The cheat sheet for where to apply bronzer, blush, highlighter & contour

When we say ‘face or base products’ in cosmetics, we automatically think of different kinds of foundation, maybe primers and setting products for those who use them. However, this category actually includes a larger, oft-forgotten collection of products, including those that you do not necessarily put all over your face. These are bronzer, blush, contour and highlight.

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Bronzer

Bronzer makes the whole complexion appear warmer, not necessarily darker. Naturally, it often comes in shimmery, warm brown shades. Because it is applied lightly throughout the whole face, it is typically available in powder or liquid form. Here are our budget picks, all under P500!

From top: NARS Laguna Bronzing Powder, NARS Laguna Liquid Bronzer, NARS Laguna Liquid Bronzer + Pony Effect Seamless Foundation in Natural Ivory, Pony Effect Seamless Foundation in Natural Ivory alone

From top: NARS Laguna Bronzing Powder, NARS Laguna Liquid Bronzer, NARS Laguna Liquid Bronzer + Pony Effect Seamless Foundation in Natural Ivory, Pony Effect Seamless Foundation in Natural Ivory alone

Here I’ve mixed it with an extremely light foundation, Pony Effect Seamless Foundation in Natural Ivory, to show how bronzer doesn’t necessarily make your complexion look darker - though it often happens anyway. In contrast to the solo foundation, the bronzer-foundation mixture is not that much darker, but it does have more yellowness or goldenness to it. Many people use bronzer in place of contour, but I’d advise against that because bronzer is so warm. Placing warm browns where shadows should be makes your complexion look overly flushed and red, which isn’t good either.

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Blush

Blush is the primary way of adding color to one’s face. It has the widest range of color families used, from pinks, to peaches, and even purples. It also comes in different forms, from liquids, to creams and powders. Finishes range from matte to shimmery but the most important consideration working with blush is that it generally needs to balance with the lips. Matching your lip and blush via shade family or using a dual-purpose product also results in a more cohesive face. Here are some more budget favorites, this time all under P350.

Chanel Le Blush Crème de Chanel in  Revelation , unblended

Chanel Le Blush Crème de Chanel in Revelation, unblended

Different placements and patterns can have different effects on the overall look, but a good general pointer is to concentrate the color on the outer third of the eye, and blend heavily toward the hairline. I recommend not to allow the blending to bleed below the ears, nor toward the center of the face. This sounds counter-intuitive from the basic “on-the-apples” suggestion, but I promise it will make your face appear brighter and more lifted!

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Contour

Contouring is a way of carving out features on one’s face, such as cheekbone definition, forehead definition, and nose definition, among others. It normally comes in powder or cream stick form, and sometimes darker foundation is used as a substitute. The best contour shades are matte in grey-toned browns. Cooler-toned browns work better than warmer browns because the hints of grey appear like true shadows, thus creating a 3D illusion. Here are our under P500 picks.

blk Cosmetics Highlight, Blush and Contour Palette in  Sun Kissed , contour unblended

blk Cosmetics Highlight, Blush and Contour Palette in Sun Kissed, contour unblended

Contour is often done correctively, meaning one needs to look closely at proportions and symmetry. Normally, it placed in a horizontal stripe just under the apple of the cheeks. However, I find this a very Eurocentric practice as our ethnic profile doesn’t seem to take this pattern well. Asians usually have flatter features, and drawing a horizontal strip on such a flat surface tends to look unnatural. I advise contouring along the sides of the face and forehead, while blending it inward. I find this has the dual effect of making the face appear slimmer and less flat. My nose bridge isn’t defined (read: pango) so I add some contour from below the start of the brow, towards the noseline.

In this instance, the contour turned out much warmer than I expected, and it kind of ruined my whole complexion. As I said, cool-toned browns are preferable for contouring!

Highlighter

Like contour, highlight is a ‘dimensional’ rather than a color product. It’s often shimmery, though there are flat (matte) highlighters, and can come in anywhere from liquids, to creams to powder forms. Sometimes, a foundation or concealer two shades lighter can be used as highlight. It can be used on the eyes or mixed with the lips for interesting effects. It is best used in a shade similar to your own skin tone: frosty for cooler tones, and champagne/yellowish highlights for warmer skin tones. Highlighting lifts features, and can be used beside contour for more emphasis. Here are some picks to get you started, all under P500!

Sleek Highlighting Palette in  Precious Metals Royal Gold  shade, unblended

Sleek Highlighting Palette in Precious Metals Royal Gold shade, unblended

Generally, highlighter is often placed right above the nose line, along the nose line, under the eyes, orbital bone, cupid’s bow and chin; but like contour, can be applied anywhere you want to enhance your features. Depending on your face shape, you might not need to enhance all these areas! For flatter noses, highlighter can be a great way to bring dimension to the face, but I advise against over exaggerating the tip, especially if you have a bulbous nose shape like mine. It looks good in photos, but will make your nose look bigger in person.

Here’s a literal face map of the general areas to put the four products. This is not definitive and should definitely be changed up according to your own taste and facial features. Personally, I don’t use bronzer and my focus is on highlighter, which explains why I have it nearly all over my face! The key is to always balance: highlight is emphasized by contour. Blush matches with lips. Bronzer adds all-over warmth so your complete color palette (eyes, cheeks and lips) must match. Keeping these little notes in mind will help enhance instead of going overboard!

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Notice how my face was transformed from looking so flat and mono-toned into one that's more vibrant and dimensional? While you don't necessarily have to use all four products together, including at least a couple into your look can make a huge difference in your makeup game. Reddish contour notwithstanding, I was able to emphasize the facial features that got washed out by foundation, restore my cheekbones, create a more healthy-looking complexion, and even slim down my face!

Which of these four products do you already have in your routine? Have you mastered the face map for your features?