The Pale Girl's Guide To Bronzer

Think you're too light-complected for bronzer? Think again!

Being fair-skinned, I used to feel like I missed out on a lot of summer beauty fun. I've never been into fake tans, and since my hair is wavy, I never needed to create beach waves.

I also thought that bronzer was not for me. The word conjured up images of bright orange faces and cheekbone contour gone horribly wrong. But, as I now know, bronzers and light complexions are totally compatible--if you know what you're doing.

Today, my fellow pale people, I'm going to show you how to wear bronzer without looking like an Oompa-Looma


Bronzer brushes are often medium-size, with lots of densely-packed bristles to pick up heaps of product. If you are fair-complected, you want to avoid those brushes like crazy lest you venture into John Boehner territory.

I like a chisel-shape brush to apply matte bronzer, and a loosely-bristled round blush brush to apply shimmer. Look for something about the width of your cheekbone; that’s the best guide to finding a brush of the perfect size.


First, FORGET what makeup artists tell you about wearing a foundation one shade darker/warmer than your skin for bronzing purposes. That is some land war in Asia-grade bad advice. While this rule can work on medium and darker skin tones, it stands out a mile away on pale faces.

Stick to a foundation/BB/tinted moisturizer that matches your skin exactly, and pick a bronzer only slightly darker than your skin tone. We’re talking one to two shades, max.

Second, think gold and pink rather than orange and red. If you’re fair, you don’t actually want to look “bronze.” Products with a base of beige or gold work SO MUCH BETTER on fair skin than straight terracotta shades. I also really like baked or mosaic bronzers, as the variety of shades do wonderful things for fair skin when mixed together.

And like with hair colors, if in doubt, pick the lighter shade. It’s easy to add a little more product and make your bronze glow more intense. It's way harder to make it lighter.


Use a little bit. Like, the TINIEST bit that you can imagine. Dab your brush lightly into the pan a couple of times. Now tap it or blow the excess off. THAT’S the amount you want to use.

Being fair doesn't mean you have to hide your natural skin tone under pounds of bronzer! You want to add some warmth, not change the color of your face.


One of the BIG mistakes that I see people make with bronzer is that they apply it all over their face like loose powder. Whether this is to match a fake tan below the neck or because they really like sparkle, it ends up looking weirdly orange. On light complexions, this is extremely obvious. DO NOT DO THIS.

There are two types of bronzer: matte and shimmer. There are also two ways to place it, depending on which type you are using.

Matte bronzer is good for adding straight warmth to skin, and is often used to contour the face. When applying it, remember the number 3. That’s the shape that you should be making with your product: Start up at your forehead by your hairline, bring it down around your temple and underneath your cheekbone, then across your jawline and under your chin. BLEND WELL.

Shimmery bronzer can be used like a highlighter to emphasize the places on your face where the sunlight would naturally hit. Apply it around your temples, along your cheekbones (blending down) and down the bridge of your nose for a really pretty, natural glow.

The order of application goes clean skin > primer > foundation/bb/concealer > loose powder (if applicable) > matte bronzer > blush (if applicable) > shimmer bronzer. The more you know!

Here’s how I look when my bronzer is on.

I feel like I should be out sunbathing on a beach while “The Girl from Ipanema” plays in the background.


Today you’re not only getting the bronzers that I love, you’re also getting product recommendations from some of my fair-skinned friends. There are a million types of pale out there, and I want everyone to find something that works for them!

My favorite shimmery bronzer is MAC Mineralize Skinfinish in Soft N Gentle. This baked powder is a golden peachy color about the same shade as my skin, but much warmer. Shiny without being sparkly, it’s my number one pick forever for shimmery bronzer for pale people. (It works as a gorgeous highlight on medium and dark skin, too).

My favorite matte bronzer is Bobbi Brown Bronzing Powder in Light Tan. It has a tiny bit of shine to it, but not SO much that you sparkle like a Twilight vampire. It’s the perfect way to warm up your skin without turning orange, and I love it.

When I surveyed my pale friends, those with olive tones sung the praises of bareMinerals Warmth. Used with a VERY light hand and blended well, this slightly shimmery copper-bronze shade truly does bring warmth to the skin--just like it says on the package.

Those with pink undertones and a penchant for shine will LOVE Too Faced’s Snow Bunny bronzer. This rose-tinted mosaic palette is designed to be mixed together for a customized shade that never gets muddy. Bonus: you can use the shades individually as eye shadow.

In college, I was OBSESSED with Physicians Formula bronzers, and they’ve only stepped their game up since then. Their Shimmer Strips Custom Bronzer in Vegas Strip is especially perfect for cool-toned babes. My #1 drugstore crush for sure.

Finally, you may remember my friend Emily. She was psyched about this article because she wants to tell the world about Shiseido Bronzer in Light. “I have some non-racist yellow undertones, and this bronzer with some of its shimmer is perfect,” she told me. “It’s never gaudy or unprofessional. I always look glowy and I love it.”

Time to chat. What are your favorite bronzers for your skin tone? Any bronzer mishap stories to share?