Few things have the power to instantly transform your look like a great bronzer. But what classifies a formula as the best bronzer is complicated. There’s the obvious: At its core, a bronzer’s purpose is to add depth and warmth to your skin, says Danessa Myricks, makeup artist and CEO of Danessa Myricks Beauty. But a fantastic one can do so much more—like give the illusion of cheek filler or make it look as if you’re fresh off a trip to Ibiza when you haven’t left your couch since the pandemic began.
Here’s where it gets complicated: Despite their ability to wake up your skin, so many formulas tend to skew too orange, too ashy, too glittery, or just overall fake-looking. Once you know exactly what to look for, though, the ability to fake a glow and J.Lo-level cheekbones becomes far more simple. That’s where we come in. Brush up on your bronzer basics below, and then scroll on for the best bronzers according to makeup artists.
How to pick your perfect shade
With bronzer, the goal is for it to look as natural as possible. “When selecting a bronzer, think about what naturally happens when you’re in the sun,” says Myricks. “Let your body give you clues. Identify the deeper tones that surface on your chest, shoulders, and arms and use that as a gauge.”
A safe place to start is a color two shades deeper than your natural skin tone, then go darker if you want a contrast that’s more intense. Makeup artist Kasey Spickard says fair skin tones will look best with a bronzer that has neutral undertones—i.e., shades that don’t lean too warm or cool. Terra-cotta hues with a slightly reddish undertone beautifully complement tan and olive skin. Meanwhile, bronzers that lean golden work best on deep skin, while formulas with a brick-red base play up deep skin with red and brown undertones.
And if you don’t quite know what undertones you have? Stick with something neutral, says Spickard, which no matter your skin tone will still give you a natural flush.
How to choose the right formula for your skin type
Like all other types of makeup, take your skin type into consideration when choosing a formula. Powders are the least intimidating and easiest to use, especially if you’re a beginner. They work on all skin types but are best for oily skin. “If you have dry or combo skin, make sure you are doing proper physical or chemical exfoliation regularly,” says Spickard. “That way your bronzer and blush won’t catch on dry skin and create a patchy application.”
Myricks personally prefers cream bronzers since they look most natural, are versatile and buildable, and last longest on your skin. If you have dry skin or just love a fresh, dewy look, she recommends tapping her Dew Wet Balm in Hot Water over any shade of bronzer. “It’s super easy to apply and can be worn on bare skin or over powders on any skin tone,” she says.
How to apply bronzer
“As is my philosophy with all makeup, start with less and build from there,” says Spickard. “Tap a large fluffy brush once or twice into the pan to load the brush with product, then make a fish face.” From there, you’ll want sweep bronzer in a 3 shape over the perimeter of your face—starting at your temples, down the side of your hair, over the tops of your cheekbones, and along your jawline. Then, using whatever product you have left on your brush, you’ll want to blend along the sides of your nose, the tip of your chin, and your neck.
If you feel like you’ve applied too much, take a clean fluffy brush or your fingers and buff out any areas where it’s too heavy. Myricks adds not to forget to buff it into the top of your ears and your hairline for the most natural finish.
Now that you’ve got all that down, here are the best bronzers makeup artists swear by.