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  • Melissa

Bronzer & Contour

Updated: May 24, 2020


Being that I have pretty fair skin, bronzer has become a favorite product of mine. I don't wear it every day, but with a full face of makeup, it gives my light skin the warmth it's missing 9 out of the 12 months of the year (I don't stay tan for very long). I have also fallen in love with contouring as a way to enhance the natural structure of my face. I feel that it can give any makeup look an extra hint of glam and looks great in photos. I get a lot of questions about these products so let me address the most common ones:

What Is The Difference Between Bronzer and Contour?

Bronzing is imitating a natural, sun-kissed glow of color to the skin. Basically, we are trying to mimic a tan. When the sun (or any light) hits your face, it is going to hit the highest points of your face first because they are closest to the light. This usually includes the forehead, nose, and cheekbones because they protrude out from the face the most. Bronzer is usually a warm-toned brown color. Some have shimmer in them to give your skin a glowy look and some do not. My personal preference is a matte bronzer or if anything, one with a very slight sheen but nothing too shimmery. I apply it to the tops of my cheekbones, forehead, and just a touch on my nose. If my foundation is too dark for my body (which happens sometimes...we all do it) I warm up my neck and chest with bronzer so that everything looks like it matches.

Contouring is applying products in a way that enhances our bone structure and face shape. The most common uses of contouring are to make the cheekbones look higher and more defined, to slim/shorten the forehead, define the jawline, and slim the nose. You can contour one of these areas or all of them- it's totally up to you. My favorite place to contour is my cheekbones but I also dust a little bit into my temple, jawline, and sides of my nose just so it looks more natural and that there isn't this one stripe of darker powder down my cheek and nowhere else.

What Exactly Does Contouring Do?

Let me rewind a bit and explain why contouring works. Contouring is all about light and shadows. Remember when I said that light hits the highest points of your face first? That same idea is what contouring is based around. If we place light colored creams and powders above our cheekbones and place a cool-toned contour powder under our cheekbones, it will create an illusion of our cheekbones being higher and more defined. This is because the area that we lightened looks like it is higher and protruding off of our face more. The cool-toned area under our cheekbone appears to be a shadow. The idea is that our cheekbone is so high that it shades the area underneath it from the light, and thus we have a shadow. Creating these "shadows" make that area of the face recede. Placing contour powder on the sides of the forehead slims it by drawing attention only to the smaller, highlighted area in the middle of the forehead. Contouring the top of the forehead into the hairline shortens a longer forehead in the same way. This principle applies to anywhere that you contour.

So Where Does the Cheekbone Contour Go?

In short, the easiest way to know where to put your cheekbone contour is by feeling where your cheekbone is with your fingers. I generally start from the corner of my ear and apply the contour in a slight diagonal line down toward the corner of my mouth. When I reach the apple of my cheek, I swoop the line up slightly, curling up toward the corner of my nose. The contour will look more feminine when it swoops up like that, whereas you can make it look more masculine by continuing straight down toward the corner of your mouth.

What's Better: Cream or Powder Contour?

Although I have dry skin, I have always preferred powder bronzers and contour products. I think they are much easier to use and give a really pretty finish. I've had some bad experiences with creams because my skin tends to look patchy in my contour area (mostly from acne scars and hyperpigmentation). On clients, I have seen cream contour products look beautiful and natural, but just know that it will take a little more patience when blending it out. If you don't get the hang of it in one shot, keep practicing. Try different brushes or even beauty sponges until you find what works for you. I personally have only had success with cream contour when I take the product onto my brush and then stipple it onto my face (lightly pressing the product into my skin instead of swiping my brush back and forth). Otherwise, it moves my foundation underneath and looks patchy. So even if I'm using a contour stick, I rub the product onto my brush and then apply it to my face. If you want a more dramatic look, you can cream contour and then top in with a powder contour.

Do I Need To Contour?

Like all makeup, neither bronzer nor contour is necessary for everyone, nor are they necessary every day. You may love contouring but you don't need to incorporate it into your daily makeup routine. If you love looking super chiseled to go to work, school, or the supermarket, GO FOR IT! Makeup is supposed to be about what makes you feel good and if you want to contour every day, then you should. However, I find that many people want to learn about contouring just because it's trendy and they think it's something they need to be doing. If you want to learn, that's great! Regardless of what you see on social media, don't be afraid to start natural and then you can decide if it's for you.

One Final Tip About Contouring

My last bit of advice for contouring is the same advice I give for all makeup: start with a little bit of product and keep adding light layers until you reach your desired look. You can always add more, but it's much harder to take away product you've already applied. Bonus tip: Whether working with cream or powder, try pushing the product into your skin gently instead of swiping the brush. That technique changed my contour game!

Here are some of my favorites:

Benefit Hoola Bronzer ($29): For my skin tone, this shade is great and it just blends beautifully and always looks good.

ELF Primer Infused Bronzer, Forever Sunkissed ($6): Blends well and wears well throughout the day. Will probably be too dark for me in the winter but right now I'm liking it.


Hourglass Ambient Lighting Edit, Unlocked (Limited Edition): Even though this was limited edition, I'm assuming the formulas of their palettes are similar. Although expensive, the formulas of these powders are beautiful and blend nicely. I bought this with a discount, so I don't think I would spend full price on it because they're like $80. Wasn't sure which post to include this on since it contains different products but I'm so light that I can use one of the setting powders as bronzer so half of this palette is bronzer for me. My most-used shade in this palette is probably the highlighter though.


Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette ($49): Simply, one of the best contour powder formulas I've ever used. I never have to worry about it not blending out right. It always looks good.


NYX California Beamin' Bronzer, Free Spirit ($13): I'm not a shimmery bronzer kinda girl but this formula is so beautiful! The powder is finely milled which makes it super smooth and effortless to blend. I love this for days when I don't feel like doing too many steps because it can take the place of my bronzer, blush, and highlighter since it has a soft sheen to it.


NYX #NoFilter Finishing Powder ($12): Just choose a darker shade than your skin tone to use as a bronzer. These are so so good!

Physicians Formula Butter Bronzer, Bronzer shade ($14.99): Perfect! The shade is perfect, it smells good, and you can get a natural contour or build it up to a more defined look.

Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Bronzer ($30): Another nice formula that smells yummy!

Wet n Wild Megaglo Contour Stick, Where's Walnut ($3.99): One of the only cream contour products I've had success with


Here are some of my "runner ups":

Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Singles, Java & Fawn ($14): I honestly just haven't used these much but the quality is good, they're just not a stand-out product for me.

BH Cosmetics Forever Nude Sculpt & Glow Palette ($11.99): I traveled with this a lot because it had everything in one. They were actually pretty good quality but eventually got outshined by my favorites.

ELF Contour Palette ($6): Good for the price, but I never reached for it over my go-tos.

ELF Cream Contour Palette ($6): For $6, this blends really well but I don't know that it's a favorite because I don't use cream contour that much.


Hourglass Ambient Lighting Bronzer, Diffused Bronzer Light ($52 for full size): I haven't used this too much yet but it's a nice color for fair skin and blends well. Hourglass powders always look really smooth and natural on the skin, never powdery.

Maybelline Fit Me Shine-Free Foundation Stick, Toffee ($7.99): One of the better cream contours I've used but not the best. The lighter color in the middle messed me up a little but to be fair, it is a foundation stick and never claimed to be a contour stick.

Milani Silky Matte Bronzing Powder, Sun Kissed ($9.99): Pretty good, blends well. Very pigmented so start with a little and slowly build up. This color is nice and more cool-toned for contouring.


NYX Cheek Contour Duo Palette, Two to Tango ($9): This shade is very warm so I use this combo when I want a warm, glowy bronze look.

NYX Highlight & Contour Cream Pro Palette ($25): I actually had success with this product even though I usually don't like cream contour! I was able to blend it out and then set it with a powder contour and it looked great in photos (and in person). I wish they made the cool toned contour shade in a single because it is perfect for my skin tone! I don't really use the other shades.


NYX Wonder Stick ($12): Easy to use but I find it works better to take the product onto your brush and then apply it to your face in a stippling motion. When I applied it directly to my face and then blended it out, it practically disappeared so I think you get a better result by taking it on the brush.

Physicians Formula Bronze Booster, Medium to Dark ($14.99): A nice warm bronzer. Good for bronzing but maybe too warm for contouring.

Profusion Contour Palette ($4.99 at TJ Maxx): Smooth and blendable but I don't know that it's as reliable as my go-to palettes. For the price, it's a gem!

Profusion Pro Contour Palette ($5.99 at TJ Maxx): Very similar to Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette but I still prefer KVD. For $6, this was really good though.

Wet n Wild Megaglo Contouring Palettes, Dulce de Leche & Caramel Toffee ($4.99): Not bad for the price, but couldn't beat my favorites.

Here are some products that I didn't love as much:

Milani Tantastic Face & Body Baked Bronzer (discontinued?)

NYC Color Wheel Mosaic Face Powder (discontinued?): Not bad but not great

NYC Smooth Skin Bronzing Face Powder, Sunny (discontinued?): Too warm for my skin tone

Sephora I <3 Cushion Bronzer ($7): Not bad but blended out to almost nothing (a problem I tend to have with cream products so it might be me).

Style Essentials Pro Arist Bronzer Palette (I think $3.99 at TJ Maxx): So much orange!


Wet n Wild Color Icon Bronzer in Sunset Striptease ($4.99): It's not that this was a bad bronzer, I just expected it to be matte and it was glowy. I feel like it would be a really nice highlight on deeper skin tones.

And here are some comparison swatches:

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