A Makeup Artist Taught Me How To Bronze Properly — & It Changed My Face

·7-min read

There are some things I freely admit I do wrong, like putting plates on the top rack of the dishwasher or drinking wine with ice. But when it comes to makeup, I like to think I know a thing or two. It is pretty much my job, after all. But another part of my job is snaring access to the professionals — the ones who really know what they’re doing, having spent years amassing impressive beauty qualifications and earning a long list of high-profile clients to vouch for them.

Recently I managed to steal some time with Sir John, a celebrity makeup artist whose little black book is filled to bursting with names such as Zendaya and Beyoncé. During an hour in his company, Sir John let me in on one of the buzziest beauty trends for the summer — ‘dopamine glam’ — but he also hinted that I (and the roomful of beauty editors in my company) had been applying bronzer incorrectly. None of us wanted to confess to it but it seems we’re not the only ones. ‘Why does my bronzer go patchy/look muddy/appear orange/disappear?’ are all commonly googled questions.

If you have a TikTok account you might’ve noticed that bronzer is slowly but surely taking over from our blush obsession, with products like NARS Bronzing Cream, £32.50, Charlotte Tilbury Beautiful Skin Sun-Kissed Glow Bronzer, £42, and Dior Backstage Face & Body Powder-No-Powder, £29.50, all having gone viral recently. It makes sense. Thanks to the heatwave we’ve just experienced, heavy foundation is less popular — but a light dusting of bronzer? It can enhance a summer tan and blanket blemishes easily without feeling weighty.

So you’ve got the perfect product but according to Sir John it’s more about the application technique. Luckily, in that hour, he dropped some genius bronzing tips and I can safely say that what I learned changed the way my makeup looks for the better.

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Get your bronzing brush right

“Anything which has bristles that are too short is not good for applying bronzer,” said Sir John, who believes denser brushes will only create obvious stripes on the skin. The vibe he goes for on his celebrity clients is more diffused, seamless bronzer that looks so natural, it’s virtually undetectable. To achieve this, he opts for a brush with long, loose bristles, like the By Joy Adenuga Large Powder Brush, £22, or the Nanshy Powder Brush, £11.95. “Make sure bristles are about an inch and a half long,” he told me. The result is much more convincing, especially on my cheeks which appeared streaky and loaded with makeup before I discovered this tip.

The key to bronzer that isn’t stripy is constantly moving your brush around as soon as it hits your face, said Sir John, whether you prefer to blend in circular motions or up and down. Also be sure to check your distance. Holding the brush too close to the skin risks applying too much bronzer. Instead, Sir John suggested very lightly dusting your skin with the bristles so as not to go overboard on colour. You can always build it up if you feel you need more. “The closer you are, the more aggressive the colour,” he explained.

Always tap off the excess if you’re using powder

One thing every makeup artist does when using powder makeup — whether bronzer, blush or eyeshadow — is tap the excess product off the brush and Sir John is no exception. Going straight in with a brush loaded with something like bronzer could make your skin appear uneven in certain places, especially if you haven’t blended well enough overall. Sure, it might seem like a waste but giving your brush even the tiniest tap ensures a more flawless finish.

Start at the perimeter of your face, not the centre

“Always start by getting colour around the sides of the face and the hairline,” said Sir John, who starts at the perimeter and works his way inwards. “Never start on the centre of the face.” Guilty! It makes sense to begin here and head to your cheeks because, if you think about it, these areas tend to catch the sun first so your bronzer will look a lot more believable.

Sir John also advised not applying anything shimmery past your pupil. “The makeup should be very soft here,” he said. “This is where I stop my sculpting when applying bronzer to the cheeks.” Since avoiding shimmer bronzer in this area, my makeup looks fresher for longer. Why? Inevitable face grease + shimmer from makeup = unintended shine.

Choose a bronzer with an olive undertone

Sir John recommended investing in a bronzer with an olive (rather than orange) undertone. “Olive tones look more believable,” he said, adding that orange tones have a tendency to look much too warm. Sir John loves the affordable L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer, £12.99. R29 also rates VIEVE Modern Bronzer, £31, and Bobbi Brown Bronzing Powder, £35.

Apply cream bronzer to the back of your hand first

Cream makeup is having a moment and bronzer in particular is trending big time. With a product like this, though, it’s so easy to go extreme. Instead of plunging your makeup brush into the product and applying it directly to your skin, Sir John suggested blending a little on the back of your hand first. Not only will this warm up the product and make it easier to blend on your face but it ensures you won’t apply too much to begin with (and have to start all over again).

R29 loves Rose INC. Solar Infusion Soft-Focus Cream Bronzer, £27. Also try REFY Cream Bronzer, £18, and Sculpted by Aimee Cream Luxe Bronze, £16, all of which lend a matte finish. If you want to add a little glow, Sir John loves to tap highlighter on the tops of cheekbones and down the centre of the nose, avoiding the tip. Try L’Oréal Paris Highlighting Powder Iconic Glow, £8.99.

For longevity, Sir John dusts a touch of powder bronzer over his creamy products. “Duality is the key to durability. Durability makes sure your face really stays on.”

Don’t ditch your summer foundation

A darker foundation or even concealer can be used to bronze your skin if you want to finish off your summer makeup. “Your summer foundation can bronze you in the winter and your winter foundation can work as a highlight in the summer,” said Sir John. Again, it pays to blend a little product on the back of your hand first and then dip in your brush to apply so as not to be stuck with too much on your skin.

Combine bronzer and blush for a believable finish

Bronzer sculpts and warms up the face but it’s nothing without a tap of blush over the top, said Sir John, who likes L’Oréal Paris True Match Blush, £7.99. If you’ve brought your bronzer down to the hollows of your cheeks, concentrate blush much higher up, advised Sir John, to provide a sculpting effect. Also try Pixi Beauty On-The-Glow Blush, £18, Milk Makeup Bionic Blush, £21, or Morphe Blush Balm Soft-Focus Cream Blush, £12.

Don’t forget your eyelids

Forget eyeshadow. Bronzer is multipurpose. “I like to do a touch of bronzer over the eyelid, right into the inner corner, and sculpt upwards towards the brow bone,” said Sir John, using L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer, £12.99, and a small fluffy brush. Try the 217S Blending Brush / MAC x Stranger Things, £22, or the Morphe M433 Pro Firm Blending Fluff Brush, £8.

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