How To Use Bronzer When You're Already Brown

When it comes to bronzers, life isn't fair if you aren't fair-skinned. But we've figured out how to make it work.
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Publish date:
May 9, 2013
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How-To, shimmer, Tarte, Cargo, makeup brushes, bronzers, e.l.f.

We love our built-in “tans.” It keeps us away from tanning beds and saves us money on spray tans (not to mention that we’re both way too shy to strip in front of a spray-tan can-wielding stranger).

We’ve seen our share of self-tanning screw-ups and consoled many of our fair-skinned friends when they’ve turned temporarily orange. We’re lucky that Oompa Loompa skin hasn’t been one of the many (and we mean many) beauty flubs we’ve experienced. But, we’re jealous of the way friends with lighter complexions can pile on bronzer and glow, looking all healthy and sunkissed, while the few times we gave it shot, the results got a resounding, “Dude, did you just face-plant into a pile of mud?”

Naturally, we saw this as a challenge. Many makeup artists we’ve spoken to are all for using bronzer on brown skin, and when they do it, their subjects turn out looking awesome and ethereal. So we set out on a mission to find the best ways to bronze our brown skin.

Runa used to bring home tons of unused bronzers from the beauty closet at her past her magazine job, and we would test them over and over, desperate to find one that didn’t make our faces look ruddy and bruised. Over time, we learned the key to getting the right glow on darker skin is in the tools and technique.

USE NATURAL LIGHT

We recommend applying bronzer outside if it’s a sunny day. Have you ever used your vanity lighting only to end up looking overdone in the daylight?

Bronzer tends to have some shimmer in it and you want to glow in the sunlight, not blind anyone who looks at you.

BRUSH SIZE MATTERS

Start out with a large, round, super-soft, fluffy brush. Smaller brushes will deposit a lot of bronzer on one part of your face and won’t spread easily--you might as well slap on some dirt and call it a day.

E.L.F makes a kabuki face brush that’s awesome and cheap, and their Studio Bronzer is great, too.

SETTLE DOWN THERE, SHIMMER

Shimmer is great, but keep it subtle. Bronzers that are chock full of shimmer and glitter tend to work better on lighter skin--all that sparkle stands out more on darker skin, and not in a good way.

Look for a bronzer with minimal shimmer, like Cargo Bronzer, and add highlighter to your cheekbones after the fact if you feel like you need it.

If you are a shimmer addict, focus it on places like your décolleté, shoulders and chest.

PICK A BRONZER ONE SHADE DARKER THAN YOUR LEFT ARM

We’re always tempted to go for the pretty orangey shades that you find in the drugstore because we’re girls and we like pretty things. But in reality, something lighter than your skin will just make brown skin look ashy and gray.

Runa’s weird trick: My left arm is always a bit darker than the rest of me because I drive with my arm resting on the driver’s-side window, so I look for something that’s one shade darker than that.

CONSIDER YOUR SKIN TYPE WHEN PICKING A CONSISTENCY

If you have super-dry skin, like Pia, powder is your frenemy. It works great on some days; on others, it makes you look like you sneezed over a pile of flour.

For dry skin, try a cream or gel bronzer like Tarte Park Ave Princess Bronze & Glow Matte Bronzer & Cheek Tint. Mix it with a dab of lotion, which will make it more spreadable and help you avoid OD-ing on color in one spot. Dab it on and add more until you achieve the right level of glow.

DON’T BRONZE YOUR WHOLE FACE

Applying it in the right spots is key. You’re already bronze, so don’t get bronzer-happy and apply it all over your face.

Focus on where the light hits. Put it on the apples of your cheeks and swipe upward; then run what’s left on your brush along the bridge of your nose, hairline and chin.

YOU STILL NEED BLUSH

Brown ladies need blush to balance the darkness of bronzer and brighten up skin. After applying your bronzer, swipe a bit of blush in a peachy shade on the upper part of your cheekbones.

What are your favorite bronzers to use on darkers skin? Oh--and we’re super curious: Do any of you tan ladies spray-tan?