How to apply bronzer like a makeup artist for a perfect summer glow

This is your expert masterclass in how to apply bronzer like a pro – from picking a product to perfect placement

A woman on the beach in a sunhat with golden skin after learning how to apply bronzer
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Welcome to bronzer bootcamp. You're here to learn how to apply bronzer, so let's kick off by addressing the various schools of thought on what this product is even for. 

You've got your hardcore 'wake and bake' types who wear bronzer all over the face, all day, all year round. You've got the summer fling crew who dip into their best bronzer from May to September only. If you'd asked 19-year-old me I'd have told you it was for painting thick sparkly stripes from chin to ear – what better easy makeup look could there be for blurry Monday nights in sticky-floored nightclubs? 

While there are many ways to wear bronzer, the desired outcome is fairly universal. "The purpose of a bronzer is to bring warmth and structure to the face," says Bobbi Brown Pro Makeup Artist, Zara Findlay (opens in new tab). And, according to No7 Makeup Ambassador, Joy Adenuga (opens in new tab), half the battle is what lies underneath. "For a flawless bronzer finish, your base is essential," she advises. Start with the best foundation, learn how to apply concealer and you won't have to fret about applying your bronzer too precisely. The right formula will melt into your skin, blend away easily and get you well on your way to bronze goddess status.

A makeup-artist masterclass in how to apply bronzer

Step 1: Find the perfect color

First things first. It's no good knowing how to apply bronzer if you've chosen entirely the wrong product. "Choosing the right shade makes all the difference and will look more authentic and real rather than overly bronzed and made up," says Pro Makeup Artist Cher Webb (opens in new tab). Here's how:  

  • Know your undertone: "The best way to check your undertone is to look at the veins around your wrists," advises Webb. "If they appear blue you will have a cooler undertone, if they look green you are more likely to have a warm undertone. If you have a mix of both you're neutral." 
  • Now pick a shade: "For cool undertones, avoid overly warm bronzers and use more peachy tones. Warm undertones look gorgeous in golden browns, while deeper tones will love bronzers with a hint of red. Neutral undertones can be trickier so avoid overly peach or overly warm bronzers," says Adenuga.
  • Test it properly: As with finding a perfect foundation match, Webb advises against simply checking your bronzer on the face, or back of the hand. "Always bring your bronzer down your neck and through to the décolletage, this is a good part of the body to test if the bronzer is the correct fit for you." 

Our beauty editor recommends...

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Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess Powder Bronzer | RRP: $38/£35

This cult-status bronzer leaves a soft-focus finish on the skin and its ultra-fine, shimmer-free pigment looks incredibly natural. It's the perfect bronzer for beginners. 

Step 2: Pick a texture

Knowing how to apply bronzer depends on the texture you are working with. Adenuga suggests choosing your formula as you do skincare. "For a beautiful and natural finish, pick bronzers best suited for your skin type. Oily skin types would benefit from powder bronzers and dry skin will love cream or liquid formulas."

  • Powder bronzer: When learning how to apply bronzer, Adenuga recommends opting for dry formulas, saying, "for beginners, powder bronzers are the easiest to work with." We hear about products like the best setting powders and bronzers being finely milled, which essentially means the pigment particles are smaller. This is great for smooth application as it will 'melt' into the skin and blend easily. Powders are also suited to oily or combination skin as they are more resilient. 
  • Cream bronzer: The best cream bronzers have grown in popularity in recent years and tend to be more hydrating and therefore more flattering on dehydrated skin, lines, or less-smooth skin texture. This makes them a good choice for anyone with crow's feet or who is wondering how to get rid of acne scars. "I find cream formulas give the most natural and dewy finish but I personally believe with the right base anyone can use any of the formulations," says Adenuga.
  • Liquid bronzer: Liquids suit bronzing larger areas, so if your plan is to use bronzer for an all-over glow rather than to strategically highlight, this texture can suit. You will need a transparent, matte product to keep it looking natural. Liquid bronzers are pleasingly versatile and can double up as highlighters, which can be very flattering as part of a soft glam makeup look.

Step 3. Apply like a professional

"The most effective way how to apply bronzer is to be strategic with your placement, lightly sculpt the face and define the cheekbones and jawline," advises Webb. "Use a large brush, and start at the top of the forehead, this is where the sun would naturally hit the skin first, and make sure you keep the brush close to the hairline." 

Adenuga recommends a light touch with the brush, "The light swirl method works the best. Start with the cheekbones, then the hairline, and temple to the jawline. A quick swirl across the nose is also flattering." Using the right brush will stop you from accidentally applying too much, "Avoid stiff brushes and go with a large fluffy brush or angled brushes that are fluffy and build your bronzer in layers. Doing this reduces over-application," advises Adenuga. 

If you're applying liquid bronzer, make the most of the product's buildable texture, suggests make-up artist Emma Kotch (opens in new tab), "For a super highlighted look, build liquid bronzer up on collarbones, shoulders, and shins – this is my favorite trick for my celebrity clients as it picks up beautifully under flash photography."

Our beauty editor recommends...

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Bobbi Brown Bronzer Brush | RRP: $42/£39

The best makeup brushes (opens in new tab) do the hard work for you and blend effortlessly. The rounded shape of this particular brush makes it easy to sculpt high points of the face for seamless, sun-kissed skin. 

Our 10 favorite bronzers in every texture

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L'Oreal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer | RRP: $12.97/£12.99

Although this bronzer isn't flashy, its smooth finish certainly lives up to higher-end alternatives. It's blendable, natural-looking, and comes in three shades to suit most skin tones.  

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Westman Atelier Beauty Butter Powder Bronzer | RRP: $73/£69

Expensive, yes. But this luxurious bronzer looks incredible on the skin. It's finely milled and blends without streaks to bring a luminous, radiant warmth to the skin. 

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Chantecaille Radiance Gel Bronzer | RRP: $44/£36 

This unique texture is so dewy and melts into the skin for pure radiance. It's basically healthy-looking skin, bottled. We love to blend it with fingers or a small, firm brush.

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Nars Bronzing Powder | RRP: $38/£31 

A makeup artist favorite, add a light dusting to the hollows of your cheeks, into the temples, and blend down the neck for foolproof sun-kissed skin. It's available in four shades so you're bound to find one that suits you. 

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MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural Powder in Give Me Sun!| RRP: $ 38/£27

Add warmth to your complexion with this silky finish bronzer. The finely milled powder feels like butter on the skin and delivers a healthy-looking, smooth, and natural glow. 

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Rare Beauty Warm Wishes Effortless Bronzer | RRP $23/£22

Seductive yet practical, this twist-up stick of solid bronzing and highlighting cream allows you to apply with precision just about anywhere. It's perfectly portable and the texture is creamy and luxurious. 

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Milk Makeup Bionic Bronzer | RRP: $30/£23

This liquid bronzer feels so refreshing on the skin and leaves a dewy, hydrated wash of color on the cheekbones. It sheers out well, so you may need a few drops to build color. It layers beautifully over the best lightweight foundations (opens in new tab)

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Hourglass Ambient Lighting Bronzer | RRP: $56/£50

Pricy, but oh-so-glamorous. If you're looking to add a touch of luminosity to your bronzer, this is the one for you. Not completely matte but not exactly shimmery, it's perfect for giving skin a candlelit appearance. 

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Chanel Les Beiges Bronzing Cream | RRP: $50/£43
This is gorgeous, hydrates skin as well as bronzing and comes in a show-it-off pot – which is important, too. It would blend well with your best cream blush (opens in new tab) for a double whammy of glow and perkiness. 

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Charlotte Tilbury Beautiful Skin Sun-Kissed Glow Bronzer | RRP: $55/£42

This creamy product blends seamlessly into the skin for a natural, luminous bronzing effect. It's a great accompaniment to one of the best foundations for dry skin (opens in new tab).  

Fiona McKim
Beauty Editor, womanandhome.com

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.