Makeup Artists Explain the Difference Between Bronzer and Contour—And How to Use Both

We spoke with expert makeup artists to breakdown how and when to use contour and bronzer.

<p>Getty Images</p>

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By this point, bronzer and contour are in just about every beauty lover's vanity. This is all thanks to the radiant and sun-kissed look that has dominated the skin-forward makeup trends of late.

While bronzer and contour can be used to achieve this look, they are two very different items that serve unique purposes. Both add depth and dimension to the face, but bronzer is meant to add warmth to the skin whereas contour is used to outline where the sun would naturally cast a shadow.

Meet Our Expert

Whether you are going for a full-glam look or a subtle glow, there are simple ways to achieve the look with an added bit of dimension. We spoke with expert makeup artists to learn the difference between bronzer and contour and how to use them each. Read on to learn more.

What Is Bronzer?

Think of bronzer as a tanner in a bottle. “Bronzers tend to be warmer in tone and are used to add color to the face,” explains Steve Kassajikian, Urban Decay's head of global artistry.

Bronzer can come in creams, powders, serums, and sticks. Cream-based bronzers are great for a more full-coverage look whereas serums provide a radiant but subtle glow all over the face. To use bronzer, apply your product of choice across to the “apples of the cheek and brush back up the cheekbones,” says Kassajikian. “Then apply along the frame of your face and jawline to add warmth. Use a fluffy brush for a seamless blend and distribution.”

“Typically bronzer placement would come after you apply foundation and before blush,” says Riddle. “I use bronzer to add color to the skin. When you want to have a healthy glow, simply mix it in with your foundation.”

What Is Contour?

Contours, on the other hand, are usually cool-toned to mimic the natural shadows of your bone structure and “can be used to sculpt the face and really change and define facial features,” says celebrity makeup artist Charlie Riddle.

Similar to bronzer, contour comes in a few shapes and forms, but the most popular are powder and cream-based. Both of these will get you a snatched look, so long as you apply where a shadow would naturally occur. This being said, how you apply contour can vary based on your style preferences and how much you want to carve out your facial features.

Riddle says to apply it right after foundation and before you add any powder products to define and sculpt facial features. For an easy, everyday style, Riddle says to apply contour on the face from the “hairline to cheekbone, blending out and up—this will elongate and lift the face,” says Riddle. “Also apply to the temples, the bridge of your nose, jawline, and chin to add definition and dimension.”

If you’re working with cream products, you can also use a technique called “underpainting” which means to apply product before foundation for a more subtle chiseling. Sam Kyle, creative director and makeup artist at Mirabella, recommends adding product to the cheekbones, jawline, along the sides of the nose, and around the top of the forehead. Then, going in with a light-coverage foundation to create a uniform complexion with natural-looking shaping.

How to Choose Between Using Bronzer, Contour, or Both

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images


Bronzer is great for a simple but flawless makeup routine, especially in the summer. It's also great for those who want that radiant glow without stepping out into the sun’s harmful rays.

When selecting a bronzer shade, try to pick one that is one to two shades deeper based on the level of warmth you want to add to your skin.


Contour is your go-to for a snatched and chiseled look. Reach for it when you're doing a heavier, more full-glam look. "I typically use contour for more of a glam makeup look,” says Riddle. “Contour can also be specifically targeted to one area—for example, maybe you don’t wear a lot of makeup, but you can still contour just your nose daily, if you’d like.” 

When selecting a contour shade, Kassajikian recommends picking one that is two to three shades deeper than your skin tone to help sculpt your features.

When To Use Both

It may seem intimidating, but you can absolutely use bronzer and contour in the same makeup look—it all depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Riddle says to start by applying your contour, and then top it with bronzer. Then, you'll get the best of both worlds with a sculpted, glowy look.

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