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’s pretty much my job after all. But another part of my job is to capture access to the professionals – those who really know what they’re doing, having spent years amassing impressive beauty credentials 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 full of names like Zendaya and Beyoncé. During an hour in his company, Sir John let me in on one of the hottest beauty trends of the summer – ‘dopamine glam’ – but he also suggested that I (and the many beauty editors at my firm) had been using bronzer incorrectly. . None of us wanted to admit it, but it seems we’re not the only ones. ‘Why does my bronzer smudge/look cakey/look orange/disappear?’ are all frequently Googled questions.
If you have a TikTok account, you may have 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, have all gone viral recently. It makes sense. Thanks to the heatwave we’ve just experienced, heavy foundation is less popular – but a light touch of bronzer? It can enhance a summer tan and light carpet stains without feeling heavy.
So you have the perfect product, but according to Sir John, it’s more about the application technique. Luckily, during that class he dropped some brilliant tips on bronzing and I can safely say that what I learned changed the way my makeup looks for the better.
Get the right bronzing brush
“Anything that has bristles that are too short is not good for applying bronzer,” said Sir John, who believes denser bristles will only create obvious streaks on the skin. The vibe he goes for on his celebrity clients is more of a diffused, seamless bronzer that looks so natural it’s almost undetectable. To achieve this, he chooses 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 much more convincing, especially on my cheeks which seemed streaky and full of makeup before I discovered this tip.
The key to non-streaky bronzer is to constantly move 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. If you hold the brush too close to the skin, you risk using too much bronzer. Instead, Sir John suggested drying your skin very lightly with the bristles so as not to go overboard with the color. You can always build it up if you feel you need more. “The closer you are, the more aggressive the color,” he explained.
Always tap off the excess if you use powder
One thing every make-up artist does when applying powder make-up – whether it’s 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 can make the skin look 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 slightest pressure ensures a more flawless finish.
Start at the perimeter of your face, not the center
“Always start by getting color around the sides of the face and hairline,” said Sir John, who starts at the perimeter and works his way inwards. “Never start at the center of the face.” Guilty! It makes sense to start here and work your way to the cheeks, because if you think about it, those areas tend to catch the sun first, so your bronzer will look much more believable.
Sir John also recommended not putting anything shiny past your 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 avoid shimmer bronzer in this area, my makeup looks fresher for longer. Why? Inevitable facial oil + shimmer from makeup = 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 said, adding that orange tones tend to look overly warm. Sir John loves the affordable L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer, £12.99. R29 also provides VIEVE Modern Bronzer, £31, and Bobbi Brown Bronzing Powder, £35.
Apply cream bronzer to the back of the hand first
Creamy makeup is having a moment, and bronzer in particular is at its peak. However, with a product like this, it’s so easy to go extreme. Rather than dipping your make-up 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 onto your face, but it ensures that you don’t use too much to begin with (and have to start over).
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, which all give a matte finish. If you want to add a bit of glow, Sir John loves to dab highlighter on the top of the cheekbones and down the middle 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 throw away 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 look. “Your summer foundation can bronze you in the winter and your winter foundation can act as a highlight in the summer,” said Sir John. Again, it pays to mix some product on the back of your hand first and then dip into the brush to apply so you don’t get stuck with too much on 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 over the top, said Sir John, who likes L’Oréal Paris True Match Blush, £7.99. If you’ve brought the bronzer down to the hollows of your cheeks, concentrate the blush much higher up, advised Sir John, to give a sculptural 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 multi-purpose. “I like to take a dab of bronzer across the lid, right into the inner corner, and contour upwards towards the browbone,” said Sir John, using L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Longwear Soft Matte Bronzer, £12.99, and a small airy 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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