Contouring & Highlighting 101 - Favorite Bronzers

04 August 2012

Okay, this is the bronzer suggestion part of my contouring/highlighting blog. Originally I planned on making one big post, but it would be so fucking long that it wasn't even remotely funny, nor did it seem like a good idea even w/ page anchors because who wants to read all of that?? So instead of being one massive blog, this is going to be a four-parter - the actual contour/highlight explanation, and then three separate blogs about my favorite blushes, bronzers, and highlighters. I don't use bronzer all over my face, so none of these are overly shimmery and the shimmery bronzers I DO own are definitely not my favorites.

So this is going to be my bronzer suggestions for contouring. These are the ones I've tried. There are others that I've heard about (Tarte's "Park Avenue Princess", Too Faced's "Chocolate Soleil", etc) but I've never used them so I can't really recommend them, ya know? This list covers all price ranges and should hopefully work for a variety of skintones!

This is picture-heavy and will still be pretty long, so let's get this show on the road!


Contouring/Highlighting 101 -- Favorite Blushes -- Favorite Highlighters




  • NARS Bronzer in "Laguna": This is probably my favorite everyday bronzer. It does contain shimmer but the shimmer doesn't translate onto your face and it's pigmented but incredibly easy to blend and sheer out. The other benefit is that it is also very buildable. You can start off sheer and build up on the contour, which means it ends up looking natural. Plus this color goes really well w/ my skin coloring. It's just a really gorgeous bronzer and I reach for it almost every day. $34 at NARS.
  • Milani Powder Bronzer in "Medium": Milani makes several types of bronzers. This is just the regular bronzer by Milani, not one of the baked ones. It contains noticeable shimmer in the pan but it doesn't appear on the face. This looks dark and it's very pigmented but I love using this bronzer to contour because, again, it's easy to blend out and the powder is finely milled. It makes contouring super easy for photos because it's a bit darker than other bronzers. I really like this one, unfortunately it's not readily available. I found mine at a CVS in Chicago, but none of my local stores carry these bronzers. $5.99 at Milani or at Cherry Culture.
  • N.Y.C. Color Wheel Mosaic in "All Over Bronze Glow": I actually prefer this bronzer more than "Sunny", which was my first favorite matte bronzer. Unlike the previous two, this bronzer is completely matte. It's less pigmented but it's very buildable and you can get a natural looking contour. This probably wouldn't work on deeper skintones, due to the sheerness of this product, but it's great for an every day contour because it is less streaky than "Sunny" and is easier to work w/. All of the different colors in this bronzer work well together and they mix evenly w/ one another. $4.99 from N.Y.C..
  • NYX Matte Bronzer in "Deep Tan": This bronzer is pretty dark. It's probably the most pigmented bronzer I own and it's a teeny bit harder to blend, which is why I usually don't reach for this bronzer on a day to day basis. It is matte, as the name implies, and can be a bit streaky or patchy on the skin. You need to be careful if using this shade w/ lighter skin colors - a little bit goes a long, long, LONG way. I love using this bronzer for pictures though. It's like insta-Photoshop in a compact! This also comes in other colors, so if this one is too dark for you, rest easy. It's a bit pricy, but if you can get NYX on sale at Ulta or online, it's not the worst. $9 at NYX or Cherry Culture.
  • Rimmel Natural Bronzer in "Sun Bronze": This is going to fall in line w/ other natural, more sheer bronzers. The quality of the powder is a bit less (it doesn't go on as smooth as other bronzers do) but it will definitely give you less of an airbrushed model contour but one you can pull off in real life. I've done a review on it, which you can find here if you're interested. This bronzer can lean a bit orange though, so be warned. And it does contain shimmer in the pan, but again, I haven't had problems w/ it transferring to the skin. I gotta say, the packaging on these are really terrible but Rimmel is also fairly available for most folks, so this might be the best choice! $3-$5 by Rimmel.
  • CARGO Bronzer in "Medium Matte": CARGO is one of my favorite brands when it comes to blush and bronzers are no exception. They've been around for a while now, first made 'famous' for their lip gloss tins. They have some lovely blushes though, all super pigmented and interesting colors. The bronzer is pretty awesome, probably second to NARS "Laguna" for me. They have a "Medium" w/ has a slight sheen to it and a "Medium Matte". I've used both for contouring and they work about the same, to be honest. The shimmer in the regular one is (I feel like a broken record, haha) the kind that disappears into thin air when you apply it on your face. CARGO is still sold in JCP Sephora stores and is carried in Ulta as well. $29 from CARGO or Ulta.
  • Rimmel Sunshimmer Maxi Bronzer in "Sun Queen": I wasn't going to mention this one, but whatever. It's HUGE. When you first get it, however, it has a golden overspray that you will need to bust through before you can use it to contour w/. But it's worth it. Shade and quality-wise, it is very similar to the aforementioned Rimmel bronzers w/ one difference - it's pretty much matte underneath the gold stuff. Which is why it's getting a mention! It's also fairly easy to get a hold of; I see it sold almost everywhere Rimmel is stocked in. I've done a brief review on this product as well, which you can find here. $6-$9 by Rimmel.
  • N.Y.C. Smooth Skin Bronzer in "Sunny": I'm pretty sure everyone and their mother has heard about this bronzer. It is pretty well-known, partly because it's cheap as dirt and partly because it's one of the first matte drugstore bronzers to have, seemingly, come out. In a world of glittery bronzers, "Sunny" is definitely a go-to. I have a backup of this bronzer because I like it so much. This has a sheer formulation, which works because it's buildable but since the color is on the terracotta side, too much of this stuff could have you looking like an Oompa-Loompa if you're not careful. That being said, because it's sheer, it's one of the better drugstore bronzers to contour w/. However, it makes it last on my list because, even though it's still on the website, it's becoming increasingly harder for people to find in their drugstores. :/ $2.99 from N.Y.C..
  • Wet N Wild ColorIcon™ Bronzer in "Goddess": This is one of those bronzers that I don't hear a lot about, which is interesting, considering that Wet N Wild usually gets a ton of buzz now. Anyway, this is a mostly matte bronzer that leans a bit on the terracotta side but is still easy to work w/. Like most ColorIcon™ products, this bronzer is super pigmented, blends well, has a smooth, soft texture, and is a bit on the fall-out prone side. You do not want to forget to tap off the excess w/ this product as it tends to kick up a lot of product dust and you don't want BRONZER fall out on your face, haha. That being said, it's a nice bronzer and it's readily available, which is probably a great thing for a lot of people. I can't recommend the other shade because it is SUPER shimmery looking. $4.99 in most stores or Wet N Wild.

Another way to contour is to use a concealer in a couple of shades darker than your skin color. I used to like this method a lot because it's a bit easier sometimes. When packing on too much powder can make your face a hot, caked-on mess, a concealer stick goes on smoothly, blends into the skin, and can be easier to control than a brush. There's also less blending because you can use your fingers.

This also works w/ a foundation, only there is a bit less control. When I do that, I use these two products to do so. I've been getting out of the cream or liquid contouring though, and that foundation is actually too light, especially since summer has been kicking my ass.




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But what if you're not looking for natural? What if you're playing around or if you want a more avant-garde look? Blush is your friend. Don't get me wrong, unnatural contours can look great in photographs but they can look kind of funky in real life, so if you wanna rock that look, rock it. Here are my suggestions for blushes to use.


This is one of the promo pictures from the Shop MAC/Cook MAC collections. I wanted to recreate that orange look for the longest time, because I have most of the products they use!


  1. NARS Blush in "Exhibit A". This blush is CRAZY pigmented...you want to be ever so careful when you use it, whether as a contour or even as a blush because it's a short drop to looking like a tomato gone wrong. That being said, it is my favorite blush in the summertime and I use it quite a lot. It is expensive, but NARS blushes are my other favorite type of blush, after CARGO, so I don't mind and think it's worth it. I think it's supposed to be a burnt orange, but it looks fire engine red to me. $28 from NARS.
  2. CARGO Blush in "Laguna". This is a phenomenal blush, in color and pigmentation. You will often see warm golden oranges or oranges that lean more red but this one actually looks a bit cooler. It's actually described as a "tropical melon". Again, same warning as w/ "Exhibit A" - too much of this blush CAN and WILL be a bad thing. I actually like this more as a blush than as a contour, but you could use it as such. I usually wear this as a blush and then use the NARS one to contour w/ a golden highlighter over it all. $29 from CARGO.
  3. MAC Cremeblend Blush in "Optimistic Orange". I'm pretty sure that this is one of the products used in that MAC promo picture up there. It's a bright, warm orange and I'm really glad that I got it. It can be easily sheered out or built up to a more intense color (which is good, since it's being sold as a blush!) I've been using this blush quite a lot during the summer. I know that cream blushes are supposed to be good for summertime or whatever but I always set them w/ a powder because my skin tends to be oily as hell anyway. Unfortunately, this blush was limited edition. But the Cremeblend Blushes are $20 from MAC.
  4. Smashbox Duo in "Passion" (darker matte pink) and "Shimmer" (lighter shimmery pink). I'm not super geeked about the "Shimmer" side, but the "Passion" side is so excellent. Also, this particular blush is sold separately. In fact, the reason I started contouring w/ in in the first place is because of the little pamphlet that came in the box set (you can find the review here if you're interested) which uses the blush as a contour shade. It's pigmented and smooth and blends into the skin nicely. $24 for the blush at Smashbox and $29 if you were interested in the Soft Lights.
  5. NYX Powder Blush in "Mocha". This is a pretty blush, but it also makes a nice contour. Like every other blush I've mentioned, it's a matte finish and it looks great if you use a light hand. It's incredibly pigmented and is also really soft. This means fall-out city to be honest, so you want to tap the excess product off of your brush otherwise you will have blush flecks everywhere. That's the only downside to a lot of NYX products, I find. The eyeshadows and blushes are pigmented and blend well but they're so ridiculously soft and prone to fall out. It works well for this particular purpose though, so if you don't like red or orange or don't feel like messing around w/ that, you can try this! $6 from NYX or currently $5 at Cherry Culture.

The last two blushes are good if you want a natural contour but you don't want to mess around w/ bronzer or whatnot. Unfortunately they're both somewhat hard to get your hands on, but I like them anyway. Both are matte and instead of leaning orange/terracotta they're more rosy/brick red. I usually prefer regular bronzer over these but I do use the Milani blush from time to time.


Covergirl's "Golden Pink". Between $3 - $5 from Covergirl.


Milani Mineral Blush in "Sunset Beach". $6.49 at Cherry Culture.

And, damn, that's it! One long-ass post! Hopefully the highlighting products post won't be nearly as long!

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