How To Pull Off A Tan Look Convincingly?


Bronzer is an excellent idea. My vision of makeup heaven is a swoosh of sunlight to brighten up a dull complexion, but it never seems to last. Bronzer often appears blocky, stark, and much too earthy to be genuine. The thing is, as a pale Celt who is cruelly allergic to several self-tan brands, suntanned is rarely a natural-looking state, and even the most nebulous attempts to imitate Gisele end in Oompa Loompa before I realise I’ve gone too far, once again. How do you get the “je ne sais quoi” healthy glow when your skin tone is ghostly, and can you avoid brown powder entirely while still looking summery? In my search for a subtle sun fakery, I put my burning bronzer conundrums to a few makeup greats, and this is what I learned…

How to get a Tan look?

Base Instincts

Stick to your gut instincts as a guideline. If it’s too dark to begin with, leave it alone; don’t change your foundation to achieve a tanned look. SJ Froom, an international makeup artist for bare Minerals, suggests starting with a natural look:

“The best way to achieve a convincing bronze is to start with a flawless base that matches your skin tone and then apply colour and warm highlights to the high points of your face. It’s tempting to use a foundation that’s many shades darker than your skin tone, but because naturally bronzed skin has depth, a blanket of a darker colour is unflattering. To begin, go for something soft and subtle; you can always add more bronze later.”

If you want to slightly warm up your foundation, go for it, but concentrate on personalization rather than a generic glow. Instead of a block-color bronze, Benefit Cosmetics’ head makeup artist Lisa Potter-Dixon recommends a drip-feed:

If you’re fair-skinned, bronzer can be “too much” or “off-color.” On a fair skin, the foundation is the secret to achieving a bronzed glow. Mix a drop of liquid bronzer into your regular foundation to warm it up without adding too much pigment. Benefit Dew the Hoola (£24.50) and Nars Laguna Liquid Bronzer (£27) are two of my favourites for this look. Use a damp makeup blender to mix a quarter liquid bronzer to three quarters foundation into your skin and down your body. This should ensure a level foundation, but for the best result, function in natural light.”

Lighten up

As SJ points out, this applies not only to colour but also to texture:

“Finely milled pressed or loose powders can help you build up believable colour over time. Applying a bronzer with a tapered fluffy brush to the natural contours of the face in fine layers, such as bareMinerals Invisible Bronze Powder Bronzer in Fair to Light, £25, will enable you to add colour to the natural contours of the face.”

To avoid the dreaded orange effect, SJ recommends choosing items with cool undertones rather than warm undertones. Apply bronzer over a thin dusting of translucent powder if you want to disperse colour from the beginning.

Apply strategically

As Lisa explains, where you put it matters a lot when it comes to avoiding mud face.

“To sculpt the face, use a bronzer made for fairer skin (my personal favourite is Profit Hoola Lite, £24.50).” Don’t go overboard and slap this on your face in some old way just because it’s lighter in tone. For a smooth, extremely subtle contour, apply it in a ‘figure of three’ motion on both sides of the face, going from temple to jawline and down the neck.”

SJ recommends keeping things easy if you want to stop contouring and just want to look like you’ve been beached in a healthy way:

“Sun-stripping” is when you softly sweep bronzer over your nose and chin, up into your ears. A swoosh of colour over the t-zone (forehead and down the bridge of your nose) gives you a bronzed boost with this technique, since this is where the sun will actually touch your face first. See J-Lo (always) for inspiration: instead of a conventional highlight or contour, she always wears bronze down the centre of her nose. J-skin Lo’s tone is obviously Latin, so the pale should proceed with caution—too much product would appear artificial at best, and a mistake at worst. For a natural finish and brightening effect, combine a light bronzer with blusher on the apples of the cheeks.”

Blend properly

This should go without saying, but according to SJ, the right tools and a little restraint go a long way:

“When applying bronzer, don’t use thick, contouring brushes. Use fluffier brushes to apply colour uniformly in gentle sweeps over the cheekbones, forehead, and nose, then blend thoroughly. The trick with seamless bronzer is to blend until you think you’ve blended enough, then blend some more, just as you would with perfect eye makeup. Heavy lines around or under the cheekbones, a white “swan” jaw, and light skin peeking through the hairline are all telltale signs of a badly blended bronzer.”

And while we’re on the subject of fake-glow freebies…

“When bronzing your face, don’t forget to bronze your neck and decolleté as well—many people overlook this place, and their face ends up looking completely different from the rest of their body. We’ve all been in that situation. Check for any missing spots in different lighting and, if possible, go back in with a clean brush to spread the colour more evenly.”


If all of the above is too much work for you, make a break for it and get the sunshine in somewhere else, as Lisa suggests:

“If you don’t want to use bronzer at all but still want to look sun-kissed, a rose gold shimmer on the eye is a good option. This will instantly warm up your entire appearance while also brightening your skin, similar to a tan. Stila Magnificent Metals in Rose Gold Retro, £23,” I love to make a bronze eye.

stila-rose-gold.jpg is a high-resolution photograph of Stila Rose Gold.

SJ also employs a few deceptive tanning techniques to achieve a luminous glow without overdoing it:

“A healthy glow doesn’t have to be all about a bronzed complexion, particularly for those with fair skin. Draping (creating form and definition) with a warm-toned blusher and peachy-toned highlights on the cheekbones can be just as flattering. Also, bronzer can be used on the eyes instead of the cheeks for a natural-looking sunkissed look.”

Do you have an irrational fear of flying? Lisa has some ideas for you this summer…

“Experiment with drawing on a few artificial freckles if you don’t already have them.” That’s not a joke. To make the freckles around the nose and the tops of the cheeks, use the end of a kirby grip dipped in a light brown shadow or bronzer. You’ll have a dewy complexion and appear to have spent the whole day in the sun.”

Finish with a sprinkling of finishing powder—melting freckles might be much scarier than stripy bronzer come sunset…



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