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How to Apply Blush, Contour and Highlighter Perfectly Every Time (So It Doesn’t Age Us!)

By Elise Marquam-Jahns February 14, 2024 Beauty

As I think we’d all agree, the most flattering look for our face makeup is a natural look – a look where all of our face products blend together beautifully and seamlessly. But I’m sure that most of us have had the experience of applying blush, contour or highlighter that ends up looking patchy or streaky, downright unattractive, and ages us. And while these products can do wonders for our complexion, a “gone wrong” application can do exactly the opposite.

So, today, I’ll first cover some general tips on how we can apply blush, contour and highlighter perfectly every time. And since the cause of a less than perfect makeup look can also boil down to the formula of the product and how we apply that formula, I’ll also share with you some no fail application methods that can banish blotchy and streaky looks for good.

First, Exfoliate!

First let’s cover some general tips that can make quite a major difference in how our makeup looks. The first tip is to exfoliate our skin to get rid of dead skin cells once or twice a week before applying our makeup. If we don’t exfoliate, and we apply makeup over dry and flaky skin, our makeup will look streaky and uneven.

However, if you have rosacea, you should NOT exfoliate your skin.

Prep Your Skin

Second, we need to prep our skin with moisturizer because dry skin and makeup are not friends. Even if you have oily skin, use a moisturizer – but be sure it’s oil free.

Third, consider applying a face primer. Face primers do a wonderful job of creating an even surface on which makeup products can be applied. And many face primers help with other challenges as well – such as large pores or redness. If you have oily skin – a mattifying face primer or oil-absorbing foundation can be a lifesaver. That’s because the natural oils in our skin can cause other products to look splotchy and streaky.

Fourth, be sure to use a foundation brush or sponge to even out foundation. If our foundation is thicker in some areas than in others, we’re definitely asking for trouble when we apply other products over it since the foundation won’t absorb into the skin evenly.

Blend for a Natural Look

Fifth, the three key words for blush, contour and highlighter application are “blend, blend, blend.” This helps the products look natural, so they don’t look like they’re sitting on top of our face.

Sixth, consider using a setting powder or setting spray. That’s because as our makeup fades throughout the day, it can start to have the dreaded double “S” look – splotchy and streaky.

Seventh – clean your makeup brushes weekly. Excess makeup and oil from our skin can build up on the bristles which can be very detrimental to our makeup look.

Eighth, we may need to say goodbye to old brushes. I know it’s hard to give up an old friend which has been there for us on countless occasions over the years, but it may be time to part ways. If the density or shape of the brush has changed, it’s time to make friends with a new brush.

Be sure to check out Elise’s YouTube channel which specifically focuses on makeup tips, techniques, and product reviews for those of us 50+. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Choose Wisely

Ninth, we need to avoid being too heavy handed with our application of the product. We want to take the Goldilocks approach of not too much and not too little, but just right. We can always blot or pat away excess product with a sponge – or pat over it with foundation, but it’s far easier to add more of a product than to take away some of the product.

Ten, make sure that you pick a shade that works with the undertone of your skin since blush, contour and highlighter aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Applying a product that’s too bright, dark or the wrong shade can age us.

And eleven – as we all know – blush (especially) can disappear after a few hours of wear, so we need to layer our blush for staying power. There are several ways to do this. We can layer powder blush over cream or pat on cream over powder or liquid blush. Or, we can apply a layer of cream or liquid blush, then press a makeup sponge with setting spray on it over the blush and then apply another layer of blush.

How to Apply Different Product Formulas and Saturation Levels

Now that we’ve covered general tips, let’s focus on one of the most crucial things that determines how polished – or how poor – our face makeup looks. And that’s how we apply particular product formulas.

Deciding how best to apply a product is determined by two things: first, the formula of the product – in other words, is it stiff and more challenging to blend out – or is it soft and blendable. And second, how intense or saturated the product’s color is.

Product Formulas

If the formula of a blush, contour or highlighter is stiff and doesn’t blend out easily, avoid applying it directly on your skin from the applicator. Instead, put some on the back of your hand or in your palm and pick up the color with a brush.

Rub the brush over the product several times to make sure you get an even distribution of the product on your brush and then rub the brush against the back of your hand or your palm to remove excess product. Then apply the product on the outer part of the face first and then move toward the center.

This is because the brush will deposit the greatest amount of product where we first place it on our face. And we don’t want to have the greatest amount of product on the center of our face.

In the video I’ll demonstrate the difference between a stiff formula and a softer, easier to blend formula with these two products: Wet and Wild contour stick and Em Cosmetic’s contour stick. As you’ll be able to tell, the Wet and Wild product is quite a bit stiffer and harder – whereas the Em Cosmetics product glides on far more easily.

So I’d definitely recommend applying the Wet and Wild stiffer formula to the back of your hand or palm first and then picking it up with a brush to apply it. The Em Cosmetics contour is so creamy and easy to blend that it can be applied directly to the face from the applicator and then blended out. In the video I’ll apply the Wet and Wild Contour on one side of my face and the Em Cosmetics’ Contour on the other side of my face so you can see the difference.

Product Saturation

Now let’s focus on product saturation by comparing two different blushes: Rare Beauty’s Liquid Pinch Blush – which is very saturated – and the Afterglow Liquid Blush from Nars – which is not as saturated. Since the Rare Beauty Liquid Pinch blush is far more saturated than the Nars product, it will create a stronger blush look.

So I would definitely put the Rare Beauty blush on the back of my hand or in my palm, rub my brush around in it several times to get an even distribution of color and then apply it. But because of how light the color is and how much less intense the saturation of the Nars Liquid Blush is, I can apply it directly from the applicator onto my cheek and it will blend out easily.

Let’s also try different intensities of highlighter. My Wet and Wild Liquid Highlighter is quite intense and my Merit Beauty Highlighter in “Cava” gives a far softer, more natural glow. In the video, I’ll apply both of these products on the back of my hand so you can see the difference. I’d apply the Wet and Wild Highlighter with a brush since it’s so intense and I’d apply the Merit Highlighter cream stick highlighter – which is not as intense – directly on my face from the applicator.

But I must say that until we actually use a face product and know how easily it applies and how saturated the color is, it’s best to err on the side of caution and apply it with a brush or sponge rather than directly from the applicator.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you think that some facial makeup products age you when you apply them? What is your opinion on blush, contour and highlighter? Have you looked for tutorials that explain how to apply these two so that they give you a natural look?

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I dot my face with the amount of foundation I want on certain areas and then use my sponge or foundation brush to put on product. There are no hard and fast rules to makeup…really do as you please and what makes you comfortable. Tips and tricks are nice but if what you do works, keep doing it, beautiful!

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Maria–You are so right that there are no rules in makeup and that it’s important to do what makes you feel comfortable. I simply like to offer techniques that can be helpful.

Lisa Stege

Even at age 76, I find that I prefer a minimal amount of makeup, and don’t use most of these products. I use a pressed powder (Lancome) applied with a brush, and then a powder blush from the same manufacturer. A nice lipstick that harmonizes with my complexion as well as the tones of what I’m wearing, and some fun and usually colorful applications of eye makeup. I rarely even wear mascara anymore, and am happy with the results.

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Lisa–Thanks for sharing what works beautifully for you! We’re certainly all different in what we’re comfortable with and what makes sense for us. You’re happy with the results and that’s all that really matters!

Brenda T.

I appreciated the reminders on placement of each product.

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Brenda–Thank you for letting me know. I’m so glad it was helpful.

Siobhan Kendrick

Lovely commentary on over saturation of colour etc. when we age we need subtle and light colour so we don’t look old and gaudy. I worry about how some primers can affect our skin. I tried an eye primer and my eyes ran with constant tears! I would love a debate on foundation as I have a tricky skin that can look over made with some foundations. So any good water based ones out there??

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Siobhan–Many of us certainly do have to be careful with products we use around our eyes. I have very sensitive eyes and have only found a few mascaras I can use (all clean beauty products), but oddly, eye primer has never been an issue for me. We’re all certainly different in what our eyes can and cannot tolderate! As far as water based foundations, one I’ve found that works well for many of us with mature skin is Nars’ Light Reflecting Foundation. For suggestions of other good ones, here’s a link to an article that might be helpful:

Renee Lovitz

Found the info on blush to be most helpful! Thanks!!

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Renee–I’m so glad you found this information helpful and it was very kind of you to let me know. Thank you and best wishes.

The Author

Elise Marquam-Jahns is a professional makeup artist who is passionate about helping women 50+ get their glow back. She is the founder of Boomer and Beyond Beauty and runs the “Boomer and Beyond Beauty with Elise” YouTube channel. Elise has authored the free guide The Top Four Research-Proven Makeup Techniques That Help Us Look Our Best Now.

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