You may have heard of virtue signaling, where people publicly support a social cause to boast their moral clout. But what about vacation signaling? Your skin gets glowy, hydrated, and sun-kissed, broadcasting that you’ve just returned from some r&r in a beautiful, anywhere-but-here locale. The best part is (and come in close now): you don’t even need to go on vacation to vacation signal. You can fool people into thinking you were on a beach all weekend instead of a computer. Anyone can do it—yes, even you, who’s really been home binging “Too Hot to Handle” and hissing at any sunlight filtering through your curtains. You just need a little bit of bronzer.
Functionally, bronzer is meant to add warmth, but finding the perfect one can feel like looking for a golden needle in an orange haystack. If you’re new here, where do you start? Find a category below that calls your name, and let that be the answer.
The one your wallet will enjoy: Physicians Formula Murumuru Butter Bronzer
The perfect find for a natural, skin-like application. Its texture is silky enough that using a brush on the pan won’t dust up any loose powder. Eight hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested shades pair nicely with fake (or real) freckles. Beautiful for a light, subtle glow—though you should know, it really smells like coconut.
The Top 25 winner: Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk’r Instant Warmth Bronzer
Sun Stalk’r’s got eight buildable shades, and its smooth powder formula has a soft matte finish. We love it! But that should be obvious from its 2019 “Best of the decade” award. The bronzer is easy to use, and flattering to all different undertones. Don’t know yours? Fenty helpfully helps you ID it with a shade match quiz.
The fool-proof one: Tower 28 Bronzino Illuminating Cream Bronzer
Perhaps Tower 28 was going for the "Most Poetic Product Description" Award when they made this one. Inspired by “the shimmering ripples that dance over the ocean as the sun sets,” Bronzino comes in five shades, and its clear pan plays well with purse selfies and finger application. The easy, dewy finish looks even better on eyelids, cupid’s bows, or browbones.
The one the pros use on deeper skin: Iman Cosmetics Sheer Finish Bronzing Powder
The idea of bronzer is to add depth in tone, but not necessarily deepness in color. This translates differently, depending on your complexion. More yellow-based bronzers work for lighter tones, while red-based ones draw out a sun-kissed look for melanin-rich skin. This Iman Cosmetics compact comes in two solid shades and one trio. One reviewer said it’s also good as a multipurpose eyeshadow—it seems perfect as a warm shimmer twinkling on some beautiful person’s inner eye corners.
The one you can contour with: Nyx Cosmetics Matte Powder Bronzer
People have lots of feelings online about using a bronzing product for contour, but let’s save the debate for later and talk about this cooler-toned bronzer from Nyx. Its five shades run on the darker, matter side; pick one shade below your normal skin tone for bronzing, or two below for contouring. [Lowers voice to a whisper] Stock up: the ingredient list is a close dupe for Benefit’s cult-favorite Hoola.
The one for real life: Glossier Solar Paint
Best for when you want your bronzer to look as natural in the sun as it does in your bathroom mirror. Solar Paint’s shades contain a little bit of shimmer, and the creamy formula can be used for both contouring and bronzing. Whatever you choose to do with Solar Paint, the doe foot applicator ensures that you can be precise about where you want it to go. One tube, zero rules.
The one seen on a bunch of Top Shelves: Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze and Glow
Is there anybody or anything out there as lovingly adored as this highlighting and sculpting palette? Sydney Sweeney, Alice Eve, Marlo Sutton, Martha Hunt, Nikki Reed, Gigi Hadid… Filmstar Bronze and Glow has spent time in each and every one of these people’s coveted makeup bags—and proved its worth, if they’ve all mentioned it! Two universally flattering palette shades have just enough shimmer to capture and reflect light, so the lucky wearer can live their best glowy god/goddess life.
Photo via ITG