A Makeup Artist Taught Me How To Use Bronzer & It Changed My Face

There are some things I openly admit I do wrong, like putting plates on the top rack of the dishwasher or drinking wine with ice. But when it comes to makeup, I like to think I know a thing or two. It is pretty much my job, after all. But another part of my job involves gaining access to the professionals — the ones who really know what they're doing, having spent years amassing impressive beauty qualifications and earning a long list of high-profile clients to vouch for them.
Recently I managed to steal some time with Sir John, a celebrity makeup artist whose little black book is filled to bursting with names such as Zendaya and Beyoncé. During an hour in his company, Sir John let me in on one of the buzziest beauty trends of the last year — "dopamine glam" — but he also hinted that I (and the roomful of beauty editors in my company) had been applying bronzer incorrectly. None of us wanted to confess to it but it seems we're not the only ones. "Why does my bronzer go patchy/look muddy/appear orange/disappear?" are all commonly googled questions.
If you have a TikTok account, you might've noticed that bronzer is slowly but surely overtaking our blush obsession, with products like NARS Laguna Bronzing Cream and Charlotte Tilbury Beautiful Skin Sun-Kissed Glow Cream Bronzer going viral. It makes sense. Thanks to the heatwave we are experiencing, heavy foundation is less popular — but a light dusting of bronzer? It can enhance a (sunless) tan and blanket blemishes easily without feeling weighty.
Even if you've got the perfect bronzing product, however, Sir John says it's more about the application technique. Luckily, in that hour, he dropped some genius bronzing tips. I can safely say that what I learned changed the way my makeup looks for the better.

Choose the right bronzing brush

"Anything [with] bristles that are too short is not good for applying bronzer," said Sir John, who believes denser makeup brushes will create obvious stripes on the skin. The vibe he goes for on his celebrity clients is more diffused, seamless bronzer that looks so natural, it's virtually undetectable. To achieve this, he opts for a brush with long, loose bristles. Some good options are: NARS #13 Powder Brush, Rare Beauty Always An Optimist Powder Brush, or the more affordable Joah Large Powder Brush. "Make sure bristles are about an inch and a half long," he told me. The result is much more convincing, especially on my cheeks which appeared streaky and loaded with makeup before I discovered this tip.
The key to bronzer that isn't stripe-y is constantly moving your brush around as soon as it hits your face, said Sir John, whether you prefer to blend in circular motions or up and down. Also be sure to check your distance. Holding the brush too close to the skin risks applying too much bronzer. Instead, Sir John suggested very lightly dusting your skin with the bristles so as not to go overboard on color. You can always build it up if you feel you need more. "The closer you are, the more aggressive the color," he explained.

Always tap off excess powder

One thing every makeup artist does when using powder makeup — whether bronzer, blush, or eyeshadow — is tap the excess product off the brush and Sir John is no exception. Going straight in with a brush loaded with something like bronzer could make your skin appear uneven in certain places, especially if you haven't blended well enough overall. Sure, it might seem like a waste but giving your brush even the tiniest tap ensures a more flawless finish.

Start at the perimeter of your face, not the center

"Always start by getting color around the sides of the face and the hairline," said Sir John, who starts at the perimeter and works his way inwards. "Never start on the center of the face." Guilty! It makes sense to begin here and head to your cheeks because, if you think about it, these areas tend to catch the sun first so your bronzer will look a lot more believable.
Sir John also advised not to apply anything shimmery past your pupil. "The makeup should be very soft here," he said. "This is where I stop my sculpting when applying bronzer to the cheeks." Since avoiding shimmer bronzer in this area, my makeup looks fresher for longer. Why? Inevitable face grease + shimmer from makeup = unintended shine.

Opt for a bronzer with an olive undertone

Sir John recommended investing in a bronzer with an olive (rather than orange) undertone. "Olive tones look more believable," he said, adding that orange tones have a tendency to look much too warm. Sir John loves the affordable L'Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer. R29 editors also recommend Vieve Modern Bronzer and Bobbi Brown Bronzing Powder.

Apply cream bronzer to the back of your hand first

Cream makeup is having a moment and bronzer in particular is trending big time. With a product like this, though, it's so easy to go extreme. Instead of plunging your makeup brush into the product and applying it directly to your skin, Sir John suggested blending a little on the back of your hand first. Not only will this warm up the product and make it easier to blend on your face, but it ensures you won't apply too much to begin with (and have to start all over again).
For creams, R29 loves Rose Inc. Solar Infusion Soft-Focus Cream Bronzer. Also try REFY Cream Bronzer or Nudestix Bronzer Stick, which lend a matte finish. If you want to add a little glow, Sir John loves to tap highlighter on the tops of cheekbones and down the center of the nose, avoiding the tip.
For longevity, Sir John dusts a touch of powder bronzer over his creamy products. "Duality is the key to durability. Durability makes sure your face really stays on."

Keep multiple foundation shades

A darker foundation or even concealer can be used to bronze your skin. "Your summer foundation can bronze you in the winter and your winter foundation can work as a highlight in the summer," said Sir John. Again, it pays to blend a little product on the back of your hand first and then dip in your brush to apply so as not to be stuck with too much on your skin.

Combine bronzer and blush for a believable finish

Bronzer sculpts and warms up the face, but it's nothing without a tap of blush over the top, said Sir John, who likes L'Oréal Paris True Match Blush. If you've brought your bronzer down to the hollows of your cheeks, concentrate blush much higher up, advised Sir John, to provide a sculpting effect. Also try Pixi Beauty On-The-Glow Blush, Milk Makeup Bionic Blush, or the Makeup By Mario Plumping Blush.

Don't forget your eyelids

Forget eyeshadow, bronzer is multipurpose. "I like to do a touch of bronzer over the eyelid, right into the inner corner, and sculpt upwards towards the brow bone," said Sir John, using L'Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer and a small fluffy brush. Try the MAC Cosmetics 217 Blending Brush or the Morphe M433 Pro Firm Blending Fluff Brush.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.
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