Best Bronzers for $30 or Less

Get Sunkissed Without the Risk: Best Bronzers for $30 or Less

Prescriptives Mineral Bronzericon ($30.00) is available in both Cool and Warm, which is something I can really appreciate from Prescriptives. I can just imagine some of the trials our cool-toned beauty addicts have to go through to find a bronzer that works well. I picked up the Warm Mineral Bronzer, and it’s smooth, silky in texture, and it gives me a subtle, natural glow. There is shimmer in it, which Prescriptives calls Radiance Emitting Crystals Complex (R.E.C.) — a combination of amethyst, rose quartz, and calcite. It’s oil-free and talc-free for those concerned about ingredients and oil.

MAC Bronzing Powdericon ($21.00) comes in three shades: Golden, Refined Golden, and Bronze. Golden is suitable for paler to medium-toned complexions, and it is not quite as pigmented as the other two shades. Refined Golden is a good color for those who are medium-toned in complexion, though it does seem to run a little peachier/orange-y if you are really cool-toned. Bronze is best suited for deeper complexions, and it does have some shimmer in its finish. MAC’s Bronzing Powder does seem to run a bit more pigmented than the typical bronzer, so take heed and use a light hand when you first give it a try. The shimmer may be too much or too little, depending on your preference, but the wear time is tops for this bronzer.

Smashbox Bronze Lightsicon ($28.00) is available in two shades: Suntanned Matte and Sunkissed Matte. Bronze Lights is a silky, matte bronzer–aka no shimmer or glitter or any frostiness in its finish. Those with larger pores, skin concerns, or signs of aging will appreciate Bronze Lights’ lack of shimmer. It’s also a nice way to get a beautiful, sunkissed glow, which you can always highlight with your favorite highlighter. I often prefer to highlight separately, because then I can actually highlight, rather than just have shimmer everywhere I applied the bronzer. (In my case, I like to highlight the tops of cheekbones.) Sunkissed Matte will best suit paler and peachier/pinker complexions, I think, while Suntanned Matte is better for medium to dark complexions as it’s more on the brown side. I didn’t find either to run orange, though!

We’ve got three more top picks for bronzers!

NARS Bronzing Powder in Lagunaicon ($30.00) is one of the most well-known, cult favorite bronzers. Like many NARS products, Laguna is definitely richly pigmented with a nice shade of sunkissed glow with subtle shimmer–I say this because it isn’t orange-y nor is it too brown either. This is a fairly universal shade of bronzer, which makes it a multi-tasker, because you can use it in the winter when tans have faded to fake it, but you can also give yourself an additional boost during the sunnier months, too. Some consider Laguna on the pricey side, but you get quite a bit of product, and even with daily use, I suspect it will last you many months.

Benefit Hoola Powder ($28.00) is great if you’re looking for a bronzer with a smooth, semi-matte finish, think about trying cult favorite Benefit Hoola. It’s a universal shade of bronzer that doesn’t look too orange-y on skin. The best part about Hoola is the color itself, because it works well on both paler and deeper skin tones, as the product itself is fairly pigmented and provides an ability to layer/build up the color as you need it. I’m not a huge fan of the little brush that comes with Hoola–it’s cute, but it’s virtually useless. I much prefer using an angled contouring, powder, or fan brush with it. I’m also not a big fan of the cardboard packaging, which can get a bit dinged up if you plan to carry it anywhere. But at least the packaging is more earth-friendly! I rarely lug around my cosmetics, so for me, it’s not a make or break point.

CARGO Bronzer ($25.00) comes in a shiny metal tin, and it is available in four shades: light (slightly pink-toned), medium (golden), medium – matte (less golden), and dark (deeper). Despite having four shades to choose from, most will find either Medium or Dark to work best for them. For paler ladies who want the sunkissed look, medium will get the job done without turning you orange or dumping shimmer on your face. I think it must be obvious to even Cargo that Medium does the job well for so many, because they also have a Medium with a matte finish, which lets you choose whether you want the shimmer or not. (For those who haven’t started a quest to find a matte bronzer, finding a shimmer-less bronzer is not always the easiest task!) I personally like the blendability of Cargo’s Bronzer, which is a characteristic not all bronzers have.

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About the Reviewer


Christine has normal-to-dry skin with areas of dryness (cheeks, nose, and under the eyes). She has a light-medium skintone with subtle, warmer yellow undertones. Her best foundation matches include: Tarte Rainforest of the Sea in Light-Medium Neutral (best match), Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup in Desert Beige 2N1, Giorgio Armani Maestro Glow in 4.0, Hourglass Warm Ivory Vanish Seamless Finish, Laura Mercier Candleglow Soft Luminous in Dusk, MAC NC20/NC25, Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Liquid in Y305 (140). For more matches, please read our full Foundation FAQ. For more information on our review process, please read our Review FAQ.

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I love NARS Laguna!! Its been my HG bronzer for YEARS now. I’ve been wanting to try Smashbox bronzer, as well as Make Up For Ever because they’re both matte but haven’t made a trip to Sephora in a while. Has anyone here ever tried either of these?

Hi Michelle – i used Smashbox’s Suntanned Matte all last summer & I absolutely LOVED it. I do have an oily complexion so i go for matte bronzers since i do not need any more shine on my face. if I am going to add shimmer, i want the control of where it goes (i.e. highlighter on tops of cheeks). You would be very happy w/ this bronzer as it does not look too orange or muddy on your skin. it’s got great blendability & even better for contouring. don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you gave it a try. btw – i have medium toned skin.

I just got NARS Laguna yesterday(i know im a little late on this one) but i was wondering since this is about bronzers which brush do you all use for bronzers? Thanks so much 🙂

Hi Shannon – I still need to try Laguna too so you are not the only one behind the game. For my bronzers I tend to use many different brushes depending on what I am trying to achieve. I will use a bronzer brush if i want a deeper deposit of color. If i am using it to contour, i go with the angled blush brush. If i am just wanting to dust it lightly on my face & build from there, I use the MAC 150 (large powder brush).

hey Shannon I have been using Nars Laguna for years I love it!! For all over face color which gives you a natural looking tan I use the Sephora Bronzer Brush #44, its one of the first Kabuki type brushes they recieved years ago and I’ve had mine for about 7 years, I have really fair skin and this brush really helps you to not over do it. Good Luck!! and like Nicole15 for contouring I use an angled brush too.

I love Cargo’s Bronzer in medium. It perks up my face with a healthy, golden look. It’s easy to overdo it, though. One I really like now is Neutrogena Healthy Skin Blends Natural Radiance Bronzer in Sunkissed, which is a light, toasty pink-brown. I skip blush entirely when I wear it. Thanks for the rec on the Prescriptives and Hoola; I’ve been looking for a cool-toned and semi-matte bronzer lately.

I love the Neutrogena Bronzer too! I’ve used the exact same one before & hands down believe it is the BEST drugstore bronzer out there. Great add on to our list here! Especially for those who want an affordable, yet quality option.

So great that you’ve found a good one that works for you, Doreen! It’s great that you shared your pick for a drugstore bronzer, too 😀

Right now I am using MAC Bronzer in Golden. It has been perfect for me during the winter when i am not tan as it adds a nice healthy glow without making my skin look orange, shiny or muddy. I use the Smashbox one in the summer & for contouring & love it! I am, however, anxious to try NARS. A friend of mine swears by the Prescriptives bronzer too. This was a great post Christine – you hit the nail on the head w/ these bronzers. No matter who you are, you can find your perfect bronzer from this list. Thanks!

I can tell you’re a big fan of bronzer, Nicole 😉 NARS has nice bronzers — I can’t wait to see Irresistiblement from summer.

I was on Nordstrom’s site checking for bronzers to help me remember which ones I’ve tried, but I didn’t see those!

I want to try NARS bronzer I currently use Golden by MAC but sometimes find it ti orange on my skin – im quite fair and live in the UK so haven’t got a californian already sunkissed look, can someone advise has the NARS one got ant shimmer to it? I find it better with shimmer on my skin.

Thanks for posting this, I was actually looking for some nice, not very expensive bronzer. I wanna get MAC’s from Style Warriors, but I’m afraid It gonna be too dark for NC20 :/

I use Nars Laguna for contouring! It seems a bit dark for a bronzer for me, I am NC20. But I love Hula! Though I might get Cargo for the summer.

Nars Laguna is LOVE!
Will try out the MAC bronzer when I’ll be picking up both the bronzers in the Style Warriors collection. Can’t wait! xD

Hi!! i’m in need for a matte or little sheen bronzer for a NC20 NW15. smashbox, Mac, chanel, dior or guerlain, cause those are the only stores in my country. thanks in advanced.

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