The thing with bronzer is that when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. But when it goes right, you look healthy and sun-kissed—like you just spent a short weekend outside. That's exactly why you shouldn't count it out, even if it can be a serious pain to work with. Here, learn what mistakes might be giving away your glow—and exactly how to fix them.
The Mistake: You Bought a Shade That Just Looks...Bronze
Although some bronzers might be touted as one-size-fits-all, that's not usually the case. "Bronzer shades should be categorized according to skin tone," says makeup artist and Make Up For Ever National Educator, Yvonne MacInnis. She recommends swatching your go-to bronzer on your inner arm to make sure it looks like a deeper shade of your own skin tone. It should read more neutral than orange.
The Mistake: Applying Bronzer Everywhere All Over Your Face
The fastest way to apply bronzer is to pick it up with a brush and dust it all over your face. Voilà—instant color, right? If only. "You need to go easy on the parts of your face that don't get a lot of sun, like your lower cheeks or under your eyes," says makeup artist Jenny Patinkin. "Too much product in those areas is a dead giveaway that it's makeup and not an actual tan." Another telltale sign of a bad bronze is sweeping it too close to your ears and hairline, which is especially obvious on blondes. And where not to forget: The sides and back of your neck.
The Mistake: You're Using the Brush That Came With the Bronzer
So, you found the perfect bronzer for you. That's all well and good, but if you're using the wrong brush to apply it—like one that's thick and dense—you can totally sabotage your glow game. "Stiff brushes tend to grab a lot of product from the pan—and then you need a lot of elbow grease to blend it smoothly," says Patinkin. The ideal brush for applying bronzer is one that's fluffy and super-soft, like a blush brush.
The Mistake: You're Using a Powder Bronzer...in the Dead of Summer
This is the time of year we usually break out the bronzer—because even if we're not yet hitting the beach, we want to look like we are. But powder bronzers (which most are) plus sweat and humidity can turn into a muddy mess. "Make sure you choose a sweat-proof or waterproof formula," advises MacInnis. One with a gel base, like Make Up For Ever's Pro BronzeFusion Bronzer ($36, sephora.com), won't melt away throughout the day.
The Mistake: You Apply Bronzer Right After Your Foundation
Who has time to spare on a weekday morning? (No one, that's who.) Still, it's worth waiting a few minutes after applying your complexion products—think foundation, tinted moisturizer, and (duh!) SPF—before brushing on bronzer. "When powder bronzers are applied on damp skin, you can get a streaky result," explains MacInnis. But if you're impatient (or have your A.M. routine down to an art), you can speed up the process by dusting on a touch of translucent powder before applying bronzer.
The Mistake: You Use Your Bronzer to Contour
In a world full of strobing palettes and contour kits, it can be tough to figure out what you really need—and which does what. And, while bronzer might seem like the perfect way to chisel out some bone structure, that's not really its intended purpose—if you want it to look natural, at least. "Bronzer is meant to give you an all-over sun-kissed glow, not to sculpt the cheekbones," says MacInnis. She suggests applying it where the sun hits your face naturally: Across your forehead, on the bridge of the nose and lightly on the cheeks and chin.
This story originally appeared on Teen Vogue.
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