The Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Bronzer—And How to Avoid Them

Aly Walansky


Whether in the dead of winter when we’re all feeling just a wee bit pale and pasty or any time we want to add a healthy glow to our cheeks, bronzer can have a powerful impact. But whether that impact is awesome or not depends on if you are choosing the right bronzer for you—and if you know how to apply bronzer. Knowledge is power.

When choosing a bronzer, it’s important to get color right so you have a natural glow.
Never use a shade that’s more than two shades deeper than skin tone or it will look artificial. “Look for a bronzer with multiple shades. When it’s pre-blended for you, it comes across more natural as opposed to a one-dimensional shade,” says Physicians Formula Celebrity Makeup Artist, Joanna Schlip.

Choose the right formula for you.
Powders are the easiest to apply and provide the most natural finish. Shimmery bronzers promise to give you glowing skin, but too much sparkle can make your complexion look greasy. “We like Colorescience Loose Mineral Bronzer  because it creates a beautiful, natural glow. Plus, the retractable brush makes application easy at home or on the go,” says Joel Schlessinger, MD, FAAD, FAACS, Board Certified Dermatologist and Cosmetic Surgeon and founder of

A little bit of shimmer can add a healthy glow and highlight your facial structure, but too much can emphasize uneven skin texture. To avoid this, choose a product with fine shimmer particles and apply sparingly, suggests Nicci Gilland of A Different Face. A shimmer bronzer is a great choice for illuminating the skin and giving a sun-kissed glow, but not ideal for contour and shadow.

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Darker isn’t always better.
For a more natural looking bronze look on fair skin tones, swap your bronzer for a warm nude blush—something with a hint of peach or rose works best. Those warmer undertones give the skin a gorgeous kissed-by-the-sun flush that never looks muddy or artificial. “On medium and dark tones, I like to touch a brick-toned blush over the T-zone and cheekbones. The red undertone of the blush simulates the natural flush that appears just after stepping off the beach,” says Wantable Beauty Editor, Jordan Liberty. And remember, less is more; too much blush can make you look sunburned. Use a large powder brush or fan brush to apply the perfect amount of product.

Choose the right brush.
You should use the largest, softest brush you have. Avoid using a brush that is too dense, like a Kabuki brush. “The more dense the brush, the stronger the color will come out. This can make you look dirty instead of just bronzed,” says makeup artist Donna Kelly.

Aim right.
“The biggest no-no I have heard makeup artists say is ‘Kiss your face with bronzer where the sun hits your face.’ Well, for me, that’s all over! Bronzer all over your face is like using a a face powder 8 shades to dark. You look muddy, and perhaps like you belong in the cast of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory!” says makeup artist Jentry Kelley. “First I was an artist, then later became a makeup artist. So I know the basic concept of highlighting and shadowing, and by pacing something darker than the subject (your face) all over it becomes flat and dull,” says Kelley. 

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Every person’s face shape is unique and bronzer should be used to shadow in any area that we would like to minimize, while warming up the skin at the same time to match the chest. “One area I always use bronzer is on my neck and under my chin. This gives the appearance as if I had a neck lift! It also marries all the color from my cheek, neck, and face so I don’t have white face photos. It can also be used on the chin, or along the hairline around the forehead through temples to minimize,” says Kelley. Women with smaller foreheads should not use bronzer in that area.

Apply bronzer in a “3” shape.
Sweep across the forehead, around to the cheekbone and then down the jaw. Don’t forget the nose and ears! “Also, if the décolleté or neck is exposed, be sure to apply bronzer there as well for a natural head to toe glow,” says Schlip.

Instead of caking on the color, lightly dust bronzer where the sun would hit your skin. These areas include the bridge of your nose, across your hairline and the apples of your cheeks. “To avoid a muddy skin tone, apply a highlighter across your cheekbones and your brow bone, which will give you face more dimension,” says Dr. Schlessinger.