By now, you’ve certainly heard of bronzing and contouring techniques, as both have dominated makeup trends and tutorials for years. While bronzers and contouring products look similar and are sometimes mistaken for each other, the products serve different purposes—and the techniques vary as well. Whether you want a sun-kissed glow or are looking to accentuate your bone structure naturally, there are simple ways to achieve both looks with just a little product. Ahead, we sourced two pro makeup artists who explain the differences between bronzer vs. contour, along with invaluable tips on recreating these looks.
Meet the Expert
What Is Bronzer?
Bronzer comes in a few different formulas and works primarily to add warmth and sun-kissed color to your complexion. “Bronzer can be a liquid, cream, or powder product that gives warmth to the skin,” Gray explains. “Usually, bronzer is applied where the sun would naturally hit the face. Multiple shades fall under bronzer shades, but [the products] tend to have a yellow, olive, golden, or sometimes even red undertone.”
What Is Contour?
Slightly different than bronzer, contour is a helpful tool for sculpting and shaping (often alongside a highlighter for extra contrast). “Contour can also be a liquid, cream, or powder product [and is] used to sculpt the face,” Gray says. “Contour shades mimic shadows occurring naturally on faces and almost can create an illusion of a more sculpted face.” Simply put, when wanting to define the structure of your face, expand the dimension, and accentuate the shape, using a contouring method will help you achieve those results.
Bronzer vs. Contour
The differences between bronzer and contour are pretty simple: One adds warmth and mimics where the sun would naturally hit the face, and the other is primarily used for definition and sculpting. Another noticeable difference between the two products is the finishes, as bronzers come in both matte and radiant finishes, while contouring products tend to tout a matte finish only. “The contour color will be cooler-toned, as again, it mimics the color of a natural shadow,” Gray adds. “For fairer skin tones, it will appear almost gray-purple. For medium and deeper skin tones, it will appear more red, tan, and rich brown.”
How to Apply Bronzer
Applying bronzer can be fairly straightforward (and we’re so thankful for that). “My general rule for applying bronzer shades that are deeper than your skin tone is to blend everything very well into the skin and blend upwards into the hairline,” Gee notes. “I love to apply bronzer over the cheekbones, around the hairline, just above the jawline, down the neck, and onto my chest.” Applying it to your chest is a particularly genius tip, as it helps ensure that your face and décolleté will match.
“Apply powder bronzer with a large fluffy brush to diffuse the color, and apply that bronzer anywhere the sun would hit you naturally,” Gray advises. “The sun hits the higher points of your face, as those areas are closer to the sun. Usually, this is the temples of your forehead, tops of your cheekbones, chin, and nose.” Gee also added that bronzer can work as a multi-purpose product for a quick, natural makeup look. “When I approach makeup, I think about the overall look I want to achieve,” she says. “I’m less about the product type or category and more about the general vibe of what I am going for. I’m all about multi-purpose: Bronzer is a product I can wear as a blush, an eye shadow, and on my cheekbones—it’s all about creating warmth on the skin.
For the above makeup look, I applied a generous amount of Rose Inc.’s Solar Infusion Soft-Focus Cream Bronzer ($36) on the high points of my face for the sunlight to grab and illuminate.
How to Apply Contour
Applying contour is slightly different than bronzer, yet you can wear both together. “I use contour as a base for my bronzer, so I apply contour under my bronzer (on my cheekbones, above my jawline and on my hairline as well),” Gee says. “I love to apply contour with Gee Beauty’s Prime Skin Brush ($35).”
“Usually, you would apply contour to the hollows of the cheeks, jawline, down the nose, and on the top of the forehead,” Gray advises. She recommends applying contour precisely: “One’s face shape and features determine placement—applying contour should be more precise than bronzer and placed in certain areas. I prefer a smaller applicator for contour—something like Catrice’s Shape and Define Contour Stick ($7). Be careful not to use a cool-toned contour like a bronzer all over the face.”
Want to accentuate your contour? The next time you apply your concealer under the eyes, add some loose powder on top and press it into the skin using something like the Real Techniques Miracle 2-in-1 Dual Sided Powder Puff ($7), and let the powder sit on the skin for five to 10 minutes. Your body heat will cause the makeup to bake, soaking up any oil on the surface and creating a natural contrast between your concealer and contour, which in turn makes the definition more noticeable.
To appear more contoured, I wanted to emphasize my cheekbones, so I applied Tom Ford’s Shade and Illuminate Contour Duo in shade Intensity 1.0 ($90). I buffed concealer under my eyes and around the cheekbones for the contour to really stand out.
The Final Takeaway
Whether you want to add warmth, structure, or both to your face, contouring and bronzing are key ways to enhance your complexion and features. With the right tools and products, you can achieve and benefit from both techniques, which only get better with practice.