I’m a very pale person who’s never set foot in a tanning salon, slathered on self-tanner, or spent a beach day without a huge sun hat, an umbrella, and a jumbo tube of SPF 50. All legitimate skin health concerns aside, the idea of tanning is just unnatural to me: My skin color is my skin color, and wouldn’t I look weird any other way? I feel pretty strongly about it, to the point that I’ve completely denied editors’ requests to get a spray tan and write about it for laughs.
Even though I’m more than fine with my fair “porcelain” skin, I couldn’t live without bronzer. It’s not because I want to create the illusion of being tan, but because it livens up my face in an instant, making me look less tired and healthier in a way that blush doesn’t. I dislike blush on myself—it’s so girly, and I prefer not to wear color except in the form of lipstick. That’s why bronzer is the perfect solution to my needs, and by “my needs,” I mean my desire to not look ill at all times.
As any pale-complected, makeup-wearing person knows, not all bronzers are friendly to fair skin. I’ve learned this firsthand, but in my series of trial and error I’ve found a handful that are pretty much perfect. Here they are!
Word to the wise: Ditch the included brush posthaste in favor of something larger, softer, and less likely to leave streaky marks on your cheeks. That said, this true brown bronzer’s only fault is the not-so-hot brush—it’s generally regarded as one of the best, most universally flattering shades on the market. Paired with the right brush (the accompanying Benefit Hoola Bronzing & Contouring Brush will be available later this month), it’s a silky, well-pigmented, shimmer-free powder that makes fair skin look inherently healthy without being obvious. Benefit Hoola
So this is technically a finishing powder, but I call it a bronzer because it gives my skin a veil of soft, warm, bronzy color. I dust a super light layer over my face if I want some color without being obviously bronzed, but if I want a more “radiant!” effect, I’ll concentrate it on my cheekbones for real impact. It’s very sheer, so it’s pretty much impossible to use too much. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder in Dim Light
I’ve never actually tested the “waterproof” qualities of this bronzer, but I guess that means you can wear it … on the beach? To go swimming? In the rain? While crying? Unsure. But I can say that the neutral taupe color is absolutely perfect for both bronzing and contouring needs. It has a little bit of warmth to it, but not too much that it’ll leave pale skin looking ruddy, even if you’re cool-toned. Blend well under your cheekbones for some definition, or dust it all over to just liven things up a bit. Tarte Amazonian Clay Matte Waterproof Bronzer
Let’s be clear: The only thing this bronzer and highlighter duo has in common with blush is that they both go on your cheeks. If you dislike shimmer, this is not the shade for you, but if you want a hint of pearly, all-over glow—great for evening—then you won’t find a better fit. The opalescent highlighter is a great complement to it, too, and makes the price a lot easier to swallow. NARS Dual Intensity Blush in Craving
This one is so, so subtle—so much so that if you want to be capital-B “Bronze,” it probably won’t be the thing for you. But because wearing any bronzer at all can seem treacherous to the very fair, it’s a great choice for anyone who’s afraid of the stuff. It has a satiny, natural matte finish that never looks chalky, and it also smells faintly of chocolate, if that’s what you’re into. Too Faced Milk Chocolate Soleil Bronzer
The whole selling point of Bobbi Brown’s makeup is that it’s for a “natural” look, so you can bet that this finely milled powder (it leaves skin feeling super-smooth) will never look garish. It’s a true brown shade that suits all skin undertones, so it’s just about as close to foolproof as one can get—but because of the strong pigmentation, approach it with a light hand at first.Bobbi Brown Bronzing Powder in Golden Light