Chanel’s Bronzing Cream Has Been Beloved by Makeup Artists For Over a Decade — and It Just Got an Upgrade
For I first heard about Chanel's cream bronzer back in 2013. I was a wee assistant beauty editor, interviewing makeup artist Angela Levin — who works with legends like Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, and Michelle Williams — about her Oscars' makeup kit. During the conversation, she sang the praises (quite poetically I might add), about two products in the Chanel Soleil de Tan line: the Sheer Illuminating Fluid, a bronze-y liquid highlighter, and the Bronzing Makeup Base, its matte cream counterpart, both of which she explained create the most natural-looking bronze effect for the red carpet.
Having never heard of either, I immediately became fascinated by the products, especially the latter. See, cream bronzer was a rarity at the time, and this one came in the most glamorous tub that reminded me of vintage compacts from the '40s and '50s. But while I may not have been familiar with the Bronzing Makeup Base until that conversation with Levin, it turns out that I wouldn't stop hearing about it for a long time after.
It didn't matter if I was backstage at a fashion show, on the set of a magazine cover shoot, or at my desk chatting over the phone about a red carpet look — many of the makeup artists I've spoken with over the past seven years have name-dropped the Bronzing Makeup Base, which as of this month goes by a new name, the Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream Soleil Tan Bronze Universel, and features an updated formula. For summer 2020, both it and the aforementioned illuminating fluid got an ingredient upgrade and incorporated into the brand's Les Beiges range, all of which got me thinking: what is it about the Chanel Bronzing Cream that has makeup artists and beauty-lovers so hooked? After using it for years, I know why I like it — it's easy to use, looks more natural than powder, blurs away imperfections, never streaks — but this doesn't explain why, after all the innovation and change that the beauty industry has seen over the past decade, the pros continue to rate it. So I called up a few of my favourite artists, including Levin, to get to the bottom of all the reasons why everyone's so bloody obsessed with the stuff.
Reason 1: The Matte Finish
"The Chanel cream bronzer is matte, so it's subtle, which means it works great on both men or women and can be built up if desired," says London-based makeup artist Georgina Graham. When the Chanel Soleil de Tan first launched, it was one of the only matte cream bronzers on the market (if not the only one), and with no shimmer and a sheer matte finish, professional makeup artists found it was the most natural-looking way to warm up the skin, whether they were working with a celebrity for a red carpet, or a model for a magazine photo shoot. And when the whole "no-makeup makeup" trend took off in the early 2010s, nonpros also began to take notice.
These days, matte cream bronzers are more commonplace; however, the Chanel formula still stands out from the crowd. "There's something about the texture where it's stiff enough to stay in place but soft enough to really blend and melt into the skin," says makeup artist Nam Vo. And while it may be matte, the cream itself "has a slight amount of dewiness to it that makes it look like skin," says Levin, adding that it can be very easily stippled over whatever foundation you use with.
Reason 2: The Creamy Texture
As I mentioned above, the brand recently reformulated the Soleil Tan de Chanel range, which as any makeup-lover knows, professional or not, can be the kiss of death for your favourite product. In this case, however, the addition of coconut oil to the formula seems to have made this cream bronzer even creamier and easier to buff into the skin, while the removal of some dicey preservatives and allergens — common when the product launched but not necessary to use in 2020 — has made it safer.
"Soleil De Chanel is one of my favourite Chanel products, and the new formula does not disappoint," says makeup artist Zoe Taylor, who works with the brand. "It is gorgeous and glides even more beautifully onto the skin than before, creating the perfect healthy, sun-kissed glow — I love how fresh and healthy skin looks whenever I apply it. It also feels so soft and light on the skin, which is because of the introduction of hydrogenated coconut oil, in a concentration that is dermatologically proven to be noncomedogenic." That being said, if your skin reacts negatively to coconut oil, or you deal with severe breakouts, then you may have to sit this one out.
Reason 3: The Versatility
I've always used the Bronzing Makeup Base/Les Beiges Bronzing Cream as a bronzer, using either a fluffy foundation brush or a duo-fibre face brush (like the MAC Brush 187, for example) to whisk it over my cheekbones, across the bridge of my nose, along my hairline, and over my chin.
Turns out, however, that the pros also like using Chanel Bronzing Cream as a primer, applying it before foundation or concealer. "It can be worn under makeup or on top depending on the effect you wish to create," says Graham. Regardless of how you wear it, the general rule is that if you want to warm up your skin anywhere between your hairline and your neck, this is the product to do it with.
"The Chanel cream can be used almost like a base under your base," says Levin. "For example, a lot of times when working with a celebrity client, we want to create the appearance of hardly any makeup, like almost supernatural," says Levin. "But because we're so careful [with SPF] these days, people's faces are usually lighter than their chests, which means you have to blend the two together — otherwise, in pictures your face is going to look even lighter. So if I have a client who just needs her skin tone warmed up a little, I take a big fluffy brush and I will use the Chanel cream and just warm up her whole face, and it looks gorgeous. Then I take the tiniest bit of foundation and dab it only where needed, because I already have this nice layer of completely transparent warmth on the skin."
Levin also loves the Chanel cream bronzer to warm up the neck when it's lighter than the face and chest and to match the under eyes with the rest of the face. "Sometimes, I have clients who have very light skin under their eyes, and the rest of their face is a bit darker. In that case, I would actually prime that area with the Chanel cream bronzer. It makes the area warmer, and then all I need is the teensiest bit of foundation or concealer on top."
Reason 4: The Tone Is Incredibly Natural Looking (Although, Not For Everyone)
"The tone creates that gorgeous '70s, Lauren Hutton-kind of flushed, tan skin," says Graham. "And it's universally flattering on complexions from pale Caucasian to mixed heritage and light-skin Black." It is not universally flattering, however, for medium-dark to deep skin tones.
The fact that there is only one shade is the one negative thing you can say about this product (in fact, a couple makeup artists I've spoken with don't like to recommend it because of the singular hue). "The tone is beautiful, although it's not great for darker skin tones," says Vo. "If you're darker than J Lo, I would suggest either the Huda Beauty Tantour Contour & Bronzer (£26), which comes in five shades, or now Fenty Beauty has the cream bronzers, too." The new Fenty Beauty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Bronzer (£28) comes in seven shades, Amber being the lightest, and Toffee Tease being the darkest.
Reason 5: The Colour Doesn't Change
Levin, who loves both the Illuminating Fluid and the Bronzing Cream ("if one can afford it, they should have both," she laughed), brought up something interesting about the cream bronzer when we spoke, seven years later. "Colour-wise, it doesn't tend to change," she said. "Sometimes, we put a colour on somebody's skin, and in 15 minutes, the pH of the skin will shift [the tone] a little bit; it may not be a major shift, but we can see that it can actually change the visceral feeling of the makeup. The Chanel illuminating fluid and cream bronzer do not change colour, which I don't know how they got a formula that doesn't do that. So for us makeup artists, it really is fantastic because whatever you see, whatever it is when you put it on, it's how it's going to stay for the rest of the night."