Found: The Best Bronzers for a Year-Round Glow

These easy-to-blend formulas won’t leave you with an orange streak.

hourglass bronzer
(Image credit: hourglass)

Bronzer is a makeup staple. Once upon a time (read: the early 2000s, the 90s, the 80s), an incredibly generous application of five-shades-too-dark powder was standard practice. But that's no longer the case today. The best bronzers—available in liquid, cream, and powder formulas—are now used more subtly. Proper application can define facial contours, double as eyeshadow, or provide a healthy glow to the skin. “Once you figure out what you’re trying to accomplish, you can easily narrow down what products to look for,” says celebrity makeup artist Judi Gabbay Braha.

Want a bronzer that doubles as a contour? Fenty’s Match Stix, which varies in intensity depending on your pressure, might be in your future. A soft, all-over tan? Rest assured, Giorgio Armani’s Liquid Bronzer is hyped up for a reason. You can even layer different bronzers to achieve a longer-lasting finish (read: Patrick Ta's Cream Contour and Powder Bronzer Duo).

There are many options on the market—Sephora has nearly 150 to choose from and Nordstrom sells upward of 70 skus, for context. I’ve tested dozens of formulas myself, and tapped some of the best makeup artists in the beauty business for their recommendations. Ahead, find the only bronzers worth your money.

Shop the Best Bronzers

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What Bronzer Formula Should I Use?

Any bronzer will fall into one of three categories: Powder, cream, or liquid. The best one for you depends on your skin type and your desired finish. If you have oily skin, a powder bronzer can mattify your complexion while depositing warmth. “For dry skin, look into getting a cream, liquid, or balm bronzer which tends to be more hydrating and easier to blend,” adds Williamson. Mix a liquid bronzer with your foundation for an all-over tan. “Typically, liquid bronzers will dry down, which is great for all-day wear,” adds Braha.

Keeping this in mind, there are variations. You can find a matte cream or glowy powder. You can also layer a powder with a cream to achieve a longer-lasting, higher-intensity finish.

What Shade of Bronzer Is Right for Me?

Do you want a shade darker than your natural skin tone, but not too dark that it reads as muddy or orange? A general rule of thumb: “Look for a color two to four shades darker than your natural skin tone,” says Parkes. “The goal is to subtly enhance your skin for warmth and glow,” adds Braha, so make sure to consider your skin tone (and undertones) before purchasing.

hourglass bronzer

The Armani liquid bronzer provides a stunning all-over glow.

(Image credit: Armani)

How Do I Apply Bronzer?

The tool you use (think: fingers, brush, or sponge) is mainly up to you. A sponge will provide a lighter finish, whereas a brush will amp up the color payoff. “To get the most natural look, use a fluffy tapered brush,” suggests Braha.

The proper order of makeup application is as follows: Foundation, concealer, and bronzer, followed by blush and highlighter. And one pro tip: “Your blush should layer over your bronzer” says Williamson.

Where Do I Place Bronzer?

The application can take a technical turn if your goal is to contour or sculpt (face shape plays a big role), but generally speaking, you want to apply a product where sunlight would naturally hit the face. “Put a light layer above your cheekbones to enhance them and lift your face, rather than drag it down,” says Parkes. “I also like contouring my nose and blending it into my eyes to lift the brow area.”

Meet the Experts

Jonet Williamson

Makeup Artist, Jonet Williamson discovered her love for art at a very early age. While growing up in New Orleans, one of the world's most eclectic and inspiring cities, Jonet was admitted into the gifted art program of her magnet high school.

In 2005, Jonet began her journey in beauty working as a makeup artist for M.A.C. Cosmetics. Here the feeling of connecting with other women and helping them see the beauty within themselves became her greatest passion.

With a willingness to learn and an eye for perfection Jonet moved to New York City in 2014 determined to further her artistry and career. Since then, her work has been featured in commercial campaigns (Dolce & Gabanna, Levis, Shea Moisture), editorials (Essence, L'Officiel), and tv & film productions (CBS, MTV, TNT).Jonet Williamson also works closely with brands on content creation (Revlon, Shiseido, L'Oreal, Beauty Counter) and product development.

Judi Gabbay Braha

Judi Gabbay is a celebrity makeup artist based in New York. She has learned tricks of the Hollywood trade from top artists such as Mario Dedivanovic, Scott Barnes, Samuel Rauda and Patrick Ta. Judi started her journey as a makeup artist at the young age of 13 years old.

Judi has shot for brands such as BEBE, Catherine Malandrino, Buxom Cosmetics and English Laundry. She's worked with networks such as Bravo, TLC, ABC and more. Judi continues to create polished and flawless looks for all of her clientele.

Dani Parkes

Self-taught makeup artist Dani Parkes, also known as Faces by Danii, started doing makeup at the age of eight. At 18 years old she moved to New York knowing no one and started to build her network. Dani's goal is to highlight and extenuate the natural features on one's face, rather than completely changing the way they look. She creates new ideas and draws inspiration from a lot of artists based in the UK and Europe.

Dani has glammed up some of your favorite influencers and celebrities including Natalie Noel, Lea Michelle, Emily Lind, and Lauren Wolfe.

Samantha Holender
Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.