Price Tag Cage Match: Drugstore vs. Speciality Bronzers

By Amalah

A couple people have politely (really! nicely even! why are you people always in such a damn fine mood? it’s kind of annoying, actually) pointed out that a lot of my recommendations fall a little too squarely into the pasty white girl category, and you know, would it kill me to introduce a little diversity into the joint?
Why yes, it would kill me. I am allergic to tolerance and togetherness and y’all can suck it.
(See! That’s what you get for being all nice and diplomatic. Sarcasm.)
I am totally kidding, of course, and that’s why when the suggestion for a bronzer cage match rolled in I knew I would need to find myself a collaborator. Perhaps even the same person who suggested a bronzer cage match in the first place! And since she was sitting on my couch at the time, drinking my wine, it was pretty easy to convince her to help me do my own damn job. (We were also MAYBE POSSIBLY singing a duet of “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent at the time, but don’t tell her I told you that.)
So! Today we have not one, but TWO Price Tag Cage Matches going on: one where I ramble on and on about the Pressing Bronzer Concerns of the Pasty White Girl, and one written by Heather B of re: the Pressing Bronzer Concerns of the Hot Black Girl. If you like her better than me I will cry, but in the end I will totally understand.
I’m going to put Heather’s first, because I think the cutting-and-pasting will be so DEEPLY satisfying, because look! Look how much column I’ve written already!
Price Tag Cage Match Round One by Heather B: CoverGirl TruBlend Naturally Luminous Bronzer vs. MAC Bronzing Powder
I don’t remember who suggested this (YOU! YOU DID! SUCKAH! – Amy), but I am always up for a challenge, especially when it involves the testing of beauty products. I should preface this by saying that I am a minimalist when it comes to my makeup routine. Tinted moisturizer, a little powder, a quick sweep of blush, eyeliner and mascara and I’m literally out the door in 10 minutes. Everything I own is pretty neutral, save for a few lip glosses that give me color when I feel like dressing up a bit. Other than that, I’m all about being natural and believe that makeup is just to cover up the problem areas, not be an entire mask. This little factoid will come into play soon enough.
I should also mention my personal belief on bronzers, which is much like how I feel about makeup in general: Should be natural looking. They’re meant to give you that sunkissed look and be applied to places on the face where the sun would naturally hit. So before purchasing bronzer, have a good idea of what your face and skin looks like after a few hours in the sun as the color you choose should go accordingly. A lot of black women tend to go with makeup that’s far too light come the summer months, therefore end up looking ‘ashy’ instead of ‘radiant’. We’re going for the latter here people.
CoverGirl TruBlend Naturally Luminous Bronzer, $6.24 at Target: When I went to pick out my drugstore priced bronzer, this wasn’t my first choice. I had originally been thinking to go with Neutrogena which is a palette-type bronzer with different squares of color. At the last minute, I ran back for the CoverGirl. It also helps that Queen Latifah is one of their spokeswomen, so I knew that they’d have a more versatile color range.
It took me literally 30 seconds to pick out the color, and I went with #435 golden sunrise. From the outside of the package it looked both dark enough with very little shimmer/glittery crap in it. Oh yeah, the glitter went out with the Wet n’ Wild black eyeliner.
I figured the best test for my bronzer would be in Martha’s Vineyard after a trip to the beach. I used it with a brush as it’s a loose powder and used it in lieu of my normal face powder over my tinted moisturizer. Focusing on the apples of my cheeks and the bridge of my nose. Whatever was left was quick swiped on my forehead and chin. Honestly, I loved the way it looked. It gave off that perfect glowy look. Because it is so very neutral and lacking in color really, I ended up doing a quick swipe – we’re talking super light here – of my blush on my cheeks just to give my face some color. When I asked my mother for her honest opinion (which she will give even when completely unsolicited), she said it looked very natural and she even used the word ‘radiant’. She also said it looked “better than all that red heavy crap you were wearing the other day” – which I’ll get to in a minute.
So two solid thumbs up from me and from one of the most judgmental and honest people ever to grace the Earth.
mac.jpgMAC Bronzing Powder $20 at Macy’s: I live in upstate NY where Sephora is a foreign concept and no one can even pronounce it, so Macy’s it is. Thankfully Macy’s carries two brands of makeup that I adore: MAC and Bobbi Brown. I originally thought to go for the Bobbi Brown, especially after being insulted at the MAC counter at Nordstrom not that long ago. But MAC, much like CoverGirl had versatility and a wide range of makeup products for anyone from my olive skinned best friend to my heavily pigmented self. So, I went with the MAC.
There is a caveat with MAC — which is that often the goal for a lot of the women who use their products is to look like they’re wearing makeup. Even the guy at the counter said “You want to look like a drag queen? Come to the MAC counter”. That said, you HAVE to put your foot down with them at times, lest you leave there looking like you escaped from Barnum and Bailey’s.
When I went to test out the bronzer, there were two I was interested in: Bronze and Refined Deeper Bronze. The first had no glitter or shiny little specks in it and had a nice sheen. The second had the little specks so it was met with great trepidation, but I went with the Refined Deeper Bronze because my gut said to go for it, though really I could tell very little difference.
I asked the woman at the counter – who was wearing Delta Burke circa 1989 blush – how she thought I should apply it, given my aforementioned makeup routine. She said to do my tinted moisturizer, then the powder I usually use, then the bronzer, then blush on my cheeks. I smiled and said ok and tested that out because I believe strongly in sadomasochism. I tried it her way first and HOLY SHIT I should have also been sporting a red wig. WAAAAAY too much makeup. Especially when it’s 90 degrees and you can feel things sliding down your cheeks and every time you touch your face your palm is bright red. And this people? Is why I tune the MAC people out, because they want you to look like a $5 hooker. And as my mother said it looked like ‘red heavy crap’.
I then tried it MY WAY. Which was to use the tinted moisturizer then a swipe of the bronzer on my cheeks and eye lids. I looked so goddamn radiant and glowy and because of the deeper color, I didn’t have to add on any blush afterwards. I LOVED that shit so much that I’ve worn it most every day. It’s a solid powder in a compact and I dropped it the other day and it broke into a million little pieces and I had to then compose myself after I hyperventilated because my new favorite makeup product had just shattered.
And the winner is…
So as you can see, I liked both, I really, really did and now use each varyingly mostly dependent on my laziness and the location of each. Like if one is up high, I’ll use the one that’s directly in front of my face. But when it comes down to it, the MAC was the way to go. It gave off that perfect sunkissed look, with a little pop of color and yet still looked completely natural and not ashy or stupid or like I dumped a pot of rouge on my face. Oh, and it holds up well in rain and heat and several hours of fake smiling. Totally worth the $20.

Price Tage Cage Match Round Two by Amy: Physician’s Formula Powder Palette vs. CARGO Matte Bronzer vs. Geurlain Terracotta Light Sheer Bronzing Powder

Yeah. I tested three. You wanna fight about it?
So while the goal for us pasty white girl types is the same (SUBTLE! NATURAL!), we have an entirely different set of pitfalls. The wrong shade or formula of bronzer is too noticiable and bad application techniques can take us from sunkissed to clown-slapped in about one extra brush stroke. We spend years and years searching for the perfect foundation color that won’t give us that dreaded makeup line around our jaw, and then we go out and buy some random bronzer that does exactly that.
But hey, I like a little color in the summer, and I HOPE WE HAVE ALL LEARNED OUR LESSON ABOUT SUNSCREEN, so I’m not getting any natural tan or tanning-booth-tans and I personal gave up on self-tanners years ago, the dirty annoying bastards, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing. My point is: I need a bronzer, and I need it to be the most perfectly perfect bronzer out there.
bronzerpf.jpg: I’m a fan of the multi-colored palettes, and I’ve owned the same compact of this bronzer for…oh, about four years now? Maybe more? It was the first bronzer I ever bought, and I chose it mostly because it looked fairly idiot-proof to use. A soft stroke across my cheekbones with a blush brush and then a quick tap on my nose and forehead. (One caveat: DO NOT USE the brush-thing that comes with the compact. It sucks. Toss it and use a real brush.)
This was the only makeup I wore when I was pregnant and naturally all even and glowy. So obviously, I thought this stuff was pretty great. But…well, I happened to see some photos of myself later and…hmm. I looked kind of orange. So I decided to upgrade my bronzer this year and see how it compared to a more expensive option. (You’ll have to wait for the results…oh, the suspense!)
CARGO Bronzer in Medium Matte, $25 at Sephora: Like Heather, I am vaguely appalled by how damn glittery a lot of bronzers are. If you more than 15 years old, you should not sparkle. “But…” NO. Step away from the glitter.
So I was intrigued enough by CARGO’s matte version of their (supposedly) world-famous and award-winning and movie-star-favorite bronzer to try it.
Aaaand that was probably a mistake. Without a LITTLE shimmer, there’s not a whole lot of difference between this and a dark face powder. A too-dark face powder. It was really hard to keep this one looking natural. I tried using a powder brush and a blush brush and I just couldn’t get it quite right.
HOWEVER, it’s great for the non-face areas of your body. Shoulders and decolletage and the like. Since I’m not tanning there either, I can look REALLY white there in comparison to my sun-kissed and bronzed face. A little dusting with a powder blush makes things a little more even.
guerlainbronzer.jpgGuerlain Terracotta Light Sheer Bronzing Powder, $44 at Sephora: I tried this one because it seemed like more of an even match for the Physician’s Formula, plus a very pale salesgirl at Sephora swore it was the best! bronzer! ever! omg! I completely balked at the price and told her it better be, and also I will expect it to clean my bathroom and do the grocery shopping.
Like Heather, I tried several application techniques for these: I did moisturizer, primer, foundation & bronzer. Then just moisturizer, primer & bronzer. And finally just moisturizer and bronzer. (I never bothered with blush.) Bronzer with foundation was too much, no matter which one I used. Way, way too much.
But the Guerlain looked awesome by itself or over primer (especially if you use a color-correcting one). It’s really light and easy to control how dark you go. I generally did a couple brushstrokes over my cheeks to get the color I wanted…which I actually really prefer to the one-stroke bronzers. It’s easier to add more color than take color away, you know? The glittery sections of the palette aren’t really glitter…it’s more like iridescent. It’s incredibly subtle. And it held up beautifully in the heat, while the other bronzers got a little splotchy and melty.
And the winner is…
After using the Guerlain for a couple days, I tried the Physician’s Formula. And holy wow. Orange. Too dark. Not subtle, not iridescent, just…not good. I am retroactively embarassed at my damn self for wearing it for all these years. (Ah, the slippery slope of cosmetic upgrades: once you finally break out of the drugstore aisles you sometimes long for that blissful, inexpensive ignorance.)
So I guess that means the Guerlain wins, but…FORTY. FOUR. DOLLARS? I don’t know. After reading Heather’s results I’m kind of wondering if Mac makes a good light shade. Or if the “original” non-matte Cargo would work.
Of course, provided you don’t lose or drop or otherwise destroy the compact, bronzer lasts a helluva long time. I fully expect to still be using the same Guerlain compact for many summers to come. (Keeping your brushes clean helps prolong the life of pressed powders too, by the way.) So I guess the price is a one-time and easily rationalized splurge.

Published June 6, 2007. Last updated June 6, 2007.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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