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Bronzer vs. Contour — What’s the Difference and How to Use Both

One adds warmth, the other adds dimension.

January 23, 2024

A little strategically placed bronzer or contour across your cheekbones can do wonders for adding warmth (aka a little extra color) and definition to your features. For this reason, bronzer and contour are staples in many makeup routines. While they’re not the same product, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and it’s a common misconception that bronzer and contour are one and the same. Each has its own purpose in your routine; bronzer is used to add a sun-kissed appearance to the face, whereas contour is used to sculpt, create shadows and add dimension.

There’s a time and a place for both, and together they can create a gorgeous, bronzed and chiseled complexion to flatter a number of different makeup looks. Ahead, we’re sharing what you need to know about using bronzer versus contour, plus how to apply bronzer and how to contour so you can put your best face forward.

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How Bronzer and Contour Products Differ

If you’ve ever attempted to contour your face, you may have used bronzer. While this certainly isn’t a makeup crime and your preferences should always take priority in your makeup look, using individual products for their intended purposes can lead to better results. 

Bronzers come in various formulas like powder, cream and liquid and are typically warm or neutral in tone. Matte bronzer tends to be the most common choice on the market, but some bronzers will boast a shimmery or radiant finish to add a luminous glow to the skin. 

Alternatively, products used for contouring can come in a number of different formulations like cream, powder and liquid, and the key difference that sets them apart from bronzer is their shade and finish. They are neutral or cool-toned and almost always have a matte finish. 

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How Bronzing and Contouring Differ 

Now that you know what makes bronzer and contour products different, let’s dive into how the techniques differ. The intention behind bronzer is to add warmth and color to the face. If applied correctly, you’ll look like you spent just the right amount of time in the sun (wearing SPF 30 of course). 

Contouring is all about adding dimension to the face by sculpting the features and enhancing your face shape. The goal is to make shadows on the face that can create the appearance of more chiseled cheekbones, a stronger jawline and fuller lips. Because contouring is about creating shadows, you’ll often see that contour products appear cool and somewhat gray in tone. 

Is it Better to Use Bronzer or Contour?

It’s important to identify that bronzer and contour are two different things, and there’s not one that’s better or worse. As we mentioned, bronzer typically has a warmer hue and is used to add color to the skin. Contour products typically lean more cool-toned and are used to create shadows, sculpt and add dimension to the face with shading. Contour is often paired with highlighter (a lighter colored concealer) to enhance the shadows. You can choose one or the other in your makeup routine, or you can do a combination of both, using warmed-toned and cool-toned products to add sun-kissed color and dimension.

Can You Use Bronzer as Contour?

Bronzer can be used as contour if that’s what you prefer. Some prefer to do this because cool-toned contour powders and creams can appear gray on some skin tones. We don’t recommend contouring with a warm-toned product so make sure to choose a bronzer with a mix of warm and cool tones, like L’Oréal Paris Infallible Up to 24H Fresh Wear Soft Matte Bronzer. This soft matte bronzer comes in eight neutral shades so there’s something for nearly every skin tone. 

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Where to Apply Bronzer and Contour

Bronzer is applied to the cheekbones, the forehead and across the nose. It’s used to add depth to the skin and create the appearance of a tan complexion, so it’s applied in all the places where the sun naturally hits. It can also be used on the eyelids as an eyeshadow alternative.

Contour is used to sculpt and add dimension to the face.  It’s typically applied under the cheekbones to carve out their appearance and on the sides of the nose to create a slimmer profile. It can also be used on the forehead to make it look smaller and on the jawline to define its shape. Note that contour can often refer to the technique and not the actual product because a darker concealer can simply be used as a cream contour. 

How to Apply Bronzer vs. How to Contour 

In addition to needing different products, contouring and bronzing call for different application techniques and placement. Here’s how to apply each, and where to apply it.

How to Apply Bronzer 

Product placement is key when applying bronzer and contour. When it comes to bronzer, you’ll want to apply it where the sun would naturally hit if you were out on a sunny day. These areas include the hairline, sides of the forehead, tops of the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. Once you understand where to place bronzer, consider which bronzer formula is best for you. 

A powder bronzer, like the aforementioned Infallible Up to 24H Fresh Wear Soft Matte Bronzer, has a lightweight finish that easily blends into the skin to provide sun-kissed-looking color. Plus, its non-comedogenic formula resists sweat, transfer and smudging so it will stay put all day long. Here’s how to apply it for the best results. 

Step 1. Swirl a fluffy brush into your bronzer and lightly sweep it onto your cheekbones, moving outward and upward towards the hairline. If you’re using a cream bronzer, then use a stippling brush.

Step 2. Dip your brush back into your bronzer, and apply it to your forehead where your skin and hairline meet. Applying bronzer here will help add some more color to your skin while minimizing your forehead. Blend it into your hair to avoid any missing patches or blotchiness.

Step 3. Dipping your fluffy brush into your bronzer once more, apply bronzer to your jawline and down your neck. Applying it down your neck will help you avoid that dreaded makeup demarcation line.

Step 4. For a post-vacation bronzed glow, use your brush to apply any leftover bronzer across the bridge of your nose. 

How to Contour 

When it comes to contouring, everyone's face is different and may require slightly different techniques. Like with bronzer, formula selection is important. Sometimes cool-toned products can appear gray on the skin, so if this is something that happens to you, consider using a neutral-toned bronzer to contour. 

If you have dry skin or prefer something more natural and easier to manipulate, a cream contour formula is a great option. Use a concealer, like L’Oréal Paris Infallible Full Wear Concealer up to 24H Full Coverage, in a color that’s two to three shades deeper than your skin tone (and neutral or cool-toned). 

Step 1. Generally, contouring the hollows of your cheeks starting closest toyour ears and going no further than your pupils will be flattering on most face shapes. This will give you a more sculpted-looking bone structure. If you’re using a powder contour, use a smaller, dense makeup brush to keep the product concentrated and limited to areas you’re trying to sculpt. 

If you’re using a cream contour or a darker shade of concealer, blend it out with a makeup sponge or a stippling brush.

Step 2. Contouring your jawline is a great hack to slim your face shape. Focus on applying the product to the jawline, and blend it out.

Step 3. Contouring your nose can completely change its shape and the appearance of your face. There’s no right way and wrong way to contour your nose because it really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re trying to slim your nose, place two lines of contour or concealer down the center of your nose. The closer they are together, the slimmer your nose will look. You can also add a little bit of concealer in a lighter shade between the two lines to highlight the shadows.

Step 4. To fake a plumper pout, place contour in the middle of your lower lip, just under your natural lip line. Blend it to create a shadow and fill in your lips with a lip liner and lipstick as you normally would.

Next: Skin Undertones 101: How to Determine if You Have Warm, Cool or Neutral Undertones

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Associate Creative Producer: Becca Solovay, Prop Stylist: Catherine Pearson, Prop Assistant: Lindsay Jones

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