We all know the 1990s are back when it comes to fashion, but what about makeup—and, specifically, bronzer? We asked Christine Cho, an on-air beauty expert (The Marilyn Denis Show, The Morning Show and Breakfast Television) and professional makeup/hair artist based in Toronto, to weigh in on this “burning” question. —Noa Nichol
Hi Christine! Is bronzer still “in”? Why … or why not?
Bronzer is always “in”! The texture, application style, formulas may change with the times, but a healthy bronzed complexion—from subtle to dramatic—is here to stay. The reason bronzer doesn’t go out of style is that there are infinite customizations available for every makeup style and preference. Some may want to look like they perpetually have a post-tropical-vacation-glow; others want to define and enhance their natural bone structure; while others may want to deepen their complexion but have challenges tanning or want to avoid actual sun exposure. Bronzer can be used for contouring/face sculpting or for overall sun-kissed glow. Sometimes bronzer is nearly invisible in a subtle no makeup look; sometimes bronzer can cut glass via über contoured cheekbones.
In the same vein, how has it changed since, say, the 1990s?
The formulas of most bronzers have changed drastically from the 1990s. Not only have formulations improved scientifically, but bronzing products are offered for ALL skin tones and in a wide array of textures and forms. Bronzers can come in liquid, cream, and powder form; they can be applied by stick, dropper, or compact using makeup brushes, sponges, or fingers. Technically speaking, any complexion product can be used as bronzer (i.e., a foundation or concealer that is two to three shades darker than your natural skin tone). Finishes can vary from completely matte (this mimics realistic shadows best; often used by makeup artists to create dimension and play with lighting/facial structure) to shimmery, dewy, glossy and even glittery/sparkly. Powders are more finely milled; creams are highly pigmented; liquids have skin loving ingredients added in, etc. There is a type of bronzer or bronzing technique for every skin type—even very dry or acneic/textured skin—whereas, in the past, traditional bronzer wasn’t usually flattering for skin types other than normal/combo.
For those who want to wear bronzer, what are your top tips around application?
I always ask my clients to have a “makeup goal” in mind before starting their application with any product. What is the end goal? Do you want contoured cheekbones with realistic definition? Do you covet a naturally sun-kissed glow all over? Do you want healthy luminous glowing cheeks? Once you have determined your goal, smile. I promise—looking in the mirror with love for yourself while you apply makeup changes EVERYTHING. Plus, smiling also helps you find that sweet spot for your cheekbones. If using a traditional makeup brush with a darker powder, cup the cheek while smiling from just under apples right into the hairline above the ear using light, long strokes. Be confident and light-handed. You can always add more, but it’s challenging to correct bronzing errors. If using a cream or liquid, and blending with fingers, dot or dash some product under cheekbones up in diagonal line from cheek to top of ear and dab/tap lightly over and over until you get your desired blended effect. Layer to your hearts desire.
Any pro dos and don’ts?
Add some bronzer to the top of your forehead and sides of nose, chin etc., where sun would naturally hit, for an overall bronzed look and seamless natural effect. Bonus pro tip: add some to the apples of your cheeks and blend with blush (or not) to achieve a healthy looking complexion. For darker skin tones, I like to ensure there is ample “red” toned pigment in the product; and avoid powders with talc or other products that cast a chalky or grey effect. Don’t forget to BLEND. Let me say that again for the people in the back: BLEND. Whether you’re rocking Cher-level contoured cheeks or you’re faking that you’re well rested and tanned after a tropical vacay, don’t leave bronzer too choppy—it doesn’t photograph well and it doesn’t look believable or flattering in real life either. I would also keep in mind various textures and finishes depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing. My bronzer for work or everyday life may differ from what I would use for a night out or party (matte, subtle for daytime and a bit of shimmer and more glow/drama for night, for example).
Is bronzer just for the face, or body, too?
Bronzer is mostly for the face, but there are amazing body products for sunless tanning and complexion evening. Typically I would save bronzer for the face due to potential transferring issues onto clothes or furniture (or other people). You can subtly add a hint of long-wear bronzer to tops of shoulders and chest, neck, collarbone to even out skin tone as our face and body tend to be slightly different tones, but if you do so, spray a locking makeup spray on top to avoid transfer. Makeup artist full disclosure: I have used bronzer to enhance male models’ abs/female clients’ cleavage!
Is it just for summer, or do we get the green light to wear it in fall/winter and beyond?
Interestingly, while many associate bronzer with summer, I think bronzer is even more relevant during winter months, at least for North Americans and others who endure cold/sun-deprived winters. I think the idea is to just adjust the amount, technique and type of bronzer used during summer versus other months. I love layering some skin-loving dewy finish bronzing products in the winter to a) live in summer all year long b) condition my skin for extra hydration and glow. During hot summertime, when my skin has a natural dew (aka sweat), I use more powders and keep my T-zone and other hot spots semi-matte.
What are some of your top bronzer product picks?
Powder: Benefit Hoola Bronzer is a pro makeup artist OG, and now it comes in different tones and finishes for all. It comes with a travel brush so you can contour on the go / in a pinch, but I’d recommend a small blush or contour brush (angled or tapered) to apply.
Cream: Nudestix Nudies Bronze is a fool-proof chunky stick that anyone can use. It comes with a blending brush on one end that works well, but I love blending cream bronzers with my fingers or a chubby round foundation brush.
Liquid: Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Contour Wand comes in fair/medium or medium/dark and is heavily pigmented and has supermodel cheekbone effect in truth (when applied and blended properly of course). A little goes a long way, and pro tip: if you mess up, add a tiny bit of foundation on top to blur/blend.
Shimmery: This bronzer from Fenty Beauty is for when you’re not afraid to glow (read: get that multi-dimensional radiance on face or body). It’s great to swirl and dust all over or for targeted light-loving effect.
Christine Cho is an on-air beauty expert and professional makeup/hair artist based in Toronto. She appears regularly on national talk shows, including The Marilyn Denis Show, The Morning Show, and Breakfast Television. Her clientele spans celebrities to executives, as she provides on location services including makeup application, hairstyling, skincare and all beauty education. Christine consults for international beauty brands and contributes to print and online publications. She currently resides in Barbados with husband and daughter, while continuing to broadcast both virtually and in person.