Contouring and Bronzing: What’s the difference?

What is the difference between bronzing and contouring?

Slimming and defining your face is fun. The Kardashians get most of the credit for bringing contouring to the people, but celebrities (and their makeup artists) have been doing it for a long time.

What’s been more widely available to the public, and for longer, is bronzer.

You may have some questions! Can you use bronzer to contour? Do the products go in different places on the face? Is there really even a difference between contouring and bronzing?

Hopefully I have the answers you’re looking for!

Contouring versus bronzing: what is the difference?
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What is bronzing?

Bronzing is using a product a few shades darker than your skin tone to warm your complexion, so you apply this shade to the areas of your face that the sun hits. This creates the “beach kissed” glow that everyone is after in the summer.

Get The Look

To get this look you need a warm shade and one that’s darker than your skin tone since we’re going for the essence of a tan, but if you’re really looking to accentuate, you can even go for one that has some shimmer in it.

What you do need to make totally sure of is that it is just a few shades darker than your current skin tone and has orange undertones. This is because when your skin tans, the melanin darkens causing a slight orange hue. Undertones, not color. We aren’t going for Cheeto here.

Bronzer is fairly easy to shop for since it’s been marketed for a long time. You can look for a product that’s labeled as a bronzer and it will likely have all of these characteristics. You just want to make sure that it isn’t too dark, but even better is finding one that’s buildable so you can get the exact look you’re going for!

Try these:
e.l.f. Cosmetics Sun Kissed Glow Bronzer $4.00
Coastal Scents Sun Tones Bronzer $7.95
St. Tropez Bronzer Powder $28.00

What is contouring?

Contouring is using a shadow type color to add structure, dimension, and depth to your face. You use it to chisel out your features which helps to make your face look more defined and slim. You can also use contour shades all over your body to help define collar bones or cleavage, if that’s your type of thing.

Related Post: 5 Foundation Mistakes You Might Be Making

Get The Look

To get this look you need a cool shade that’s a few shades darker than your skin. When you think of shadows, you think of colors that are grey or beige based, rather than orange. That’s what were trying to recreate here. You’re trying to deepen the natural shadows on your face to enhance the height of your cheek bones or make your chin just a bit more chiseled.
You need to make totally sure that the shade you use for this is just a few shades darker than your current skin and 100% matte. I cannot stress the matte enough! Have you ever seen a sparkly shadow? I haven’t. And shimmery shades here make it very apparent that your face shadows aren’t natural. That’s not what we want!

Palettes or Single Shades?

Since contouring has become so popular recently, there are a ton of brands that offer contour palettes with a variety shades that you can mix together to create one perfect for your skin tone. However, they come with lighter shades too that can be used to highlight!

Highlighting for this purpose uses a non-shimmer powder that is a few shades lighter than your skin to lighten that high points of your face, because it helps add even more dimension to your face rather than just contouring alone.

Try these:
e.l.f. Cosmetics Contour Makeup Palette $6.00
Coastal Scents 6 Contour Blush Palette $11.95
Smashbox Step by Step Contour $45.00

How To Use These Techniques

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what each term is and how to achieve it, we’ll talk a little bit about using them in the real world.


You cannot interchange products for either of these looks. For instance, if you use a bronzing shade for contour, you’re going to look like you got a bad spray tan, or like a Cheeto. We don’t want that. However, if you use a contour shade for bronzing you’re going to look dirty. Of course, no one naturally has ashy shades on their high points after being in the sun, so just don’t put it there!


Both techniques are used to enhance, not create. Be light handed in your application, build color gradually, and BLEND! Blending is so so important here! Ordinarily, natural color doesn’t have harsh lines, so your enhanced colors should not either. In addition, if you’re looking for some blending advice and brush recommendations, check out my blog post on it here!


Using both contouring and bronzing techniques together can be done without you looking crazy, but I’ll refer you back to my previous point, light-handed enhancing! If you go in hard with these opposing dark shades, you run the risk of looking a little crazy. Start your application with a very light layer of bronzing product for your sun-kissed glow and build the product up to your desired shade, then return later to deepen your facial features with a light touch of contour.

Cheek bones + tan = 😍

Overall, I hope this clears up the differences for you and helps you to understand how to use both methods. Personally, I use both, usually not at the same time though. I find bronzing works perfectly to give my face a splash of warm color when I’m going for a natural look, and contour keeps my face looking high dollar when I’m trying to go all out.

Drop me a comment below and let me know which method you prefer! I love hearing from you.

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The big differences between contouring and bronzing.

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