Sunday, January 29th, 2012

By Victoria, Theatre Makeup Artist

Victoria is a 19-year old college sophomore who attends school in Massachusetts for Engineering, but she’s an avid Theater Makeup Artist and has worked on a variety of shows, from dance shows (think intense, flamboyant glitter) to periodic musicals. She aims to combine her “nerdy” passions with her artistic ones: to overanalyze the mathematics of reshaping the face, learn the science of why a product works better or worse. She’s a romantic dreamer who enjoys re-imagining herself in a soap opera, pretending one day a prince is going to come riding in on a dragon and take her away. Until then, she’s planning to use her makeup brushes and colors to force her friends to be the stars of her imaginary fairy tale.

How-to: Blushing & Highlighting

As a follow-up to my post on contouring, I wanted to discuss how to finish up your look with blush and highlighter. Blush and highlighter really bring life to the face, giving you that sought-after glow. Highlighter has a secondary benefit of really bringing contrast to the shadows, which brings out more of that lovely bone structure.

When do you need blush, highlight, and contour? For me, the answer to blush is always, but what about contour and highlight? If you’re of a darker skintone, like NC/W 45+, skip the contour and stick only with highlight. Contour colours unfortunately rarely run too dark, and you risk the color looking muddy on the face. On the other hand, if you’re lighter skinned, like NC15 and up, be very careful with balance. A dramatic contour and highlight can really sculpt out your features but beware of the risk of looking skeletal.

What You Need

A good directional brush, with a smaller head, or a head the size of the apple of your cheek. The same brush for contouring works perfectly here, so options like the MAC 165, MAC 109, or e.l.f. Blush Brush work perfectly. As for a brush with the head the size of your apple of your cheek, options like the MAC 119 (for smaller apples) or 120 (for rounder apples) are great.

Your favorite highlighter. For more of a glowy effect, choose shimmery highlighters, like Dior’s Amber Diamond, Elf Studio Shimmer Palette, or MAC Cream Colour Base in Pearl/Hush. These will give you beautiful glowy finish and really bring your face to life. For a more of dramatic effect, to contrast with the contour, stick with a matte flesh-toned shade that is a step or two lighter than your natural skintone. For this, I turn to powder foundations, or back to my trusty MAC Shape powders, which contain a hint of shimmer (but not too much!). You can definitely layer a shimmer powder over a matte lighter powder, but for natural looks I would avoid this, as it tends to read a bit ashy.

What shades should you choose for highlighter? For a natural highlight, its important to match your undertone with the product. Warmer beauties will find products with a golden or yellow undertone to be really flattering, like Dior Amber Diamond, NARS Albatross, or MAC CCB in Hush. Cooler beauties will find pinker or even lavender toned highlights work great. Look for products like Dior Rose Diamond, NARS Miss Liberty, or MAC CCB in Pearl.

Your favorite blusher. If you’re going with a shimmery highlighter, avoid a blush with too much pearl or frost unless you want to compete with a Twilight vampire for attention!

If we refer back to my original diagram for contouring, it makes finding blusher and highlighter placement is easy!  I like to highlight after contouring; generally, highlighting anywhere where you didn’t contour will help deepen the shadows.

Make a line parallel to the contour line on the top of your cheekbone, and along that line is where the highlight should go. Placing the highlight closer towards your ears will widen your face. Highlighting closer to the apple of the cheek will cause the apples to appear rounder. Whatever you choose, the length of your highlight line should not exceed the length of your contour line; stop highlighting wherever your contour stops.  Then, highlight under the browbone to make the browbone pop, and extend out that highlight to join with your cheekbone highlight. This will help deepen and define the socket, as well as define your cheekbones.

Applying blush last will help to gently blend everything together, but don’t overdo it or else your lines will become muddy and unclear! Blush placement helps reinforce highlighter placement, so apply your blush along a parallel line in between the contour and highlight lines. Don’t smile and apply blush! On many face shapes, this will actually cause the blush placement to be too low. Instead, get some extra lift by applying blush higher along that line. However, if you have a wider face, or you want to soften the cheekbones, apply blush lower along the line, as it will give you an instantly slimmer face.

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33 thoughts on “How-to: Blushing & Highlighting

  1. Emma

    Very helpful, thank you :)
    I have pretty high cheekbones, and I love them, but my jawline is pretty prominent, too, so my cheekbones aren’t really that noticable. Even if I contour, my jawline is still too prominent. I’m 18 and my jawline seems to have developed like that about 6 months ago, before that I got a lot of compliments on my cheekbones :(
    But your tips helped so far, although they can’t bring back my former jawline, it definitely looks better 😉

    • Anna

      You should go to the doctor and see your hormone levels – there is a chance your body is producing growth hormone after you stopped growing. Just do it to be sure.

      As for the post – very helpful! Thanks :)

  2. Andrea

    nice article

  3. Daphne

    Nice post :)

  4. Viona

    Which highlighter its not too shimmery and yet gives a glow?

    • I really adore the Dior Shimmer Stars — the shimmer is not visible on the skin but still gives a glow. Wetter products, like vaseline, balm, or creamy cheek colours will also give a similar effect.

  5. Kelly Marie

    Just today I was thinking-I hope we get another post soon from the awesome girl who did the contouring! You’re great, Victoria :)

  6. Hmm I always tend to apply HL last… might try applying it first next time. I apply blush a little lower than your diagram though

  7. Pawsha

    Completely disagree with that diagram. Glad we each have our own vision of what looks good to the eye.

  8. Hannah

    Just some wisdom I’ve acquired from being blessed/cursed with super pale skin… I find all of the above mentioned highlighters to look false and just sort of off on my pale, neutral-toned skin. The warmer ones look yellow and the pinky ones just sit weirdly on the top of my skin in an artificial way that is not appropriate for daytime wear.

    I’ve found that completely neutral highlighters are the one way I can go in the wintertime! If you are pale and have not found a highlighter that actually looks like a natural glow, try MAC Cream Color Base in Luna, Shiseido Luminizing Face Color in Beam White, or Shu Uemura Radiant Pearl Cream Cheek. These look like a natural glow on my pale neutral skin.

  9. Irene

    Nice and helpful post!
    I always use a bit of highlighter (MAC CCB in Moon) but I’m really really pale, I guess about MAC 5-10 (ghostly!), so even if I’d love to try it, contouring has never worked for me as I can’t find the right product or shade for it. Most look terribly obvious and orange on me.

  10. Rai

    People with darker skin tones CAN DEFINITELY still contour their cheeks.

  11. I completely disagree with the comment you made about darker skinned girls not being able to contour and your advise for them to skip this step. As a dark skin girl with a NW45 shade, I have never had a problem with finding products dark enough to contour my skin with, be it powder and or creme (and I live in the UK, where it is next to impossible to find shades for dark skinned women), so I find it extremely ignorant that you would say that.

    Contouring and highlighting has less to do with your skintone and more to do with the shape and definition of your face. Now I don’t won’t to come off as rude or highly critical, but maybe the reason the dark skinned girls you have made up have looked ‘muddy’ when you have contoured them is that you have failed to effectively find a colour that is suitable and you should look towards finding a more suitable shade before you completely write off contouring on darker skins

    • I’m very, very sorry you’ve taken offense to this post. I meant absolutely no harm or disrespect, only that the effect of contour on darker skin is not as dramatic as the effect on lighter skins, and that the effect of highlighting is less dramatic on lighter skins. These are words of repeated and echoed by many makeup artist greats, including youtube giant GossMakeupArtist and Rae Morris. In response to your comment about muddiness, I do not in fact contour my darker skinned friends. I use highlighting, which on my darker skinned friends do more to contour the face than any darker skinned powder I can apply. However, if you have found a better alternative, other than the ones listed in my previous contouring post, please do share. I am always trying to learn more, especially from this amazing community.

  12. Julez

    That is an ignorant comment to say the darker tones shouldn’t contour. Obviously you have no idea what you’re talking about. All because you are not educated enough to know about these products does not mean they don’t exist. Covergirl makes bronzers for darker women with the queen collection and I have seen nc47 women wear them. And NOT look as you say “muddy”

    • I’m very, very sorry you’ve taken offense to this post. I meant absolutely no harm or disrespect, only that the effect of contour on darker skin is not as dramatic as the effect on lighter skins, and that the effect of highlighting is less dramatic on lighter skins. These are words of repeated and echoed by many makeup artist greats, including youtube giant GossMakeupArtist and Rae Morris, which I hope whose experience lends to them less ignorance and more wisdom. In response to your comment about muddiness, I do not in fact contour my darker skinned friends. I use highlighting, which on my darker skinned friends do more to contour the face than any darker skinned powder I can apply. As noted in my previous contouring post, I do not use or recommend bronzer for contouring. The Covergirl option has an orange cast which gives a beautiful bronzed glow to the skin, but lacks the grey tone that makes a more natural looking contour. However, as a student to makeup, I am always in the search of more alternatives and options, and if you have more suggestions, please let me know, as I am always trying to learn, especially from this amazing community.

      • Julez

        I have not seen the covergirl girl (queen collection which is geared towards women of color)bronzers give off and orange glow. There are also matte bronzers and foundations that can be used. You just need to broaden your colors if you plan on being a makeup artist and work on different skintones and types. If a darker client insist on contouring I highly doubt you’ll tell them no. You do what the client wants or you can make a suggestion and not just tell someone to skip a step because it looks muddy.

    • nicci

      wow, she was just trying to be helpful. You don’t need to be rude about it and say she has no idea what she is talking about. She must have some idea otherwise she wouldn’t be posting on a popular blog.

  13. I have always liked this site but this post made me as a brown girl or darker girl feel really disrespected. Who are you to say darker complexions can’t contour? Have you seen the work of Billy B. and Sam Fine etc on ‘darker’ models? And then to compare it to mud…crazy! Contouring can be done on anyone of any color, check your references and study the art of makeup before making auch baseless claims! The fact that this post even made it past editing is disturbing.

  14. Gail

    Why do we jump to racism? Maybe instead of being nasty and just as rude to one person as you feel they are being to you, you could try educating. Why not suggest real products that have worked in YOUR experience? All those so critical and happy to call people racist and ignorant could give her product suggestions to try. Try being helpful. I know it’s a stretch. You’d be surprised how much you could change the world if you just changed your tactics.

    What products have you tried that have been muddy on darker skin tones? Have you tried using a liquid or powder foundation instead? Also recommend trying lines geared towards women of color like Iman and BlackUp!

    • I adore lines like Iman and Black Radiance! I haven’t heard of BlackUp — I will definitely take a look at it. The muddiness tends to appear because the effect of darker colour on dark skin is tends to be less apparent — I hoped to emphasize that highlighting, on a darker skin, will fool the eye that a contour has been applied.

    • I agree completely. Took the words out of my mouth Gail.

  15. JIlliant

    Love this post – your diagrams are awesome

  16. jenni

    Personally I don’t like the straight highlight line, I like to curve it around my apple, makes my cheeks look extra rosy and cute :)

  17. Aimey

    This was very helpful! I think it would have been wonderful if you made a video for this!

  18. LuLu

    Great post Victoria! I’m an NC40 and have a really hard time finding bronzers to contour with because they never show up or like you said they look muddy on my face. None of Benefit’s blushes/bronzers show up on me lol

    As for the women who took offense and called the author of this post ignorant, careful or people might call you insecure for being so quick to jump down her throat and get all defensive. I don’t see her suggestion being any different than Christine’s “Must-have, Nice-to-have, and Skip” recommendations. I don’t see you jumping down Christine’s throat.

    • Miss J

      LuLu, have you tried a darker foundation to contour or a product like NARS Multiple Bronzers?

    • Janette


      Im an NC 40 and both Bella Bamba and Coralista show up on me, I build the color using a fix + after i have applied powder on the brush then apply it to my cheeks and repeat the process about 2x

  19. Miss J

    Victoria, thank you for taking the time to create a post. I hope you continue to post in the future!

    I understood what you were trying to get across in the statement that has caused a bit of commotion. Something lighter on dark skin and something darker on light skin creates more of a contrast, which can create the illusion of shaping/sculpting without the use of contouring product on dark skin or highlighting on light skin.

    There are definitely products for darker skins to contour with, though. Highlighting and contouring can look ridiculous on anyone, if done poorly and/or with the wrong products. I know you didn’t tell people they CAN’T contour, and were only giving your opinion of the best method. I know you didn’t mean anything malicious. I understand where the others are coming from in their feelings/thoughts, but at the same time think the reactions were hypersensitive. Maybe in the future elaborate, as I think a lot of the problem was wording and lack of explanation with the statement.

    Okay, really long post, but overall just wanted to say: KEEP POSTING! :)

  20. Naedyn

    I am NC44 and I agree that certain contour colours out there can look muddy on darker skin; just as much as certain eyeshadow colours look muddy on lighter skin. I have not been able to find any suitable contour powders for darker skin in Singapore, Australia or New Zealand, and I am sure the pickings are slim for this category elsewhere. To be honest, I find that getting a look down is really about finding what works for you and that make-up is really just different pigments in various mediums. I use a matte brown eyeshadow to contour my cheeks and have found it to work well for me every time. Whether you are light or dark-skinned, you need only to look for a shade that works best for your skintone, and come to accept that the brands out there may not sell exactly what you want. IMPROVISE!

  21. this is the most useful pic I’ve ever seen!
    thank u