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Bronzer vs. Contour: What's The Difference?

Bronzer vs. Contour: Their Differences & How to Use Them

14 Mar 2024

Bronzer and contour are two products that make an appearance in nearly every viral “get ready with me” video on TikTok. To the untrained eye, it can seem like the differences between bronzer vs. contour are minimal, at best. Both, after all, tend to be brownish in color, and each is used on similar areas of the face. In reality, though, these two products have different purposes (which is precisely why they’re both staples in nearly every beauty influencer’s makeup bag). But if you’re finding it tricky to distinguish the differences between contour and bronzer, don’t worry—we’re here to help. Ahead, we’ll explain the differences between these two face favorites and detail how to use each in your makeup routine. Find all the scoop on bronzing vs. contouring, below.

What Is Bronzer?

Bronzer is a type of powder, cream, or liquid makeup product designed to help “warm up” the skin. It’s usually applied on areas where the sun would naturally hit (like the tops of the cheekbones) to create the illusion of a warmer, glowier complexion.

What Is Contour?

Contour, like bronzer, can come in many different formats, including liquid and cream. Its purpose, however, differs from contour in that it’s primarily used to help define your facial features—typically, your cheekbones, nose, and jawline.

The Differences Between Bronzer and Contour

The main difference between bronzer and contour is what they’re used for. Bronzer, as we mentioned, is used to warm up the skin, but it’s not going to define or sculpt your features. As its main purpose is, essentially, to emulate a tan, you’ll usually find bronzer available in various tan-like shades (typically with a warmer undertone to amplify the beachy, summery effect). Bronzer can also come in a range of finishes, from ultra matte to super shimmery—the latter of which can lend itself to a sunkissed look.

Contour, on the other hand, generally leans cool in tone and undertone. When applied properly (more on that shortly), contour can create the illusion of shadows, making your face look more sculpted. Something else separating bronzer and contour is that contour products typically won’t have any shimmer. This is because shimmer reflects light and can take away from that shadowy appearance. You can expect most contour formulas to have a natural or matte finish instead.

When Do You Use Bronzer?

When you want to emulate that fresh-from-vacation look, bronzer is the product you should turn to. Look for a formula that closely aligns with what your skin looks like when you’ve gotten some sun. If you burn rather than tan, aim for a shade slightly deeper and warmer than your natural skin tone.

Where to Apply Bronzer

To mimic a sunkissed glow, you’ll want to apply your bronzer to areas where the sun naturally hits your skin. Usually, this includes the tops of your cheekbones, bridge of your nose, and along your hairline—in other words, the high points of your face. These areas are also where you’d apply your highlighter, if you’re using one (and if a beachy glow is what you’re after, we definitely recommend adding highlighter).

How To Use Buttermelt Bronzer

If you’re looking to add a bronzing step to your makeup routine, we suggest snatching up our Buttermelt Bronzer—it’s perfect for beginners and pros alike. The lightweight powder applies evenly and smoothly, and it offers buildable coverage so you can customize your bronze to your liking.

To use this buttery-smooth bronzer, you’ll first want to prep your skin and apply foundation, if you plan on using any. Then, select a bronzer shade that complements your skin. There are eight to choose from, each of which offers a radiant, sunkissed bronze without any orange or gray tones.

Once you’ve settled on your ideal shade, snag the corresponding Buttermelt Bronzer Brush to apply the velvety bronzer wherever you’d like a bit of extra warmth (like your nose, cheekbones, and forehead). Blend and build until you’ve reached your desired level of bronze, then lock it all in with our Matte Setting Spray.

When Do You Use Contour?

Generally, you’ll want to use contour when you want to sculpt, shape, or define your features. You can wear contour alone or use it alongside bronzer, blush, and highlighter for a more full-glam look—the choice is yours.

Where to Apply Contour

How and where you apply contour depends largely on what features you’d like to define. With that being said, there are a few areas people typically hit: just beneath the cheekbones, around the perimeter of the face, along the sides of the nose, and just beneath the jaw. (For a more in-depth look at how to contour, we recommend checking out our article Contouring 101: How to Contour Like an Absolute Pro). You can also add a tiny bit of your contour shade below your bottom lip to help make your lips appear plumper—an effect you can amplify by reaching for a lip-plumping gloss.

Can You Use Bronzer as Contour?

While bronzer and contour can appear similar, you typically don’t want to use bronzer as contour. Contour, as we mentioned, is designed to mimic the appearance of shadows, which are usually grayish in color. Bronzer, however, generally has a warm undertone. Applying a warm-toned product in areas where cool-toned shadows would normally appear can sometimes make your face look muddy. We recommend using cool-toned contour (like the deeper shade in our Wonder Stick Contour and Highlighter Sticks) to sculpt your features, and warm-toned bronzer to liven up your complexion.

Do You Apply Bronzer or Contour First?

Generally, we recommend applying contour before bronzer to sculpt your features. Then, you can go in and add warmth to the areas that need it. However, if one product is cream or liquid and the other powder, you’ll want to apply the cream first. This helps ensure a smoother, more natural-looking finish—and the powder may help set the cream product to boot.

Got a bronzer or contour look you love? Share a picture on social and tag us at @nyxcosmetics!

Next Up: Is Underpainting the Secret to Natural-Looking Makeup?


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