By the time winter reaches its peak, "sun-kissed" skin is nowhere to be found. Cold weather has a tendency to leave your complexion dry and dull, so if you're looking to recreate that summer glow—sans sun—cream bronzers are the way to go. Not only are these formulas more versatile than their powdery counterparts, but they give you a lit-from-within luminosity that looks naturally radiant—even when your skin feels anything but.
Benefits of cream bronzers
One of the best things about cream bronzers is that their formulas are buildable, which makes it easy to get a natural-looking finish. "Using a cream bronzer will give a much more realistic skin-like finish, as opposed to a powder," says makeup artist Neil Scibelli. "Cream formulas typically bind to the skin much easier and smoother because they're much more emollient, giving a 'from within' glow."
Plus, they tend to include ingredients that are good for your skin. "You can put more skin-care benefits in a cream bronzer," says celebrity makeup artist Mary Irwin. Many formulas are made with natural butters and oils, which help them go on smoothly while nourishing your skin in the process.
Cream bronzers also work well with dry and dehydrated skin types. "Powder bronzers can tend to grab on to dryer areas of the face, resulting in a blotchy look," says Victoria Stiles, a celebrity makeup artist and Creative Director at ShikSona Beauty. "For a soft luminous sun-kissed glow, cream bronzers are perfect as they glide seamlessly on to skin and can be used alone as a natural flushed look, under foundation for an inner glow, or on top as highlight, contour or general blushed tan look," she says
Best cream bronzers
Irwin is a huge fan of this “illuminating” bronzer, which comes in five slightly-shimmery shades. Formulated with green tea extract (a natural antioxidant that helps calm down redness and inflammation), and mango butter (for extra moisture), it’s also vegan and silicone-free.
“I’m still a fan of one of the staples in the cream bronzer category: Milk Makeup’s Matte Cream Bronzer stick,” says Scibelli. “This is a great option for all skin types, whether you want a natural glow or even a buildable tan. You can also use these bronzing sticks as a contour around the cheeks and the jawline. They’ve got a clean formula, and are made with nourishing with mango butter and avocado oil.”
“This is my favorite product to warm up the face and cream contour,” says makeup artist Cara Lovello. “It’s lightweight and super bendable.”
Kosa’s “Color and Light” duos come with a complimentary set of dark and light shades, meant to be used together for the ultimate highlighter/bronzer pairing. I personally use the Tropic Equinox set (pictured above) to warm up my cheeks.
“I love using these foundation sticks as cream bronzers because you can tailor the shade specifically to suit your skin tone,” says Hurkman. With 30 buildable shades to choose from, there’s something for every complexion—you can even invest in two different colors and use one as a foundation and another as a bronzer. Plus, the matte finish and stick format mean these babies can easily work double-time for bronzing and contouring.
“I love the Fenty cream bronzers because they go on silky smooth and are extremely buildable, without getting oily throughout the day,” says Scibelli. “The range of shades really offers a perfect bronzed match.” Fenty Beauty bronzer is also a favorite of Stiles’.
This stack—which includes five different shades—is designed for people with deeper skin tones. You’ll have everything you need for bronzing, contouring, highlighting, and concealing, and each formula is meant to add dimension to your skin without muting richness.
This creamy bronzer (which, by the way, was developed by makeup artists) comes in three shades—all of which are easily buildable and offer a matte finish. “You can just keep layering to build intensity, but on its sheerest swipe it just looks like a little tiny bit of a glow and it’s just gorgeous,” says Irwin.
If you don’t like a super shiny look, Lovello is a fan of this matte bronzing cream. It starts as a cream then blends out into a powder, helping to blur pores while also adding dimension to your face. It comes in both of NARS’ iconic shades—Laguna and Casino—and can be applied just as easily with a brush as with your fingers.
“This is a stick cream bronzer that makes it super easy to draw out your contour spots and easy to blend out with a brush or beauty blender,” says Lovello. Simply swipe the product onto your face, then use the built-in brush to blend for a bronzed look that’s totally natural.
This two-in-one palette includes a highlighter and a bronzer, “which offers a beautiful glow and sculpt to the skin,” says Scibelli. The lighter shade is very sheer, but brings about enough light to brighten and lift, whereas the dark shade can define and contour.
“These are best as a contour cream,” says Hurkman. “They have a cooler undertone so it helps sculpt the skin. This formula blends out like butter—it’s incredible.” Pro tip? A little bit goes a long way, so be sure to apply sparingly to start, and add more if needed.
This lightweight bronzer is perfect for anyone looking for a natural, buildable finish. It’s packed with colloidal oatmeal, grapeseed oil, and elderberry extract, which work together to moisturize the skin and provide antioxidant protection from the elements.
If you have a light-to-medium skin tone, Irwin says this “Healthy Glow” bronzing cream is a great option. The gel-cream formula is made with mineral pigments that blend seamlessly into the skin, and though it’s $50, as Irwin puts it, “It’s massive, and will last you for the rest of your natural life.”
Can’t decide between a cream and a powder? Opt for this duo, which gives you the best of both. The cream is great for sculpting, while the powder—which has a slight shimmer to it—adds a bit of radiance to your complexion.
This weightless cream bronzer adds warmth to your complexion, and because there’s no sparkle or shimmer, it’s great for creating definition around your cheek and brow bones. Plus, it’s got a flexible hold that ensures it stays in place all day long. It comes in three different shades.
Irwin is a fan of this primer/balm hybrid. You can use it under your foundation to give your skin some all-over bronzed luminosity, or you can apply it to the high points of your face the way you would a traditional bronzer. “The bronze is just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” she says. “It’s stupid how pretty it is.”
Apply three dots of this liquid bronzer to your cheekbones (the cushioned tip makes this part a breeze), and prepare to be amazed at the glorious radiance it leaves behind after it’s blended in. It’s sparkly enough that you won’t want to use a highlighter on top of it, but not so much so that you’ll feel like you’re walking around with glitter all over your face.
How to choose a cream bronzer
When choosing a cream formula, you'll first want to take your skin type into consideration. "If you're on the normal to dry side, I would suggest looking for a formula with humectants, which are hydrating ingredients that will nourish your skin," he says. "If you're on the oily side, steering away from a shimmery bronzer would probably be best. Instead, look for something a little bit more on the matte or velvety side."
As far as shades go, "the general rule is to go about two to three shades darker than your foundation color," says makeup artist Melissa Hurkman.
How to apply cream bronzer
Unlike powders, which can really only be applied with a brush, there are about infinity different ways you can use cream bronzers. "There are a ton of different application techniques," says Irwin. "You can put cream bronzer on with a brush, with a sponge, with your fingers, or by warming it up in your hands and pressing it into your skin."
As far as where to put it, think about applying it in all the places that sunlight naturally touches your skin—namely your nose, cheeks, chin, and forehead. Pros suggest creating a "C" shape that extends from your temple down along your cheekbones, then adding a little bit of product to your nose, forehead, and chin to tie the look together. Most formulas can also double as an eye shadow and contour, which means investing in a single cream bronzer will give you three products for the price of one.
Once you've applied bronzer to your face, Scibelli says to make sure you also blend it down onto your neck. "We don't want the face to look like a totally different color than the neck, so blending is key," he says. This way, you'll have an all-over glow all winter long.
Excited by cream bronzers? You'll probably also love cream blushes:
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