Thanks to the Kardashians, Kardashian look-alikes, YouTube vloggers, and just about every makeup brand on shelves, contouring has become a household term. The technique, once reserved for industry pros, has become something your kid sister and your hip grandmother alike has mastered.
But while we were getting swept up in sculpting, we lost track of bronzing. Remember bronzer? That warm powder that makes you look all summery and sun-kissed and healthy? It’s different than contour, but admittedly, it can be hard to figure out which is which.
According to makeup artist Tami Shirey, the undertones and application technique for each are what make them unique from one another. “When you’re contouring, you want to put a product two shades darker than your skin tone right on the underside of your cheekbone,” she says. “Contouring is playing with light [and creating] a shadow.”
Bronzing, on the other hand, is all about mimicking a vacation glow. “Bronzer is used to warm up your face; you don’t define anything with bronzer,” says Shirey. “Dust bronzer in a ‘3’ shape so you hit your forehead, cheeks, and under your jaw.”
Ahead, an easy guide to choosing your best bronzer and contour powder.

Since bronzer is used to give the complexion a sun-kissed effect, reach for one with warm or burnt tones like this one from Lorac which looks beautiful on those with pale to medium skin. “It all depends on your skin tone,” says Shirey. “If you are very pale, I would stay away from anything too orange but someone with warmer olive skin for example, can use something with more orange tones in it.”

This baked bronzer’s red undertones make it a great option for those with deep skin tones. Dust it onto the high points of the face (forehead, cheeks, and bridge of the nose) to warm up an ashy complexion.

Lorac Tantalizer Baked Bronzer in Bronze, $33, available at Lorac.

This one from E.L.F. has subtle shimmer running through it that gives the skin luminosity without looking too sparkly. Thanks to its neutral coloring (not too warm, not too cool), it will work with a variety of medium skin tones.

E.L.F. Baked Bronzer, $3 $1.20, available at E.L.F.

This matte bronzer from NYC is made for those who avoid shimmery powders at all costs. It looks great on those with olive or yellow undertones thanks to its warm, natural coloring and finish.

NYC Smooth Skin Bronzing Powder in Sunny, $3.62, available at Target.


“Contour products should be cool-toned because you want to create a shadow,” says Shirey. Look for powders with ashy tones like taupe rather than orange or red ones. “You don’t want anything with shimmer in it,” Shirey warns. “You don’t want to highlight where you want to create depth.”

Shirey’s pick is Kat Von D’s Shade & Light Palette, which includes three contouring shades and three matte highlighting powders. Those with deeper skin will love the darkest shade in the palette, while those with paler complexions will love the shade on the far left. Fall somewhere in the middle? Play makeup artist and mix shades to create a custom hue.

Kat Von D Shade & Light Palette, $48, available at Sephora.

Contouring beginners will love this duo from L’Oréal, which contains a cool-toned contour powder and subtle highlighter. Thanks to this shade’s grayish-taupe hue, it’s ideal for those with very pale skin. Plus, the powder deposits just the right amount of pigment, so it’s almost impossible to go overboard.

L’Oréal Infallible Pro Contour Palette, $12.99, available at Ulta Beauty.

Kevyn Aucoin’s Sculpting Powder in Medium is a makeup artist favorite for a reason: the pigmented powder creates realistic shadows on a range of pale to medium skin tones and never looks patchy.

Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Contour Powder in Medium, $44, available at Sephora.


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