How to Choose the Right Bronzer

A soft bronzer with a fan brush for application
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery A few simple sweeps of bronzer can give your face a  sun-kissed appearance. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
© Dailey

The paradox of a suntan -- it makes you look healthier, but it's actually unhealthy for you. Few people can deny the appeal of a sun-kissed glow, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage skin and cause skin cancer. Is it possible to have both worlds -- healthy skin and a healthy glow?

Indeed it is. Forgo the suntan and "fake bake" and head to the nearest beauty store, instead. An investment in a good bronzer can make you look like you've spent time in the sun even when you haven't.


Bronzers are powders, liquids, creams or gels that are applied to the skin to give the appearance of a suntan -- without the health problems [source: Jones]. They are available in a large number of brands and in a variety of shades. Makeup companies have improved bronzers in recent years making them easier to use and more natural looking.

Choosing new makeup products can be fun, but it can also be a source of anxiety if you're worried about throwing your money away on products that just aren't right for you. That's especially true for skin makeup products; selecting the right color and texture can make all the difference in the world. With so many available shades, a variety of textures and a multitude of brands, it's easy to see why some women pick the wrong bronzer. However, choosing the right one doesn't have to be time consuming or costly. You just need good beauty advice.

To learn how to find the right bronzer for your skin tone, keep reading.


Matching Your Skin Tone and Bronzer

In as much as bronzer can be a big "makeup do" -- it can be a serious "makeup don't" if you've selected the wrong color. Many women make the mistake of mismatching their makeup color to their skin tone when trying new makeup products, especially when it comes to bronzer. It's likely you've seen the results of this error -- such a mismatch can make a woman's skin look like an orange popsicle.

The general rule is to choose a bronzer one or two shades darker than your natural skin tone [source: Irons]. Although, some swear by one shade darker, only [source: Hebert]. Whatever you do, be careful; if the bronzer color is too dark for your skin tone, it can make your face appear "dirty." In choosing the right color for your skin tone, you need to consider not just the color of your skin but also your eyes. Women with fair skin, blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes should use a sheer, slightly rose- or peach-colored bronzer. For women with olive skin, a sheer copper or earth-colored bronzer is ideal; olive skin looks best with a bronze color. And dark brown skin with either warm or blue undertones works well with a rich, chocolaty-brown color with subtle shimmer [source: Jones].


A common mistake that women make is in how they apply the color. Even the right shade of bronzer can look wrong if it's been poorly applied. The easiest way to understand how to apply it is by thinking about the goal you have in mind. You're after a sun-kissed natural look, right? So think about where, exactly, the sun would naturally alight on your face. Depending on your hairstyle, the likely spots would be across the bridge of your nose, forehead and chin, over your cheekbones and around your hairline. Of course, if you have bangs, skip the hairline and forehead. Don't overdo it, or you'll look fake [source: Yarosh]. The overall application makes the color more believable; we don't just get tan on our cheekbones.

Even though you've found the right shade for your skin tone, you're not finished just yet. To learn why you may need to have a different bronzer for each season, keep reading.


Matching Your Bronzer with the Season

If you've matched your skin tone and your bronzer, you're ahead of the game. But your skin tone changes from season to season. Bronzers are usually most natural looking in the spring and summer, which makes sense since those are the sunnier seasons. In fall and winter, some women prefer to exchange their bronzer for blush. But that doesn't mean you can't wear bronzer in the colder months. Whatever time of year, it's important to adjust your shades with the seasons [source: Thomson].

In the spring and summer, bronzers can look great on your skin. You can use a bronzer to add contour and "sun" to your face. But even if you don't spend much time outdoors, using a bronzer in the warmer months can be relatively easier in terms of color selection because a warm glow just looks more natural during that time. But in the winter, your skin may lighten up to three or four shades [source: Thomson]. If you use the same bronzer (or blush, for that matter), the results will come across looking unnatural. To keep that natural glow, simply lighten the shade of your bronzer or blush in the fall and winter.


Although in general it is recommended to go one to two shades darker than your skin color when it comes to bronzers, that rule can vary by season. For example, if you are someone who usually tans during the summer months, you can get away with using a bronzer that is two shades darker than your natural skin color. This would help you maintain a bit more of a summer glow [source: Hebert]. However, if you don't maintain that tan year-round, you'll likely want to switch to something that's just one shade darker in the winter months.

Now that you know you need to look for a shade based on your skin tone and that can change with the season, it's time to consider which bronzer shades to choose. And you'll find out why too much shimmer can sometimes be a bad idea.


Different Shades of Bronzers

Now that you have a good idea how to match your skin tone with the season, try matching your skin tone with a bronzer. With all of the different shades available from various makeup brands, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But knowing what shade of skin you have will help you zero in on shades that work for you.

Remember you want to choose a bronzer one or two shades darker than your skin. If you have light olive skin, look for a honey-colored bronzer. If your skin is deep tan, shoot for a true bronze. If your skin is dark, try a deep bronze with some shimmer to it and try applying it over your blush to achieve a shimmery, healthy glow [sources: Iman, Jones]. And, using a bronzer with a slight shimmer is a great way to emphasize certain features.


Bronzers, like foundations, are usually offered in light, medium and dark shades. While experimenting with shades, it's best to stay within the right category for your skin tone. Bronzers that are brown in tone are generally more natural looking. Those that are orange-toned or frosted look very artificial on the skin and should be avoided [source: Brown]. If you decide to get a bronzer with shimmer, be aware that the shimmer can collect in the creases on your face.

Once you've picked out your shade of bronzer, you should practice applying it. It's better to build color slowly using light applications. And remember, you want to make sure to brush the bronzer on places that you would naturally get sun, such as your cheekbones (of course) and the perimeter of your face [source: Hebert].

You've finally picked the right shade of bronzer. But now you have another quandary. Should you go for liquid, powder, cream or gel bronzer? Keep reading to find advantages and disadvantages of all four.


Liquid Bronzer vs. Powder Bronzer

Now that you know about bronzer shades and how to match them to your skin tone, it's time to consider which type of bronzer will work best with your skin type.

Some women prefer cream or gel bronzers because they can add moisture to the skin. Beauty experts say that if you are after a dewy glow, liquid or gel bronzers will do the trick [source: Pantin].


If you have oily skin, you may prefer powder bronzers. The powder can help your skin look less oily, while a liquid bronzer might only make things worse. Furthermore, powder bronzers are usually easier to blend than liquid bronzers, so if you're a beginner bronzer, powder is a good place to start [source: Jones].

A liquid bronzer must be applied with a slightly damp makeup wedge or your fingers. It has the texture of foundation, but is decidedly not foundation. You need to be very careful about avoiding streak lines on your skin when you use liquid or crème bronzers.

If you don't want the dryness of powder or the difficult application of a liquid bronzer, try one in between. Crème and gel bronzers are easy to apply and can be used without foundation. They blend in with your natural skin easily but do not often streak. And they work best with normal to dry skin -- a great compromise for all skin types [source: Jones].

To learn more about bronzers and other beauty products, visit the Web sites listed on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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  • Buen-Chown, Julie. "That Healthier Glow." Ottawa Citizen, August 3, 2009. (8/10/09).
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