I admit I get some things 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’s pretty much my job, after all. But another part of my job is sneaking access to the professionals – the ones who do it Yes, really know what they’re doing after spending years earning impressive beauty credentials and garnering a long list of high-profile clients to vouch for them.
I recently managed to steal some time with Sir John, a famous makeup artist whose little black book is crammed with the likes of Zendaya and Beyoncé. During an hour in his company, Sir John told me about one of the hottest beauty trends of the summer—“dopamine glam”—but he also hinted that I (and the many beauty editors at my firm) had misapplied bronzer. Neither of us wanted to admit it, but we don’t seem to be the only ones. “Why is my bronzer getting blotchy/looking muddy/appearing orange/disappearing?” are all common Googled questions.
If you have a TikTok account, you might have noticed that bronzer is slowly but surely giving way to 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, have all gone viral lately. It makes sense. Thanks to the heat wave we’ve just experienced, a heavy foundation is less popular – but a light bronzer? It can enhance a summer tan and easily cover imperfections without feeling heavy.
So you have the perfect product, but according to Sir John, it’s more a matter of application technique. Luckily he dropped some genius bronzing tips in that lesson and I can safely say that what I learned has changed the way my makeup looks for the better.
Get your bronzing brush right
“Anything with bristles that are too short isn’t great for applying bronzer,” says Sir John, who believes denser brushes leave noticeable streaks on skin. The vibe he goes for in his celebrity clients is a more diffuse, seamless bronzer that looks so natural it’s practically unnoticeable. To achieve this, he opts for a brush with long, loose bristles, such as the By Joy Adenuga Large Powder Brush, £22, or the Nanshy Powder Brush, £11.95. “Make sure the bristles are about an inch and a half long,” he told me. The result is far more convincing, especially on my cheeks, which appeared streaky and full of makeup before I discovered this tip.
The key to a non-streaked bronzer is to keep moving the brush once it hits your face, Sir John said, whether you prefer to blend in circular motions or up and down. Also, watch your distance. If you hold the brush too close to the skin, you risk applying too much bronzer. Instead, Sir John suggested dusting your skin very lightly with the bristles so as not to overdo the coloring. You can always build it up if you feel you need more. “The closer you are, the more aggressive the color becomes,” he explained.
Always tap off the excess when using powder
One thing every makeup artist does when using powder makeup—whether it’s a bronzer, blush, or eyeshadow—is tap the excess product off the brush, and Sir John is no exception. Going right in with a brush loaded with something like bronzer can make your skin appear bumpy in certain areas, especially if you haven’t blended well enough overall. Sure, it might seem like a waste, but giving your brush even the tiniest swipe will result in a more flawless finish.
Start at the perimeter of your face, not the middle
“Always start by applying color to the sides of the face and hairline,” says Sir John, starting at the edge and working inwards. “Never start in the middle of the face.” Guilty! It makes sense to start here and go to your cheeks because when you think about it, these areas tend to catch the sun first, making your bronzer look a lot more believable.
Sir John also advised against applying anything shimmery past the pupil. “The makeup should be very soft here,” he said. “This is where I stop sculpting when I apply bronzer to my cheeks.” Since I’ve avoided shimmer bronzer in this area, my makeup looks fresher for longer. Why? Inevitable facial grease + makeup shimmer = unintentional 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 says, adding that orange tones tend to look way too warm. Sir John loves the affordable L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer, £12.99. R29 also reviews 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. However, it’s so easy to go extreme with a product like this. Instead of dipping 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. This not only warms up the product and makes it easier to blend on your face, but also ensures that you don’t overapply in the beginning (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 give a matte finish. If you want to add a little glow, Sir John likes to dab highlighter onto the cheekbones and down the center of the nose, avoiding the tip. Try L’Oréal Paris Highlighting Powder Iconic Glow, £8.99.
For longevity, Sir John dusts a touch of bronzer over his creamy products. “Duality is the key to longevity. The durability ensures your face really stays on.”
Don’t skimp on your summer foundation
A darker foundation or even a concealer can be used to tan your skin if you want to finish off your summer makeup. “Your summer foundation can tan you in the winter and your winter foundation can work as a highlight in the summer,” Sir John said. Here, too, it is worth first blending a little product on the back of your hand and then dipping it into the brush to apply it, so that not too much sticks to the skin.
Combine bronzer and blush for a believable finish
Bronzer sculpts and warms the face, but it’s nothing without a touch of blush on top, said Sir John, who likes L’Oréal Paris True Match Blush, £7.99. Once you’ve gotten your bronzer into the hollows of your cheeks, concentrate the blush much higher, Sir John advised, for 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
Forgot eyeshadow. Bronzer is versatile. “I like applying a touch of bronzer to the eyelid, right in the inner corner of the eye and sculpting up towards the brow bone,” said Sir John, the L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer, £12.99 , and a small used 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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