more chiseling.

Using Bronzer by Itself

You don’t need to apply an entire layer of foundation just because you’re going to wear bronzer, but you should keep that in mind and tone down your intensity accordingly. If you’re keeping your face bare or only doing minimal spot concealing, really make sure you use the lightest hand and fluffiest brush possible. 

It’s also a good idea to either make sure your moisturizer has either dried completely, or sweep on a little bit of translucent powder before going directly in with your bronzer. If you don’t, your bronzer might get caught on the moisturizer and apply unevenly in streaks.

Why the Order in Which You Apply Your Bronzer Matters

Bronzer should always go on after foundation and spot concealing. Remember, you need to start with a good foundation. 

Cream products should all be applied first before topping them with powder. This will help eliminate the threat of cakey, unstable layers from breaking up your makeup and moving it around on your face. That means, if you’re using cream bronzer, you should add it before you use powder blush or set the rest of your face with powder.

If you’re using powder bronzer, the steps are slightly different. After your face has been set with a layer of translucent powder, go in with your powder bronzer. Pigmented, colorful products should always go on top of translucent powder so that they are not lost or washed out beneath its mattifying veil.

On your cheeks specifically, you should use bronzer first, then blush, and top it off with a highlighter. Out of these three products, the darkest one will need to go first. Even though bronzer can be applied pretty loosely, it also will act as a sort of guideline or roadmap for where the rest of your makeup will be applied. 

After the bronzer, apply blush to the apples of your cheeks sweeping outward, just above where you applied your bronzer. Top it off of the layer of our illuminating highlighter and out the door you go.

As for touch-ups throughout the day, a quick sweep of our Shine Control Pressed Powder will do the job. With our bronzer being so silky, lightweight, and buildable, it’s also easy to reapply this step when needed. To remove leftover pigment after bronzer reapplication, simply swirl your Stack Brush BFF around our Dry Brush Cleaner a few times, replace the cap, and toss it back into your bag. Easy as pie.

Use the Right Tools

Just as every tool in your toolbox serves a different purpose, various makeup tools deliver a variety of different results. To attain a lightweight, diffused bronzer look, use a fluffy brush like our Stack Brush BFF. Our Four-Piece Brush Set also includes a fluffy powder brush, making for another fine alternative.

Denser brushes are perfect for packing on and concentrating color, but this may not be a great idea for powder bronzer, especially with smaller brushes. For example, if you were to try to apply powder bronzer onto your cheekbones with our lip brush (a very short and sturdy brush), you’d be left with a harsh, dark line across your face, which wouldn’t blend out. 

For a little more precision and a bit more of a chiseled look, our stippling brush will do the job. For even more precise chiseling, like on the nose, consider using the fluffy end of our dual-end eyeshadow brush. You can also take the bronzer into the crease of your eyes for a natural transition shade, in conjunction with a little bit of blush or highlighter.

What Else Can You Use Bronzer For?

We’re all guilty of it. Sometimes, whether by accident or as the result of the changing seasons, our foundation may not perfectly blend in with the color of our neck, leaving a sharp contrast in color. Bronzer is a great way to bridge the gap between any accidental color gaps and add warmth to other parts of your body you may not have thought about. 

To make these types of color differences a little less obvious, use a fluffy brush and sweep a little bronzer onto your neck. Bronzer can also bring warmth and color to other parts of your body. Bronzer can help sculpt a saggy neck, making it look more thin and structured, define your clavicle, and bring a little extra color to your shoulders and décolleté, great for days when you opt for shoulder-baring dresses and blouses.

Bronzer Mistakes To Avoid

While bronzer is easy enough to apply, here are a few common mistakes to make sure you avoid. From the wrong brush to the wrong pressure, here are some things to keep in mind when applying bronzer.

Don’t Apply Bronzer First

If you’re using cream bronzer and apply it first, any concealer or foundation you apply over it may dilute and wash out the pigment, lessening the effect you were going for. This can also really alter the color of any contouring, making it look gray or muddy. 

Use Bronzer Only in Targeted Spots

It’s also important to remember that bronzer shouldn’t be used as an all-over layer in addition to your foundation and translucent powder. We know (and love) that a number of early 2000s trends are coming back in fashion but this is one we’d wholeheartedly suggest you not re-create. 

Even if you have the most flattering shade match in the world, applying it all over your face without rhyme or reason will make you look orange. It also totally diminishes any dimension you may have tried to create with contouring, concealing, blush, or highlighting. 

Don’t Go Overboard With Your Bronzer

Be mindful of how much bronzer you apply as well. If you dip your brush directly into the tray and then immediately onto your face, you might accidentally dab a little too much on, which isn’t always easy to diffuse or dust off. A few light taps on the edge of your pan will knock excess product off and keep your application smooth and seamless.

Be Mindful of Your Pressure 

When you first dip your brush into the tray, refrain from slamming it in, vigorously rubbing it back and forth, and pushing it down too hard. This loosens up more pigment from the pan than you really need, which you’ll end up tapping off anyway, causing you to waste perfectly good product. 

Also, don’t press it down onto your face too hard. We all know one girl who did this in the locker room in high school, in an effort to take up the intensity on her cheekbones, but all this does is wear away the bottom layers you’ve already worked to put in place. This can also damage your brushes, making them lose their shape. 

Remember to use light, gentle motions, or stamp it into your skin if you’re looking for something a little more dramatic. If you aren’t seeing the intensity you’d like, go one shade darker.

Bronzed Beauty

Both our Cream Concealer and our buttery smooth Powder Bronzer, when applied with the right tools and the best techniques, are simple ways to add a little bit of dimension and definition to a face. A simple addition to your makeup routine, and easily applied in minutes, bronzer can bring a little summertime glow into overcast days. 

It can sculpt the face in ways that seem to defy gravity, and turn a simple look into something timelessly stunning. Use our shade finder tool to find your right shade of Cream Concealer, and consider picking up one of our premade Makeup Stacks, including bronzer, with those shades today.



How to Choose the Right Shade of Bronzer | LeafTV

Sunscreen FAQs | American Academy of Dermatology Association

T.M.’s Guide to Understanding Skin Tones | The Master’s Institute of Creative Education

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