London–based makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury knows a thing or two about achieving the perfect glow, having spent her childhood on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza. Unsurprisingly, her go-to for getting the effortlessly sun-kissed look of her hometown locals: the right bronzer. “With a big natural brush, a well-matched product, and some subtle contouring, you can get a natural, gorgeous glow as if you’ve just returned from a long weekend in Ibiza,” says Tilbury. Because bronzer—though an essential for many of us—is tricky to master, we asked Tilbury to share her basic glow-getting advice, from product selection to application.
According to Tilbury, the most common mistake people make with bronzer is choosing a shade that’s too harsh. “You don’t want to look bright orange!” she warns, noting that the only way to know if a particular product suits you is to try it on. There really aren’t any hard rules in terms of what works for whom. At the makeup counter, they’ll help guide you; if you’re shopping solo, break out the testers. “Choose a warm, golden shade that flatters your skin tone, and to test the color, apply some where the sun would naturally hit your face, like the tops of cheekbones and the nose,” she says. “It should look like an authentic, glowy tan—that healthy, happy, rested glow you have after a week on the beach!” But if it looks like you’re wearing bronzer, try another shade. You’ll know when you’ve found the right one: the results will be subtle, giving you just a touch of that lit-from-within look.
If you plan to contour with bronzer(more on that below), you’ll want one flat, non-shimmery shade for sculpting and one with a bit of sheen or shimmer to highlight.
And what about powders versus creams? “The difference is in the finish,” explains Tilbury. “Powders are great for a natural-looking finish, whereas cream bronzers create a dewy glow.” If your skin tends to get oily throughout the day, Tilbury recommends powder bronzer. To give dry or mature skin a lift, she prefers creamy textures.
Whatever formula or finish you go with, you have a wealth of options for application, from your fingertips to sponges and everything in between. But when it comes to bronzer, Tilbury is partial to soft, natural brushes. “A big, natural bristle bronzing brush is absolutely essential,” she says. If bronzer is part of your everyday routine, you’ll want a brush for the job. A rounded dome brush with really soft, relatively long bristles is ideal—that will allow you to put on more color per swipe without disturbing the foundation underneath. For bronzer, a few of our go-tos are Wayne Goss Brush 11, Chikuhodo GSN Series GSN-3 Cheek, Chikuhodo Z Series Z-8 Cheek, and Chikuhodo Passion Series PS-2.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to do bronzer after your base but before your cheek color or blush. For a super subtle but gorgeous glow, Tilbury suggests sweeping bronzer over the cheekbones, bridge of the nose, and temples—and then leave it at that. She also loves bronzer for a lightly contoured look—what she calls “cheating killer cheekbones”—and she’s quick to add that even beginners shouldn’t be intimidated to try the technique. “A lot of women are afraid of contouring, but it’s actually a really affordable, painless way of giving yourself a quick facelift,” Tilbury says. Her technique: dip your brush into your sculpt shade, suck in your cheeks, and “follow the hollow.” Then dust your highlight shade on the top of the cheekbones, down the nose, and on the cupid’s bow for a candle-lit finishing touch. “It really is as simple as that,” says Tilbury.
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