If you’re on the hunt for the very best bronzer, you're probably already familiar with the struggle. Some bronzers are so sheer that you might as well have put nothing on; others can veer so orange or gray that the finished result looks like you applied bronzer, rather than just stepped off the beaches of Saint-Tropez. Fortunately, as it turns out, some of the best bronzers can actually be found at the drugstore, no tropical vacation or trip to Sephora needed.
Drugstore bronzers have historically gotten a bad rap: They've been pegged as patchy, discolored, and even drying on the skin. And when it comes to cream bronzers from the drugstore, the pickings used to be so slim (or so shimmery) that a traditional powder can feel like your only option. Thankfully, times have changed. A bunch of new (and iconic!) affordable picks are giving the higher-priced bronzers a run for their money—and you don’t have to spend more than $20 to achieve your best bronzer look. Now, you can find a great bronzer for fair skin that won't make you look muddy or orange, or a great bronzer for dark skin that isn't going to look ashy. (If you’re new to bronzer, or are just looking for a refresher, check out Marie Claire’s guide on how to apply bronzer.)
An Overview of The Best Drugstore Bronzers
- Best Overall Drugstore Bronzer: Physicians Formula Butter Bronzer Murumuru Butter Bronzer
- Best Cream Drugstore Bronzer: Pacifica Sun Dreams Creamy Bronzer & Contour
- Best Sheer Drugstore Bronzer: Undone Beauty Water Bronzer
- Best Liquid Drugstore Bronzer: L'Oreal Paris Makeup True Match Lumi Glotion
- Best Matte Drugstore Bronzer: Milani Silky Matte Bronzing Powder
- Best Shimmery Drugstore Bronzer: Wet n Wild Color Icon Bronzer
Deals on the Best Drugstore Bronzers
How We Chose The Best Drugstore Bronzers
There exist lots of bronzers, especially at the drugstore. So, I turned to experts—makeup artists and top content creators—to break down what they look for in the best drugstore bronzer. (The below also factored into how I, Marie Claire's E-Commerce Editor pulled together my list.)
- Finish: “I always want my bronzers to not have shimmer,” says Jenna Kristina, celebrity makeup artist to clients like those known for their glow like Megan Fox and Zoey Deutch.” I like to be able to control where shimmer is applied. I like shimmer in a highlighter and not all over the face, personally.”
- Undertone: The bronzer vs. contour debate continues to rage on, but here’s the bottom line: Contours generally have a cooler undertone to create the look of shadows, whereas bronzers will have some warmth to them—but not too much so that it looks too orange or red. “Lighter [skin] tones tend to need cooler undertones where darker skin tones tend to need more warmth, otherwise it can look a bit green and not mimic a natural tone depth,” says Kristina. Her favorite pick? “Hands down Maybelline City Bronzer,” Kristina says.
- Texture: Three bronzer formulas are most common: cream bronzers, powder bronzers, and liquid bronzers. Each will give you a different finish and look. Liquid bronzers, for instance, are generally more sheer than other options. This brings us to...
Differences Between Cream, Liquid, and Powder Bronzers
Ahead, celebrity makeup artists break down the key differences between three of the most commonly-found bronzer formulas on the market: Cream, liquid, and powder.
- Powder: Powder bronzers are the most beginner-friendly option, as they’re often a bit more sheer than cream bronzers. “It’s really easy to just load up a big fluffy brush and dust that bronzer on the face, without overdoing it as powder tends to be more buildable in terms of pigment,” says Nicole Bueno, a makeup artist who has worked with Sophia Roe, Jonelle Monae, and Law Roach. Powder bronzers are also great to keep in your makeup bag because they can be used all over the face, including on your eyelids in lieu of eyeshadow “I just apply it on the perimeters of my face, temples, my ears, eyelids, and nose,” Bueno says.
- Cream: Cream bronzers are great if you want a truly seamless finish to your makeup. “Cream bronzers tend to have more coverage, and are more opaque, with a satin-like finish,” says Amber Amos, a makeup artist who has worked with Bebe Rexha and Skai Jackson. Cream bronzers are also great if you’re looking for a contouring product to chisel out your cheekbones, nose, or jawline. (If you're interested in contouring instead, you can read our guide on how to contour your face.)
- Liquid: “If you are looking for an ultra-glowing bronzer, go for a liquid,” Bueno says. “They usually have shimmer particles that look way more natural than cream or powder counterparts,” she says. To make them look their best, Bueno recommends applying your liquid bronzer with either a brush or a sponge to the high points of the face. If your bronzer is on the glowier side, they can work equally well as a liquid highlighter or illuminator. “They also can be perfect for mixing into your foundations that maybe are now too light as our skin darkens in the spring and summer season or if you spray tan,” she says.
The Best Drugstore Bronzers
Best Overall Drugstore Bronzer
“I’ve been using this bronzer on and off for years, and it never fails me when I’m in a pinch,” says E-Commerce Editor Julia Marzovilla. “The texture is, as the name suggests, super buttery and blendable. It’s so soft, I nearly thought it was a cream bronzer when I first bought it. Available in eight shades, it includes ingredients like murumuru butter for a hydrating, smooth feel despite the fact that it’s a powder. Plus, I can now say that I have the same bronzer as Sofia Richie Grainge, who wore the iconic drugstore bronzer over the course of her wedding weekend.”
Pros: Comes in six shades; Editor-approved; Top-rated; Finely-milled powder; Long-lasting.
Cons: Some shoppers found the smell too strong.
Customer Review: "I've been wanting to try this bronzer for awhile and I finally tried it. I love it so much. It is soooo soft and it has a coconut smell which i did not expect but it's not an overwhelmingly smell or anything. And it's not too orange. I am light/fair skin. I don't really like the weird brush it comes with and the packaging itself feels a little cheap but the actual product is great and worth it." — Ulta
Best Beauty-Director-Approved Drugstore Bronzer
“I live and die by this bronzer," says Beauty Director Deena Campbell of this powder option from drugstore-favorite brand Milani. "It works wonders on my skin in any climate. I love to apply it all over to shade and contour or I'll follow the angle of my jawline for a more dramatic look. Whatever I decide—I can't go wrong.” You can shop the ultra-fine powder bronzer now in three different shades. It has buildable coverage but is pigmented enough to wear with just a few swipes in the morning.
Pros: Available in three shades; Finely-milled; Editor-approved; Can be used as a bronzer or contour.
Cons: Might not be suitable for super fair skin.
Customer Review: "I normally don’t wear bronzers but I absolutely love this one. Especially because it’s matte. Most bronzers are all so shimmery so this one was perfect. I also use it as a blush. The texture is smooth and goes on nicely." — Target
Best Cream Drugstore Bronzer
Nicole Bueno loves this bronzer from Pacifica because it has a "gorgeous texture and wide shade range," she says. Available in five shades ranging from a light sandy color to a rich mahogany option, this lightweight cream bronzer does it all. Reviewers love it because it has buildable yet undetectable coverage and feels light and airy on the skin. Reviewers with dryer skin types say that it doesn't stick to dry patches, while others say that it doesn't break them out.
Pros: Makeup artist-approved; Good shade range; Creamy texture; Good for dry skin; Won't break you out.
Cons: Pot is larger, so it's not great for travel.
Customer Review: "I’m not typically a bronzer girl because I am super pasty and generally they look very unnatural on me, but this Pacifica bronzer is awesome! Not too heavy and not too dark. I use it in place of blush and it creates a really pretty sun kissed look. I will totally be keeping this in my rotation of much loved Pacifica cosmetics." — Target
Best Celebrity Makeup-Artist Approved Powder Bronzer
“I prefer my bronzers to not have shimmer," says makeup artist Jenna Kristina. "This is a powder bronzer that is so finely milled it actually goes on looking like cream." This under-$10 option from Maybelline is available in three shades and has over two thousand five-star reviews on Amazon, proving just how popular it is across the internet. As one glowing reviewer put it: “I have trouble finding a bronzer that is light enough for my fair skin. This is perfect. It goes on like silk and though it's a soft scent it smells so good.”
Pros: Makeup artist approved; Finely-milled design; Good for fair skin; Comes in three shades.
Cons: Some reviewers said the payoff wasn't very strong.
Customer Review: "I love the application from this bronzer. It glides on smooth. It's pigmented and easy to work with. The 300 shade is beautiful. The scent from the powder is nice but not overpowering. Good value and affordable especially around these times when make up isn't a priority in anyone's budget." — Amazon
Best Liquid Drugstore Bronzer
"This best-selling liquid bronzer is already adored by more than 16,000 five-star Amazon reviewers, and I've been a longtime fan of it, too. I use it under makeup when my skin is feeling extra dull or in the place of foundation on my work-from-home days. The pearlescent finish doesn't look glittery on the skin. Instead, your skin tone is left looking even all-over and naturally enhanced with a lit-from-within glow. I've also found that it's great to keep in my makeup bag at the office. I just apply a thin layer on my fingers and press it into my end-of-day makeup look for an instant boost." — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Pros: Top-rated; Editor-approved; Has a lightweight texture; Has a multi-use formula; Good for application all over the face.
Cons: Some reviewers found the payoff to be too sheer; Not moisturizing.
Customer Review: "I was nicely surprised with the finish of this! Did not settle in the creases and left a nice sheen, not overly glowing but a natural shine! Feels smooth going on, not heavy." — Amazon
"I’m all about a glow, so it shouldn’t come as a shocker that shimmery bronzers are my personal favorite," says Beauty Editor Samantha Holender. "This powder bronzer from wet n wild has the perfect amount of subtle shimmer running through it. It gives me a subtle shine without feeling too overboard. The shade Sunset Striptease is my personal favorite shade because it has a bronze undertone as opposed to copper, which is ideal for my fair, cool-toned skin,” she says.
Pros: Editor-approved; Has a subtle shimmer; Doesn't skew orange; Comes in two shades; Long-lasting.
Cons: Some reviewers said the color payoff was uneven across shades.
Customer Review: "I'm a HUGE fan of the entire Color Icon line, and this doesn't disappoint. The powder is so silky, it blends like a dream. This color is also dead-on perfect for those on the more light-fair side that are afraid of looking orange or muddy." — Ulta
Best Sheer Drugstore Bronzer
“This stick bronzer feels like nothing on the skin and leaves you looking naturally glowy. I know that it looks dark in the tube, but one swipe on the back of your hand proves that it’s a failsafe pick if you’re new to bronzer. You can shop it in four shades, and it is vegan, paraben-free, and sulphate-free. It was the first cream bronzer I ever bought, and It’s one that I bring on vacation because it’s small enough to fit in my travel bag.” — Julia Marzovilla, E-Commerce Editor
Pros: Sheer, buildable formula; Travel-friendly packaging; Has a a cooling finish on the skin.
Cons: Some reviewers said that the color doesn't last.
Customer Review: "Ladies, this is a holy grail bronzer for fair skin!! The sheer formula is exactly what a pale girl needs to add a hint of warmth to the skin. It looks very, very natural. I recommend to apply by dabbing the product with a brush and then sweeping it across cheeks and forehead to blend. I tried swiping it directly on the skin and blending with a sponge and a brush, but that added way too much color. I still get the cooling water sensation from using the brush which is really lovely! It truly just melts in and becomes one with your skin. It has no glitter or shimmer. I should add that this gives a natural, subtle, no makeup look, so if you're more of a full face of makeup wearer or if you have deeper skin it might not be your thing. I'm buying more colors and the water blushes and highlighters!" — Ulta
Best Highyly-Pigmented Drugstore Bronzer
While technically a blush, this powder from Black Radiance doubles as a great bronzer, too. “Years ago, a makeup artist at New York Fashion Week turned me on to this bronzer and I never looked back," says Beauty Director Deena Campbell. "It was an instant hit. It comes in four super-saturated shades (my favorite shade is Gingersnap) that are guaranteed to work beautifully on all complexions, but especially darker tones.”
Pros: Good for deep and dark skintones; Doubles as a blush; Comes in four shades.
Cons: Some reviewers said the formula hardened after the first use, lowering the color payoff.
Customer Review: "This is the best, long-lasting blush I have ever used. I have found that other blushes seem to evaporate through out the day and especially when I am wearing a mask but this blush sticks with me all day and even under my mask. It is a beautiful, light contouring color as well, if you're not into contour and then blush on top. I seriously might try and just use this and no contour to give a more natural look." — Amazon
"If you’re looking for a bronzer that truly pops, consider this pressed powder option from Colourpop (see what I did there?)," says E-Commerce Writer Gabrielle Ulubay It’s perfect for contouring or for creating extra facial definition, so I love using it on nights out or when I know my photo is going to be taken. It also blends perfectly with other makeup, and the formula is lightweight, so my face never ends up feeling greasy or cake-y—no matter how long I’ve been wearing it."
Pros: Editor-approved; Comes in eight shades; Great for different undertones.
Cons: Some reviewers felt the tone was too orange.
Customer Review: "I’m a natural redhead and needed a bronzer light enough to look natural. Avila Beach is it! Price is right, formula is great. Avila Beach matches my tan lines perfectly so I even used it to hide tan lines for a night out. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!"
Best Viral Cream Bronzer
This longtime-favorite cream bronzer from e.l.f has had a bit of a boost in popularity thanks to TikTok. While some cream formulas tend to have a natural-looking glow to them, this unique cream-to-powder formula—the brand calls it a "putty-to-powder" formula"—dries down matte and won't budge despite hours of wear. Best applied with a brush, the seven shades melt into the skin for a seamless-looking finish. Consider this a beginner-friendly option if you’re new to the world of cream bronzers.
Pros: Comes in seven shades; Blendable formula; Matte finish; Long-lasting; Top-rated; Good for deep skin tones.
Cons: Some reviewers think the pot is too small.
Customer Review: "I bought this item, it came super quick. I've been using it for 5 days and I must say it's pretty freaking great! It gives a beautiful bronze look that can be layered or sheared out more. I also love that it doesn't budge all day!" — Ulta Beauty
Best Soft-Matte Drugstore Bronzer
This matte bronzer from NYX is beloved by Amos because it comes in a few good shades, has great pigment and because "since it has no shimmer you can use to contour, bronze, or even as blush," she says. As the name might suggest, the formula is also vegan and cruelty-free. Plus, it has over 500 five-star reviews on Ulta's site. Users love the fact that it’s a no-fuss product to keep in your makeup bag—it isn't too pigmented, and gives you a fresh-from-vacation glow.
Pros: Makeup artist-approved; Top-rated; Blendable; Easy to work with; Beginner-friendly; Good amount of pigment; Good for fair skin.
Cons: Some reviewers found it to be too orange on their skin.
Customer Review: "This is my new favorite cheap bronzer. I have the shade "light". It blends BEAUTIFULLY and works super good on my very LIGHT SKIN! I recommend!!!" — Ulta
Best Long-Lasting Drugstore Bronzer
Need a bronzer that’s going to last (and last?) this powder one from L’Oreal should be your go-to. It promises a whopping 24-hour wear, which means that it won’t move or fade on your longest days (please don’t keep your makeup on for 24 hours straight!) You can shop it in eight colors, and it promises a soft-matte finish, which means that it will look like your skin but smoother. Reviewers say the colors aren’t orange-leaning, either and has a buildable color payoff.
Pros: Long-lasting color; Blendable formula; Won't make you look orange; Silky texture.
Cons: Has a scent.
Customer Review: "This might be one of the best powder bronzers I have ever used and I have used a ton ranging from drugstore up to the most luxury out there. I will confidently say that it is superior to so many high end and luxury bronzers. The colors are not orange leaning, the wear time is great and the price and availability is incredible. The texture is not like many others out there. If silk were a powder this would be it. So good!!!!" — Ulta
Meet the Experts
LA-based makeup artists, Jenna Kristina is known for amplifying her clients’ natural beauty with a fresh-faced glow and effortless cool. Jenna has been credited with several of Hollywood’s most viral looks over her career. Her celebrity clientele includes It girls, such as Megan Fox, Zoey Deutch, Christian Serratos, Eiza Gonzalez, Lucy Hale, Lily James and more. She has worked with photographers Mathieu Cesar, We are from LA, Adam Franzino, Thomas Prior, Steven Klein, Elias Tahan, Vijat M, Jora Frantzis, Magdalena Wosinska, and many more, while her work has appeared in publications such as Glamour, W Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Vogue Paris, V Magazine, Numero, W, GQ UK, Marie Claire, Madame Figaro, and InStyle.
Jenna is a Brand Ambassador for Maybelline New York, and often collaborates with brands such as ULTA Beauty, Chanel Beauty, Lashify, Buxom, True Botanicals, Dior Beauty and more, for red carpet sponsorships, shoots, branded content and beyond.
Nicole Bueno is a New York-based makeup artist. Influenced by fashion, art, and culture- she has honed her craft by mastering color theory, shade, and light. Bueno’s natural ability to see the beauty in people is the secret to the magic of her work. She also knows details are crucial, therefore she makes sure clients look immaculate from virtually any angle. Her artistry always celebrates everyone who sits in her chair – letting the muse’s facial features and aura guide every stroke of her brush.
Celebrity makeup artist Amber Amos began her career assisting on editorial photoshoots for top publications such as Seventeen, Redbook, Essence, Self, and Shape magazine. While assisting top artists in the fashion and beauty industry, Amber developed a love and appreciation for flawless skin and effortless beauty.
Since embarking on her journey as freelance makeup artist, Amber’s work has been featured by countless online publications including Vogue, Teen Vogue, V Magazine, WWD, and GQ, as well as contributing to articles for Allure, Forbes, Bustle, Ebony, and Elite Daily. Amber has worked with the likes of Lil Nas X, Slick Woods, Travis Scott, Law Roach, Daniel Kaluuya, Ryan Jamaal Swain, and Richard Ellis to name a few.