We’re always dreaming of beachside cabana life, complete with easy beach waves and glowing bronzed skin. For the weeks when our sun-kissed glow has long moved on, we reach for our favorite bronzer and contour products. They’re the easiest way to add definition and glowing skin to your makeup look without booking flights or packing on the sunscreen.
But if you're confused about the difference between these face makeup products, you're not alone. Here, we go-in depth on what exactly bronzer is and how bronzing is different from contouring. Scroll on for our favorite makeup artist tips and tricks to nailing a sculpted, natural glow.
Bronzer is the easiest way to nab a tropical vacation glow without ever leaving your cubicle. It's usually warm toned and meant to mimic the sun's natural tanning effect on your skin, so it's perfect for those days when you want a sun-kissed natural look. And no matter if you're a powder bronzer fan or a shimmery cream bronzer devotee, there’s a glowing product for every skin type and skin tone.
In general, bronzer looks most natural when applied to the areas the sun would naturally hit. Swipe it on the apples of your cheeks, the bridge of your nose, and the top of your forehead for a natural glow.
Contouring allows you to define and sculpt your features. With just a few dabs of product and some serious blending powder, you can call major attention to your favorite features, like your cheekbones or your jawline. If you want to redefine features, like the sides of your nose, you can do that too. Contour allows you to create illusions, like a slimmer nose or fuller lips, making it a great product to use for full-on glam sessions.
Contour does share some major similarities with bronzer. Both products are slightly darker shades than your skin tone, and they're both available in matte, shimmer, and dewy versions. Even more importantly, they’re both meant to mimic the effect of light hitting your face. But while bronzer revels in the sun’s glow, contour is meant to highlight the shadows created by that glow.
This major difference means you’ll need two very different strategies when it comes to the products. Since bronzer is meant to maximize light, it’s packing warm tones that are meant to be applied directly on your cheeks with a larger brush and paired with blush. Contour brings the drama to your face with cooler, darker undertones that should live in the shadows of your face. Blending is key here, as is adding a highlighter to contrast the shadows you’ve created.
For a full walk-through of how to apply bronzer like a pro makeup artist, check out our complete guide to applying bronzer for your face shape.
Your bronzer should be a natural, earthy tone that’s not too much darker than your skin tone. If you’ve got oily skin, you’ll want to go for a powder bronzer that not only absorbs oil, but also hydrates your skin (to keep your glowy, not shiny). Ipster favorite LOVECRAFT BEAUTY’s Bronzer Palette is super blendable and perfect for building and layering to reach your exact shade.
Gel, cream, or liquid bronzers work well with dry skin types, because they come loaded with hydrating ingredients that won’t irritate or strip your skin. The warm-toned TRÈSTIQUE Color + Contour Bronzer Stick is an Ipster-approved cream bronzing product that's perfect for building a healthy natural glow. The super lightweight formula goes over foundation easily and is a breeze to apply thanks to the dual-ended crayon applicator.
Applying bronzer is super easy. Simply load up your brush with product and sweep onto the high points of your face in the shape of the number “3,” hitting the top of your forehead and hairline, the apples of your cheekbones, the bridge of your nose, and just below your jawline (if you want). Again, you're aiming for a gentle glow that gives you just-stepped-in-the-sun vibes, no SPF necessary.
After your first sweep of product, dust your brush off and then get to work blending. Go over the warm tones in a light, circular motions, so you don’t accidentally end up with shimmery splotches. Finish with translucent powder to set your makeup look.
The best bronzer depends on your preferred product style and glam look. We’ve listed a few of our favorites below:
Looking to wow people with your glow? PÜR COSMETICS Bronze Your Selfie Face & Body Liquid Bronzer is basically liquid gold for your face and body. Even better, it’s gentle enough to use on all skin types. Nix the sunless tanner and swap in this liquid bronzer for extra shimmer and radiance.
We’ve always got a bronzer stick tucked in our purse for days when we’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times. ABSOLUTE NEW YORK Bronze Balm is a cinch to apply–you can use your fingers–and comes in two shades that easily adjust to any skin tone.
Tame your oily skin with THE BEAUTY CROP Staycation Bronzer Powder. This compact absorbs shine, so the only glow you’re giving off is sun-kissed, not greasy. For even more product recs, check out our guide to the best powder bronzers according to Ipster reviews from past Glam Bags.
For more information on how to contour according to your face shape, check out our complete contour guide.
The supremely versatile and oily-skin friendly ELIZABETH MOTT’s Contour Palette is our favorite pressed powder contour product. Packed with three contour shades and three highlighter shades, you’ll be able to define your favorite features and then top off with a shimmery glow.
If you have sensitive or dry skin, try a cream contour like ABSOLUTE NEW YORK’s Sculpt Stick. The cream formula is easy to apply and you can blend with your favorite makeup brush or sponge.
After you’ve applied your foundation, use concealer to tackle your T-zone, applying a light touch to the high points of your face: the bridge of your nose, your Cupid’s bow, and the top of your chin.
Then, apply your contour products where shadows might naturally appear around the areas you just applied concealer to. It can be helpful to think of this as a slightly-lower 3 formation than the one you used for your bronzer: this time, you'll want to start at your temples, then sweep the color down under your cheekbones, and finally under your jaw.
Blending is hugely important with contour since the product adds cool, dark undertones to your makeup. Without blending, your makeup look might end up looking a little harsher than you originally intended it to.
With your makeup brush, blend the product into your skin and foundation. Apply highlighter to the tops of your cheekbones and then go over your entire face with setting powder, using a fluffy brush to buff the product into place.
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