I get a lot of questions and requests as a professional makeup artist. I’ve mentioned some of them before, but there are requests that keep popping up, at least once a week if not more. Eyeliner is a big one, as is the smoky eye. Lately though, people keep wanting me to help them choose a bronzer for the purposes of contouring. I get this request so frequently that I felt like it warranted its own post here in “The Pretty Files.”
Before we jump into some bronzer basics, I feel like I need to address some of the issues that lead up to the regular requests I get about bronzers. Inevitably, ladies who request bronzer suggestions reference at least one of three sources for their interest: Pinterest, YouTube, or Kim Kardashian. I’m not kidding when I say that if I had a quarter for every time someone approached me with, “I saw this video about contouring on YouTube” or “I want to know how to contour like Kim Kardashian,” I could retire from all of my jobs and live on a beach somewhere. I get it—Pinterest is incredibly addictive and inspiring, and there are some amazing artists on YouTube (I can’t really speak to the lure of Kim Kardashian). I have lost hours and hours on those sites marveling at things, but I have also learned to evaluate what I see. I’d say that about two-thirds of the pins and videos that reference contouring are absolutely wrong and the images that go with them are digitally edited to oblivion. I cringe inside every time someone asks me which bronzer I suggest to recreate something they saw on YouTube or Pinterest. My suggestion to you all is to take those things as inspiration, not as gospel.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about bronzer and what it’s for. Bronzer is a brown, gold, or red-based color makeup product that is meant to add warmth and color to the skin, as well as help connect different areas of the skin to create a cohesive warmth and tone. What does that mean? It means that if your neck and chest area are a different color than your face, you can use bronzer to lightly connect the two by creating a color transition. Bronzers can be matte or they can contain shimmer to create luminosity. They are most commonly found as a powder, but you can buy gel and cream bronzers as well. Bronzers are meant to imitate the effects of the sun, which is why they have the brown, gold, or red color base to them. Which color base you use depends on your own skin tone and under tone. For example, I am extremely fair skinned with a neutral undertone. I use a golden-toned bronzer when I need to. Brown would make me look dirty, while red would make me look sunburned.
To properly apply bronzer you need to think about how light plays on the high and low portions of your face. A simple way to do this is to think about the parts of your face that tend to get sunburned the fastest if you happen to go outside without sun protection. For most (and by most, I mean nearly all) people that is going to be the so-called high planes of the face: cheeks, nose, forehead. That doesn’t mean that you should heavily apply bronzer in exactly those spots though. Instead you should use a dense, yet fluffy, brush that you have loaded with the bronzer and tapped off the excess to create a “3” shape along the side of your face. Starting at the temple area just above your eye, drag the brush along in that “3” pattern, where the cheekbone is the middle and the jawline is the bottom. Reload the brush and do the same to the other side. Then, with what is left on the brush, lightly sweep across the nose and finish on the chin. You can also dust the rest on your chest and shoulders if you’d like. I suggest starting with less bronzer and adding more if needed until you achieve the right level of bronze. You can also add a bit across the middle of the forehead as well.
That’s it. Literally. That is all you really need to do with bronzer. You might be saying to yourself that I mentioned contouring at the top of this article. Yes, I did! I also mentioned some bronzer don’ts which contouring falls into. I don’t know how to say this other than to be blunt: do not use bronzer for contour. I’d like to say don’t contour, period, because it’s an artistic trick for camera purposes and looks awful on people in real life, but even I’m guilty of reshaping my face a little with a careful contour so I won’t be a hypocrite. I am sticking to my guns on the “no bronzer contours” though, and this is why. Remember how I mentioned that bronzers are brown, gold, or red-toned? That’s because they’re for warmth. Contouring on the other hand, is about creating shadow and depth. People use contour to push back certain features so that other features can be more highlighted. It’s for this reason that contour is a great tool to create a chiseled look. I’ve seen contour work on things like double chins or wide noses that have worked absolute miracles. I personally have one cheek that’s fuller than the other and a little bit of contour really makes my face look even. When you’re creating the shadow of a contour you really want it to look natural, as though it’s a product of the way the light is hitting the skin.
Shadows, my friends, aren’t warm. Shadows are cool. They tend to be simply a darker or deeper tone of the actual skin. They don’t glow. We are not radioactive. This is why when we create contour, we need to work with products that don’t add warmth. The easiest way to do this? Use a powder or a foundation color that is one shade darker than your actual skin color. You can even go up to two shades darker if you want a more dramatic effect. Why stick with foundations or regular powders? Those products are generally geared towards skin tone shades. They aren’t designed to add warmth or glow but are instead, designed to look like skin in their natural state. By sticking to foundation-like products, you create a contour that looks like your skin. Using bronzer—any bronzer—simply looks muddy at best and like you have a weird skin condition at worst.
Outside of those very specific items the dos and don’ts are pretty easy. Do experiment with different formulas of bronzer. I don’t personally use cream or gel bronzers, but I use both matte and illuminating powder bronzers. What I am trying to achieve (basic warmth or a sunkissed effect) determines which one I play with. Don’t apply powder bronzer with a blush brush. The bristles of the blush brush are usually too dense and apply just a bit too much color. Do use bronzer as a light blush on days you’re rocking a minimal, natural look. Don’t use bronzer to correct a too-light foundation. And the most important “do”? Have fun! Makeup is an adventure. Enjoy it! Until next time, friends.