I Should Know This

How Do I Apply Blush & Bronzer Without Looking Like A Hot Mess?

A guide to looking fresh and sun-kissed (even if you’re running on caffeine and vibes).

Written by Loni Venti
I Should Know This

The ‘80s gave blush a bad rep. With formulas as blendable as sidewalk chalk, teeny tiny applicator brushes, and that suck-in-your-cheeks technique, it’s no wonder that there’s still fear and confusion around blush all these years later.

Fast forward a bit to the early aughts, where we were a little too dependent on bronzer. Blame the tanning salons that popped up everywhere (which we’re all trying to undo with retinol and hyaluronic acid) or the sun-kissed pop stars like Britney and Xtina. If the 2000s taught us anything about makeup, it was to ease up on the bronze stuff.

But today’s blush and bronzer options? Chef’s kiss. They are dreamy, creamy, natural, and blendable. They are incredibly easy to use, come in a wide range of shades for every skin tone, and feature innovative formulas for every skin type. They melt right in and leave a gorgeous hint of color, warming up your complexion and leaving you looking radiant, healthy, alive, and well-rested — even when (especially when) you feel literally none of those things.

Whether you’ve seen some intriguing cheek moments on TikTok, are looking for ways to brighten things up, or have just been asking yourself how to apply blush and bronzer in a fresh, modern way, Scary Mommy has you covered. We asked makeup artists everything you could possibly want to know about blush and bronzer. Keep reading for pro insights on what they’re supposed to do, how they’re different, where to apply them, how to find the right shade, and more.

What Are Blush & Bronzer Supposed To Do?

Despite looking pretty different, they often get used in place of one another. So our experts helped us set the record straight.

“Blush is supposed to brighten your face. It helps make you look healthy, alive, youthful, and vibrant. It brings a fresh pop of color,” says NYC-based makeup artist Andie Markoe-Byrne. “It adds vitality to the skin,” says celebrity makeup artist Jenna Kristina, who is based in LA. “Think: that pretty glow you get from frolicking in the summer,” she adds. We’ll take a double order of that, please.

Bronzer, on the other hand, “makes you look a little more tan or sun-kissed,” says Markoe-Byrne. “It warms up the skin,” Kristina adds. “If your face is a little lighter than your body, bronzer can also help to correct that,” explains LA-based celeb makeup artist Katrina Klein.

Aside from having different goals, a simple way to think about their difference is the color. “Bronzer is pretty much always golden brown. It’s a neutral shade, usually in the warm family,” says Markoe-Bryne. “Blush is pink, orange, berry, red. If it’s a color, it’s blush. If it’s a neutral shade, it’s probably bronzer.” Klein agrees, adding that “blushes come in an array of colors, but bronzers are all shades of different skin tones.”

How To Apply Bronzer

Placement is everything! Let’s talk about bronzer placement first. “Bronzer can be applied to all areas where the sun would naturally hit your face. Anywhere that protrudes slightly, like your forehead, cheekbones, and down the bridge of your nose. I also like to add a little to the spot under the neck,” says Markoe-Byrne.

“Another way to apply bronzer is to sweep it on the outside of the face in a “3” motion,” Klein adds, explaining that this “takes it from your temples to your cheeks and across your jawline.”

One thing all of our experts clarified: bronzer is not the same thing as contour. “When applying bronzer, it’s best not to think of it as a contour,” says Klein. “Contour creates a shadow, while bronzer creates warmth,” she adds.

How To Apply Blush

Now for blush. There are lots of different ways to apply blush depending on the look and result that you’re going for. But the most universal and foolproof technique, which you’ve probably heard before, is applying to the apples of the cheeks, and blending outward. Not sure where your apples are? “Look in the mirror and smile. See the part of your cheeks that pops out? That’s the apples. Start by applying there, then blend out towards your hairline,” Kristina explains.

Some other places to apply blush are across the bridge of your nose and at your temples or the outermost corner above your eyebrows. “These are places that you naturally flush after going for a jog or a hot makeout session,” says Markoe-Byrne. “Adding blush to these areas —instead of just the cheeks — makes things look more balanced and natural,” Kristina adds.

If you have a round face and want to create a slimming or lifted effect, Klein recommends placing the blush higher up on the cheek, and sweeping outwards and upwards. If you have an oval or long face and want to create the look of more full, prominent cheeks, she suggests keeping the application mainly on the apples.

For anyone wondering, “Can I wear blush without foundation?” The answer — from all of our pros — is a resounding yes. “You can even use just cream blush to create your entire look,” offers Kristina. “After applying to cheeks, tap it onto your lips and eyelids for a quick, easy, natural way to brighten up and add color all over,” she adds

If you’re someone who is prone to redness in their complexion and worried that blush will draw more attention to it, Markoe-Byrne suggests either choosing a more neutral blush shade, or balancing out some of the redness first with a bit of concealer.

How To Choose Your Blush & Bronzer Shades

According to the pros, blush is totally a preference — you can go as bold and playful or subtle and subdued as you want — while bronzer is a little more prescriptive.

“I don’t think there is a right blush shade. Everyone can wear everything. Think of it like an accessory to tie your look together,” Markoe-Byrne says. “For example, soft pink can feel very femme. Want retro vibes? Choose a peach cheek. It totally depends on your mood.”

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s Kristina’s suggestion for blush newbies: “Look for a bright pink or coral tone for lighter and medium skin tones. Go for a bright fuchsia or red-orange for deeper skin tones,” she says. “They are a good place to start and are a guaranteed way to brighten up your face and get that youthful, rosy cheek.”

Another hack to help you pick your blush: Pick one that resembles the natural color in your cheeks and face when they are actually flushed, suggests Klein.

For bronzer, “what you want is for it to look like a natural tan,” says Klein. “Try and find a bronzer that resembles your natural tan color as much as possible,” she adds. Kristina’s bronzer shopping rule? “Don’t go more than two shades darker than your skin tone. Otherwise it’s messy and harder to blend.”

Two things they all suggest avoiding: anything too orange and anything too sparkly.

Creams, Powders, Gels, Sticks: Which Formula Is Right For Me?

Now that you know what they do, how they’re different, where to apply them, and what color to use… what about formula? It’s really up to you and what you’re comfortable with.

“Personally, I’m team cream all the way. When I use a drop of powder all I see is my adult acne,” shares Markoe-Byrne. “For most people cream is easier. You can apply it with your fingers, a sponge, a brush — whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Kristina is into cream blushes, too. “Cream goes on really easily on bare skin or with foundation. It’s more versatile,” she says, noting that you can warm cream products up in your hands, press them into your face, and then they’ll melt into your skin. But for bronzer, Kristina likes to incorporate powders too. “I choose finely milled powder so they look almost like a cream,” she says.

Worried about shine? “Set your blush and/or bronzer lightly with translucent powder. Translucent is key so you don’t cover up the color,” explains Kristina.

For more staying power, consider gels and stains. “You have to work rather quickly with those because they will stain your skin,” says Klein, but they will last for hours. “And make sure that you’re hydrated so that your skin isn't receiving its moisture from your makeup, which will cause your makeup not to last very long,” Kristina adds.

The Best Blush & Bronzers, According to Makeup Artists

Chanel Baume Essentiel Multi-Use Glow Stick

“These face gloss sticks are incredible and so versatile. They have translucent ones, bronzing ones. I always use them on set,” says Markoe-Byrne.

Glossier Cloud Paint

“The colors are amazing and a little goes a long way. You’ll have these little tubes for three years, so it’s a lot of bang for your buck,” says Markoe-Byrne.

Make Beauty Dewy Gel Cheek Tint

“The colors are bold but blend out so nicely. And the small stick is so easy to use,” says Kristina.

Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream

Klein loves this cream bronzer because “it has a velvety finish and blends seamlessly.”

Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Bronzing Powder

“This powder bronzer is perfect for bronzing up the face or body with a big powder brush,” explains Klein.

Westman Atelier Baby Cheeks Blush Stick

“This ‘clean’ formula can be used on cheeks and lips and is great for touching up on the go,” says Klein.