Somewhere between the rise of highlighting, contouring, strobing, fake-freckling, post-lip-lining, microblading, microneedling and probably something called face parkour (purely by the law of “if you Google it, you will find it), I fell under the impression that no one was using bronzer anymore.

But I was wrong! Commenters on this story said they still use bronzer, and in her spring makeup story, writer Janell Hickman said she did, too.

Personally, though a bronzer fan myself, I’ve never been able to fully disassociate its sun-smooched intent with my own orange-tinted teen years — and yet when I see bronzer done “well,” I’m reminded just how nice that sunshine effect is.

I decided that what I needed was the help of a professional. At Janell’s suggestion, I asked makeup artist Whitney Ray to share her tips for applying bronzer “the 2018 way,” without fear of looking like my 2006 driver’s license photo.

I posed.

Janell helped model, too.

Below, all you need to know for some DIY Vitamin D.

Step 1: Prep Your Canvas


Now, Janell’s not normally a foundation wearer — it makes her want to wipe her face off, which is exactly why she wears bronzer 12 months out of the year. “It’s a good hybrid of a little glow, like a blush without the shade matching issue(s),” she told me. “Although I’m a woman of color, I still love to look a little sun-kissed even if I’ve been indoors for months. Plus, bronzer lets my skin come through, unlike a powder foundation or tinted moisturizer, which turns greasy on me quickly.”

But before even thinking about adding bronzer, Whitney says to prep your face with something, whether it be primer or your daily moisturizer. She started with Becca Blacklight primer on Janell, and just a touch of foundation (Black Opal True Color Skin Perfecting Stick Foundation in Nutmeg, to be precise) for the sake of a “finished” look here.

Step 2: Make a Three

The revelation of my bronzer experience came when Whitney explained the rule of three: take the fluffiest brush you can (Whitney used MAC’s 150 brush) and, starting on your forehead (the side part, just above the arch of your eyebrow), make the number “3.” Sweep the bronzer from your temple, down to the tops of your cheeks, back out to your jaw and down to your chin.

Whitney used Casino by NARS on Janell. Her other go-to for women of color: Too Faced Sun Bunny Bronzer. She’s all about finding the right color for you — a process that can take trial and error. A good starting place, however: “Go a step-and-a-half darker than your natural skin tone.”

Janell typically applies her bronzer a bit differently:

“I sweep a Kabuki brush on my cheeks and nose. I start with a little and build up as needed. For my nose, I just put on the bridge (not the tip) and the high points of my cheekbones. I leave my forehead alone but use a primer (I like Glossier’s moisturizer or Coola’s SPF version) to combat excess oil. I also carry Tatcha’s blotting papers to touch myself up mid-day.”

Step 3: Speaking of Highlighter, Add It!

“After you bronze,” Whitney told me, “apply highlight to top of cheekbones to give you more of that dewy, light-reflecting look. And start with a little, then add on more as needed.” You’re just doing the top of your cheekbones here, from temple to apple. Per Whitney’s directions: “Don’t do the full ‘3.’” Whitney used Charlotte Tilbury’s Bar of Gold on both Janell and me.

It’s heaven.

Sidebar to shout-out some bronze-related products Janell is currently loving: It Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Angled Buffing Foundation Brush — “perfect for hitting the top of your cheekbone,” Guerlain Terracotta Bronzing Powder — “good for all over bronzing with a little shimmer,” MAKEUP FOREVER Pro Bronze Fusion Bronzer — “it has a touch of shimmer in it, so it’s good for highlight or eyeshadow in a pinch,” and finally, BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector® Luminous Blush in Blushed Copper — “not technically a bronzer, but it has the same vibe, and it gives you a little pick-me-up for the cheekbones.”

Step 4: Admire Your Own Handiwork 

Whitney added Honest Beauty’s lipstick in Sheer Coral Kiss to Janell’s lips, et voila: a literal pocket full of sunshine! Where’s Natasha Bedingfield when you need her??

Oh! Here she is!

Now let’s talk tips and technique.

Assess the Current Color of Your Skin


Here’s my before-bronzer face, above. Whitney prepped me with a bit of moisturizer, primer, and then added a thin layer of It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ in Light because let me tell you something: my skin was looking like it had never seen a nap in its life.

When telling Whitney about some of my adult-adopted bronzer phobias (largely that I was scared to look orange) she gave me three important tips:

1) You probably need a lighter bronzer in the winter than you do in the summer if you’re not out in the sun much. (I never thought about that. I used a one-shade-fits-all-seasons approach.)

2) You do not want to put bronzer ALL over your face. Again, the rule of three.

3) As you’re doing the “3,” blend as you go so that it looks natural.

Don’t Forget to Bronze Your Neck!

You do want your neck to look like it’s been hanging out with your face, after all.

You know what else I learned?

– You want a bronzer with a bit of shimmer — not too much that you feel like a human glitter bomb, but you want it your bronzer to reflect light and give off that sun-sparkling appeal. Whitney used Laguna by NARS on me.

(Totally matte bronzer is best for contouring, if you were wondering. You can, however, contour, and then bronze using all that we’ve learned above.)

– If you wanted to add blush (we didn’t for this story), you’d add it after the bronzing, just before the highlighter portion of this event.

And Don’t Forget: Your After Photo is Supposed to Look Subtle

You’re supposed to look like the sun kissed you, not like the sun made-out with your face. So tread lightly, bronze fluffily, and trust that you’ve used enough (I’m speaking to myself, here). Summer will be here soon enough. In the meantime, make your own sunshine!

Photos by Edith Young, Make up by Whitney Ray, Modeled by Janell Hickman.

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