Bronzing vs Contouring for Deeper Skin Tones: Here Is What You Need to Know

The plight of deeper skin tones within the makeup industry has been discussed and dissected ad nauseam. Yet, in the year 2024, there is still a considerable amount of uncharted territory as it relates to the nuances of how certain techniques and products fall short of the needs of those with dark skin.

Most notably, the discrepancies in technique and shade ranges that fall under the umbrella of bronzing and contouring and the overlooked manner in which the terms are used interchangeably. Contouring and bronzing are both great ways to take your makeup game to the next level, but because of the lack of shade ranges, many Black women, especially those with deeper skin tones, have felt excluded from the practice.

This doesn’t mean the sculptural results afforded by the practice of contouring or the sun-kissed benefits of properly placed bronzer are unattainable for those with darker skin tones; it just requires intentional conversations and access that those with fairer skin tones have been afforded since the beginning of time.

To bridge this gap and maximize our potential face beats, we’ve enlisted the help of a professional makeup artist to understand better the difference between bronzing and contouring and how to begin your journey with both.

Maximized makeup routines right this way!

What is the difference between contouring and bronzing?

To start, it is important to know that bronzing and contouring are, contrary to many online tutorials, two different makeup techniques.

Contouring is just shading,” says Courtney Kareem, a celebrity makeup artist and the founder of the cosmetic brand MADE, who has worked in the makeup industry for over ten years.

She goes on to explain that the goal of this shading is to make the unshaded area stand out or look more prominent in contrast.

“Let’s say if I’m contouring underneath my cheekbone, it brings your cheekbone out because you’re placing a shadow underneath it,” Kareem explains.

Conversely, bronzing is “warming one’s face,” says Kareem. It is often conflated with the purpose of contouring because, like contouring, bronzers are typically a darker shade than your actual skin tone and are also placed near the high points of the face.

But in Kareem’s perspective, bronzer is actually more akin to blush since warmness ranks paramount.

“It’s like a brown-toned blush. It’s something to make you warmer just around the high points of your face again,” Kareem states.

How does having darker skin impact contouring bronzing vs contouring? 

For many makeup wearers with deeper skin tones, a lack of shade range is a barrier to entry for many aspects of makeup and bronzers, and contours are no exception.

“It’s confusing because bronzers don’t go very deep,” says Kareem, adding that this seemingly hinders how deep certain bronzers can go while maintaining the warmth associated with bronzers. Contour shades are able to get a bit deeper in range without deviating too far from their designated purpose as a product.

Still, recent advancements in shade ranges, thanks to brands like Fenty Beauty and their pioneering inclusion metrics, have paved the way for a more optimistic future in which those who wear the deepest shade still have options for bronzing products that can bring warmth into the skin. 

How to contour and bronze deeper skin tones

Once the hurdle of shade inclusion has been jumped, there is still the ordeal of how to actually apply it. Kareem says she understands why people may be apprehensive about contouring for fear of creating an irreconcilably harsh or overdone look. This is why she doesn’t mind that some people use bronzer as a contour method since bronzers can be more forgiving. 

“I’m not mad at bronzer actually being applied as contour for the everyday person or beginners. That’s actually what I would suggest,” says Kareem. This is because the final result most people want is to bring out their features, which doesn’t always require a full-on contour. “If someone is looking to create ‘contour,’ what they’re envisioning—just making your cheeks pop a little bit more, maybe making your nose look a little bit slimmer or defined—you can get that with bronzer which has an easier application than learning how to specifically contour your face because it is specific to everyone’s face,” says Kareem.

For those interested in traditional contouring, though, placement is everything. The goal is to create a shadow-like effect on the face to contrast any highlighted areas. Exact placement will vary depending on face shape, but a general rule of thumb is that contour should be placed on areas where you would like to appear slimmer. Using an angled brush is also a great way for beginners to practice placement, as keeping your contour lines seamless yet defined is the sweet spot of a perfectly snatched face.

“The darker shade would go up under the bone to carve it out. And then you’re blending it out to lift up and make that cheekbone stand out,” says Kareem.

Even though each person’s facial anatomy is different, some general rules of thumb can be applied for beginners.

“Place it on your cheekbone, right where the base is; it should line up with the top of your ear. If you touch the top of your ear, your cheekbone should be right there. Never bring that line all the way down to the apple of your cheek, which is where it gets round when you smile. You never bring your contour down there because that’s dragging your face down and can ruin the whole illusion,” says Kareem.

Deeper skin-friendly bronzers and contouring 

Despite the slow pace toward shade equality in the beauty industry, there are still some amazing brands that stand out in a sea of brands that continue to miss the work.

Here are a few bronzers and contours suited for deeper skin tones that will have you well on your way to the best beat yet.

Bronzing vs Contouring

Haus Labs By Lady Gaga
Power Sculpt Velvet Bronzer With Fermented Arnica

Price: $38

Shop at Sephora

Bronzing vs Contouring

ONE/SIZE by Patrick Starrr
Made for Shade Bronze & Sculpt Trio Palette

Price: $38

Shop at Sephora

Bronzing vs Contouring

Major Sculpt Crème Contour & Powder Bronzer Duo

Price: $40

Shop at Sephora

Bronzing vs Contouring

Danessa Myricks Beauty
Balm Contour

Price: $28

Shop at Sephora

Bronzing vs Contouring

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna
Sun Stalk’r Instant Warmth Bronzer

Price: $35

Shop at Sephora

Updated: May 15, 2024 — 9:01 am