Nothing against our beloved mascara or concealer, but if we were forced to choose just one makeup product that delivered the most transformative effects, it would very likely be bronzer. Just a quick dusting can take your skin from sunken and sallow to bright and healthy-it's that easy. You basically get to look the way you do after a day in the sun, without the sun damage.
That being said, not all bronzer is created equal. Bronzer gone bad can be really bad. Orange, streaky, unnatural...we've all seen it. The key is to choose a shade that looks like a deeper shade of your own skin tone; it should read as neutral, rather than orange. Application is also key to ending up with the most natural-looking end result. One, make sure your skin is totally dry, and that it's not still tacky from any foundation or concealer. (Applying powder bronzer onto damp skin is a recipe for streaks.) And two, focus on lightly dusting it just where the sun would naturally hit your face, think the bridge of the nose, forehead, cheekbones, and jawline.
Ready to look like you just got back from the islands? Check out 10 of our favorite bronzers for the most believable glow.
Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk'r Instant Warmth Bronzer
Rihanna's beauty line prioritizes skin tone inclusivity and all of the products come in a wide range of shades, this bronzer included. There are nine hues with varied undertones to choose from, including some hard-to-find dark tones for deep complexions. The formula is silky smooth and matte (great for those who don't love sparkle), yet never flat or chalky. It's also long-wearing and transfer-resistant, a major plus on hot and humid summer days.
Tower 28 Beauty Bronzino Illuminating Cream Bronzer
Cream bronzers are ideal for anyone who loves a dewy, super fresh complexion, and this is one of our all-time favorites. Per the creamy part, it's packed with good-for-your skin hydrating ingredients-think mango butter, jojoba, and shea butter-all of which give it the lusciously rich texture that sinks beautifully into skin. The shade lineup was recently expanded from two to five colors, all believable tones that have the perfect amount of shimmer, can be easily layered for more impact, and also work beautifully dabbed on lids in place of eyeshadow.
Maybelline Face Studio City Bronzer
Once upon a time, not so long ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find a natural-looking bronzer in the drugstore. Happily, that's no longer the case and this pick is proof positive. It's made with whipped cocoa butter to keep the powder surprisingly hydrating, and while it only comes in three shades, they're all so natural and versatile that they can easily double as a contour color. The wallet-friendly price is noteworthy alone, but even more so when you consider that one compact lasts forever.
Nars Bronzing Powder
This bronzer checks all of our must-have boxes. Silky and blendable? Check. Buildable color? Yep. A perfect amount of shimmer that comes across as luminous, but never garish? You bet. You really can't go wrong with any of the four shades, which somehow work great on a range of skin tones, but the Laguna is a true fan favorite.
Kosas The Sun Show
One of the best clean bronzers we've ever come across, this pick is silicone- and talc-free, instead loaded with hydrating shea butter and meadowfoam seed oil that make it feel almost like a cream going on. We also love the radiant finish that's not sparkly, or even shimmery, but rather just glowy and fresh, giving skin that coveted, lit-from-within look.
Charlotte Tilbury FilmStar Bronze & Glow Contour Duo
Yes, this pick is on the pricier side, but you're getting two products in one, both of which can be used any which way. The compact houses both a contouring/bronzing tone and a lighter highlighter shade, both perfectly coordinated. They can be used individually or even swirled together, but either way add the perfect amount of color and glow to your skin.
L'Oréal Paris True Match Lumi Bronze It Bronzer
Another great example of a standout drugstore pick, this formula imparts multi-dimensional color, key for creating a believable glow that never looks flat (or like clown makeup). It's easily buildable and layerable depending on how much pigment you want, and while there are only three shades to choose from, they do work well on a variety of complexions.
Urban Decay Beached Bronzer
This aptly-named pick does in fact give you that 'just back from a day at the beach' glow. Finely-milled and super soft, it melts into and blends into skin, without ever settling into any fine lines or textural imperfections (always a potential powder pitfall). It also touts a unique technology that ensures the pigments, AKA the color, doesn't streak, lasts super long, and always stays consistent.
Guerlain Terracotta Sunkissed Natural Bronzer Powder
This bronzer first launched in 1984, one of the very first bronzing powders-ever. But despite the fact that it's been around for over three decades, countless units are still sold every day, the very definition of a cult classic. And it recently got an upgrade, now made with 96 percent naturally-derived ingredients, though still boasting the beautifully bronze color (in six shades, all with a natural finish) with a transfer-resistant formula.
Physicians Formula Butter Bronzer
Yes, this is technically a powder, but it's so creamy that you can actually work it into skin with your fingertips. (You can also use the included sponge applicator.) Credit the star ingredient, deeply moisturizing murumuru butter from the Amazon. Still, it's oil-free and hypoallergenic, a boon for anyone with breakout-prone or sensitive skin. Pearl and soft-focus pigments give it a beautiful luminescence, and it also comes in six colors, impressive for a drugstore bronzer.