If You’ve Been Sleeping on Bronzer, Let Us Convince You Otherwise with the 12 Best Bronzers of 2020

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)
·14 mins read

You can’t get enough of a great contour stick or highlighter, but have you been sleeping on a good ‘ole bronzer? Heads up: A swipe of this beauty product can help you achieve a nice glowy finish. Whether you’re into matte, cream or powder formulas, a bronzer can give you the warm complexion (aka the sun-kissed look) you’re searching for without the mess. Put away the self-tanner and forget about rushing to get the Golden Hour pic because honey, you ARE the golden hour when a bronzer is involved.

Now, I can advocate for the best bronzers, but it would be a disservice if I didn’t at least try them out, right? The beauty aisle can be...overwhelming, so some fellow makeup mavens and I, Chelsea C., assistant editor at PureWow, did the testing for you. The results are below. But a first: A quick lesson in bronzers.

When to wear it:

While bronzer is the go-to for the warm weather, you can wear the product all year round. Trick people into thinking you went on a vacay in the middle of winter.

Where to wear it:

There are a few places to wear bronzer. The goal is to target areas where the sun would typically shine. The popular spots are usually the cheekbones, temples, forehead and jawline (basically the perimeter of your face). You can even put a hint of the shade on your nose, cupid’s bow and even your lids.

How to apply it:

The most important thing to remember is to start out light and work your way into more coverage. Simply grab a round makeup brush (preferably a bronzing one) and start sweeping the product onto your face. Begin blending the bronzer in small gentle circles (or the ‘3’ technique) on your desired areas for a smooth finish. If you’re working with a cream or gel-based bronzer, you can swap the brush for your finger for a gentle blend.

What’s my perfect shade?:

You're trying to warm your complexion not turn into an orange. When finding the perfect shade, look for a bronzer that’s just one or two shades darker than you. (Please don’t go overboard and turn yourself into a completely different skin tone.) If you have light to medium skin, reach for a taupe or neutral shade with no orange tones but more pink or peachy undertones. If you have medium to dark skin, look for those orange or red undertones in your bronzer and add those tan shades to your makeup bag.

RELATED: The Best Liquid Eyeliner for a Cat Eye, Oily Lids and Everything In-Between

1. Ilia Nightlite Bronzing Powder

Best Overall

  • Value: 19/20

  • Functionality: 19/20

  • Quality: 20/20

  • Aesthetics: 20/20

  • Glow Factor: 19/20

  • TOTAL: 97/100

I don’t want to be dramatic, but I might’ve found my new fave bronzer. When I first swatched the shade, I realized a little would go a long way in achieving the look that I wanted (so FYI if you’re aiming for a subtle look, this might not be the powder for you). One swipe on my cheek and I couldn't miss the glow even if I tried—the pigment is nothing to play around with (so you might want to skip the contouring). I was able to blend it out using both a brush and my finger so that it didn’t look too dramatic. Plus, the packaging is very minimal which I love, and you simply can’t go wrong with a built-in mirror to take the bronzer on-the-go.

Buy It ($34)

2.Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer

Best Matte

  • Value: 16/20

  • Functionality: 18/20

  • Quality: 18/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Glow Factor: 19/20

  • TOTAL: 89/100

If you’re looking for a long-lasting matte finish, this bronzer can get the job done—thanks to its 100 percent cocoa powder ingredient. (And yes, it smells just like chocolate, if that’s your thing.) Audience development editor Emily B. couldn’t express enough how she relied on the bronzer to get a clean matte finish, and even gave a tip to keep in mind if you choose to buy this bronzer: “The product claims to build a rich, matte, buildable, tan—and it does just that. I did knock some points off because if you're not careful with the application, it can look a little muddy,” she said. “As long as you start light and carefully build, you'll achieve that perfect glow. And you can't beat the delicious smell!”

Executive editor Candace D. also shared similar sentiments about the bronzer’s finishing look, “The matte finish is so natural, every time I wear it people ask if I’ve been on vacation or went to the beach over the weekend (nope, and if I do, I’m too slathered in sunscreen to get a tan). Plus, the chocolate-y scent makes it sweet to apply.”

Buy It ($32)

3. Kosas The Sun Show Bronzer

Best for a Luminous Look

  • Value: 19/20

  • Functionality: 18/20

  • Quality: 19/20

  • Aesthetics: 19/20

  • Glow Factor: 18/20

  • TOTAL: 93/100

When shea butter is incorporated into your makeup products, you know you’re in good hands. The hydrating formula mixed with meadowfoam oil (that moisturizes and plumps your skin) was the perfect match for my skin tone. The shade was so pigmented that all I needed was one swipe to get the job done, and I even applied some of the color on my lids too.

“It has this lit-from-within luminance that has the effect of golden hour on skin,” said Brianna L, commerce editor. “You kind of can't overdo it, because it has a super-soft finish. But if you're someone who likes to contour, this product isn't for you for that very reason—it won't create those chiseled lines. I prefer a hint of warmth on my cheeks, forehead and chin, so it works wonders to brighten my complexion in a natural, real-looking way.”

Ariel P., senior manager of brand strategy, also raved about the beauty product for its luminous feature (including her love for the packaging). “I love that it's clean, so I don't have to worry about my skin being covered in harmful ingredients. I also love that it's super pigmented but also gives you that luminous, sun-kissed glow that I love in a bronzer. The cherry on top is the sea glass colored packaging.”

Buy It ($34)

4. bareMinerals Endless Summer Bronzer

Best for Every Day

  • Value: 18/20

  • Functionality: 18/20

  • Quality: 18/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Glow Factor: 18/20

  • TOTAL: 90/100

Most of the time, I’m not wearing a full face of makeup. I aim for something simple that can give me a natural look (aka the no-makeup makeup look). So, when I tried this powder bronzer, it gave me the healthy glow I needed without being too much for a regular day at work or running errands. It’s definitely an everyday bronzer and it’s pretty buildable if I wanted an even warmer complexion.

And I wasn’t alone. Audience development strategist Ali B. has made this bronzer her daily makeup must-have. “I love this bronzer because it creates a natural everyday glow. I've tried a lot of bronzers in the past that have not worked with my pale skin and made me look orange. Luckily, I found this one and have been using it for years.”

Buy It ($28;22)

5. Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk'r Instant Warmth

Best Shade Range

  • Value: 17/20

  • Functionality: 18/20

  • Quality: 18/20

  • Aesthetics: 20/20

  • Glow Factor: 18/20

  • TOTAL: 91/100

This Fenty bronzer has been my personal go-to since I started incorporating bronzer into my makeup routine. Aside from the packaging being a beautiful gold compact, this was the first time I saw so many shade options of bronzers for all skin tones. Whether I’m going for a subtle shine or aiming to look like a bronze goddess who just stepped off the plane from the Caribbean, the bronzer is buildable for any look. (I also recommend the bronzer brush to really blend the product through evenly and smoothly.)

Celeste R., account director at VaynerMedia, also agree on finally finding the best shade for her skin tone: “I’ve had a hard time finding a matte bronzer that complements my skin tone since most make my skin look muddy. Sun Stalk’r has the best shade range with exactly the right undertones. It’s perfect for the days when you want to look like a bronzed goddess without the glittery glow and I love how buttery smooth it looks on my skin.”

Buy It ($30)

6. Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof Bronzer

Best for Oily/Combination Skin

  • Value: 18/20

  • Functionality: 18/20

  • Quality: 20/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Glow Factor: 18/20

  • TOTAL: 92/100

This mineral-based bronzer leaves skin smooth and soft thanks to vitamin A and E combo. But the best part? The non-matte texture makes it easy to work on all skin types, especially people with oily skin.I've been using this bronzer for the past four years and while I've experimented with others, I always come back to it. It gives off a subtle natural glow that never looks muddy or harsh like other formulas I've tried. Plus, it lasts forever since a little goes a long way,” said Kara C, assistant commerce editor.

Buy It ($30)

7. Milk Makeup Matte Bronzer Stick

Best Applicator

  • Value: 18/20

  • Functionality: 20/20

  • Quality: 20/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Glow Factor: 18/20

  • TOTAL: 94/100

The mango butter and apricot oil combo makes this bronzer stick look and feel hydrating on the skin. But it’s the applicator and easy texture that makes this a go-to for two women in particular. “I love the shade and blendability of this bronzer. I like to use a lot of cream products so that I can blend them out with my fingers for a quick application. You don’t need a brush to apply, just swipe on and tap it out to blend! It’s not patchy and gives me the perfect amount of definition to my cheekbones while leaving a sun-kissed glow!,” said McKenzie C, digital designer.

The bronzer can also be used for contouring and sculpting to get your desired finish, and it can even cut down on adding more products to your makeup routine. “This is the best bronzer I have ever owned! It is a cream bronzer so it glides right on and then I blend with a brush,” said Angelina F, account executive at our sister company, VaynerMedia. “It's perfect for contouring. The pigment is so rich and I love that because it takes less product to apply. With other bronzers, I would have to do a couple of applications for it to really show up. It's a bit more expensive but lasts forever so it's definitely worth the price.”

Buy It ($28)

8. CocoKind Chagaglo Bronze Highlighter

Best Budget

  • Value: 20/20

  • Functionality: 19/20

  • Quality: 18/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Glow Factor: 19/20

  • TOTAL: 94/100

OK, so it's a highlighter stick. But it has the features, tone and finish of a bronzer. It's also a triple threat when it comes to the price, pigment and how clean the product is (aka having a sunflower seed wax, mango butter and chaga mushroom mixture). “This product has amazing pigment while also being translucent (it can be layered on for more color). The creamy finish makes it super moisturizing for your skin without being shiny. This price point can't be beat either—high quality for a fair price. The best part? It's super clean ingredients w/ superfood mushroom extract for glowing skin from the inside out!” said Katie R., account manager.

Buy It ($12)

9. Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess

Fan Favorite

  • Value: 18/20

  • Functionality: 20/20

  • Quality: 20/20

  • Aesthetics: 18/20

  • Glow Factor: 20/20

  • TOTAL: 96/100

Looking for a lightweight, blendable bronzer that’s also great for sensitive skin? Well, the reviews on this product speak for themselves. The comments praise it for being the one they always come back to, and VP of brand sartnerships Dabee K. shares the love. “This is the BEST bronzer! I have used it for years, tried others and always come back to it. It goes on smoothly and evenly and has the perfect glow for my skin. Everyone that I recommend it to loves it as well.” Aside from the application, she also mentioned the compact and the perks of a built-in brush. “The packaging is also flat and not bulky so it's easy when traveling. I'd love a softer brush, but I use my own so that has never mattered to me. I highly recommend this product!”

Buy It ($45)

10. Physician’s Formula Murumuru Butter Bronzer

Best Buildability

  • Value: 15/20

  • Functionality: 20/20

  • Quality: 20/20

  • Aesthetics: 20/20

  • Glow Factor: 20/20

  • TOTAL: 95/100

Backed by over 1,900+ reviews, this buttery bronzer brightens your complexion and keeps your skin moisturized all day due to its blend of murumuru, cupuacu and tucuma butter. The consistency is a combination of a cream and powder bronzer, and Fahima C., copywriter at VaynerMedia, can vouch for its buildability. “This bronzer is a drugstore treasure. It is truly as the name describes; buttery. The coconut scent is out of this world, it makes me feel like I'm vacationing on an island! The product is buildable which is great for switching it up day to day. You can go for a subtle glow, or go hard like I do.”

Buy It ($16)

11. Benefit Cosmetics Hoola Bronzer

Best Pigmented

  • Value: 16/20

  • Functionality: 17/20

  • Quality: 17/20

  • Aesthetics: 12/20

  • Glow Factor: 18/20

  • TOTAL: 80/100

A two-in-one that’s great for bronzing and contouring. Just don’t take its small size lightly. A single swipe can bring color to your cheeks, forehead and temple. For Abby C., senior copywriter at VaynerMedia, a little goes a long way in getting an all-around glow. “This bronzer has an incredibly smooth, matte finish—it's nearly impossible for it to look splotchy or uneven. I use it for an all-over glow, and sometimes a little contouring on my cheeks. I have fair skin, so the "lite" shade is perfect, and helps me not look so ghost-like in the winter months. It photographs well and smells great too!” she said.

When it came to having the small compact (it does have a mini mirror and a brush applicator) Prakriti B., media buyer manager at VaynerMedia, expressed how much she relied on the bronzer for her day-to-day looks. “The Hoola Benefit bronzer has been a staple in my makeup routine for years now! My friends and I, all of different skin colors and skin types, use this bronzer religiously. It lasts long, gives great color and helps create that beautiful bronze glow. It's a great bronzer for those new to makeup & makeup gurus alike.”

Buy It ($30)

12. Guerlain Terracotta Sunkissed Natural Finish Bronzing Powder

Best High-End

  • Value: 17/20

  • Functionality: 18/20

  • Quality: 17/20

  • Aesthetics: 19/20

  • Glow Factor: 19/20

  • TOTAL: 90/100

The packaging was the first thing that drew me in. It was sleek yet luxe, but if you’re worried about the price tag, don’t be. It’s worth every penny for the shimmer alone. The brunette shade warmed my complexion and left a glow that looked like I was bathing in the sun all day. It’s pretty subtle, so it took a few tries to get the shade to show up, but overall it left a sheer look on my skin.

Buy It ($54)

RELATED: The 7 Best Eyebrow Gels for Arches of All Shapes and Sizes

The PureWow100 is a scale our editors use to vet new products and services, so you know what'’s worth the spend—and what'’ total hype. Learn more about our process here.

PureWow may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from PureWow's editorial and sales departments.