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How to Apply Blush: The 9 Mistakes You’re Probably Making

How to get this tricky part of your makeup application right.

Everyone talks about cat-eye flicks as being the most challenging thing to do with your makeup. (I suppose that's not wrong, as many of my attempts have gone like this.)

But what you never hear is how tricky BLUSH can be.

Yes, blush! Whenever I look at celebrity red carpet photos, inevitably, there's at least one person whose blush could be better. Maybe the shade is slightly off, or they applied too much of it, or it's just patchy and not well-blended. And don't even get me started with placement, because that's the hardest part of all. Even an inch in the wrong direction can be aging or clownish. Ahhh!

So if celebs get it wrong, imagine how the rest of us are faring. Many a time, I've thought my blush looked okay in the corner of my bedroom where I applied it, in a hurry. But then, in brighter natural light—or worse, when I take a hi-res close-up on my camera—I see it and think, "Ugh, did a 5-year-old do this?" 

The truth is, you just cannot cut corners with your blush application. Blending takes time, and so does choosing the right shade (usually there's a "sweet spot" of what looks good), the right formula and where to put it. 

Here are the biggest blush mistakes to watch out for. I know I've been guilty of more than a few here!

The Wrong Blush Colour

Blush needs to mimic the actual colour your cheeks turn when you're flushed. 

Like this. (Does anyone do blush better than celeb makeup artist Kate Lee? I say no.)

Keira Knightley at the 2015 Producers Guild Awards.

Makeup doesn't get more perfect than Keira Knightley's. As you can see, her blush is the right tone, and the right intensity—not too dark nor too light. 

Nobody turns muddy, like Beth Behrs, when they blush. (Although perhaps that's the least of her problems here.)

Beth Behrs at the 2014 amfAR LA Inspiration Gala.

As for "statement blush," we've seen it on the runways in bright, contrasting colours that aren't meant to look natural. Usually, this sort of look is best left to professional makeup artists (and 17-year-old models at the peak of flawlessness!). Emma Watson looks pretty here, but see how her bold pink could easily go wrong in the hands of a regular civilian?

Emma Watson at the 2013 premiere of 'The Bling Ring'.

For real life, blush should work as a subtle compliment to the rest of your makeup. You don't really want someone to say, "Wow, I love your blush!" Ideally, it enhances everything, but lets your lips and/or eyes do the talking.

That said, deeper complexions can definitely carry bolder colours and have more leeway in playing with tones. Here's my little guide to the most harmonious shades:

Fair and warm/neutral: Sheer apricots and peaches will look the most seamless on pale skin that leans golden. Try The Body Shop All-In-One Blusher in 01 Macaroon (my current fave!) or Rimmel Stay Blushed! Liquid Cheek Tint in 005 Apricot Glow (reviewed here).

Rimmel Stay Blushed! Liquid Cheek Tint in 005 Apricot Glow.

Fair and cool: Baby pinks were made for you! Try Yves Saint Laurent Baby Doll Kiss & Blush in 2 Rose Frivole (reviewed here) or Make Up For Ever HD Blush in 210 (reviewed here).

Yves Saint Laurent Baby Doll Kiss & Blush in 2 Rose Frivole.

Medium and warm/olive/neutral: Deeper peachy-pinks, corals, ambers and even roses will all look good on medium, warm skin—the most versatile tone to have! Try Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic Swish & Pop Blush in Ecstasy or Revlon PhotoReady Cream Blush in Coral Reef (reviewed here).

Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic Swish & Pop Blush in Ecstasy.

Medium and cool: Roses, berries and sheer plums will give cheeks that natural, just-in-from-the-cold look. Try the new Too Faced Love Flush Long-Lasting 16-Hour Blush in Your Love is King or Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush in Mood Exposure.

Too Faced Love Flush Long-Lasting 16-Hour Blush in Your Love is King.

Deep and warm/neutral: Bright pinks and fuchsias will stand out best, since their undertones are the opposite to yours. Try Dior Vibrant Color Powder Blush in Star Fuchsia or Marc Jacobs Shameless Bold Blush in Rebellious.

Dior Vibrant Color Powder Blush in Star Fuchsia.

Deep and cool: Oranges and reds pop best—again, on deep skin go for the opposite to your undertones. Try the new Urban Decay Afterglow 8-Hour Powder Blush in Bang or NARS Blush in Taj Mahal.

Urban Decay Afterglow 8-Hour Powder Blush in Bang.

If in doubt, peachy-pinks like the classic NARS Blush in Orgasm or Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in Glisten are just about universally flattering.

Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush in Glisten.

The Wrong Blush Formula

Which blush formula you choose counts for a lot! 

Maybe you picked the perfect shade, but the formula is either a) not right for your skin type, or b) not suitable for your application skills. Lemme explain:

Powder blush: People with normal-to-oily skin do best with powders. They last longer than creams, and are easier to apply because you don't have to be as careful about blending—zhuzh around with your brush and you're good. However, powder can definitely sit on top of the skin with a visible texture, so the effect might not be as natural. I like ones that aren't too strongly pigmented, like Clinique Cheek Pop, so you can build up and blend easily.

Clinique Cheek Pop in Rosy Pop.

Cream blush: Dry complexions will benefit from creams. That's not to say oilier people can't wear them, but your skin may "eat" the makeup a little faster, making the colour fade. Cream blushes are generally regarded as the most natural-looking, since their texture melts into the skin. One I love, with a great look and feel, is RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek in Smile, a sheer coral pink. The only catch with creams? It can be tough to get your placement and blending right. I've found applying my cream blush with a medium-sized blush brush really helps! Try the MAC 116 Blush Brush.

RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek in Smile.

Cream-to-powder blush: This blush type feels like a cream going on, but dries to the finish of a powder. It's a good solution if you like the ease of applying a cream with your fingers, but want the longevity of a powder—perhaps if you have oily skin. There are potential pitfalls with getting the blending right, and the finish may not be quite as natural as a regular cream. One I like is the aforementioned Make Up For Ever HD Blush, which does look very seamless on.

Make Up For Ever HD Blush in 210 Cool Pink.

Gel blush: Also known as cheek tints, gel blushes are water-based and give you a sheer wash of colour. They work on all skin types, but are especially great for oily skin, as they'll really last. Hands down, I've found them to give you the most realistic finish, since they'll dry down to almost a stain, with zero texture, like the colour is coming from within. Some, like the Rimmel Stay Blushed! Liquid Cheek Tints I reviewed here, are more moussey; others, like the L'Oréal Paris Visible Lift Blur Blushes I reviewed here are cream-gels. Or there's the new Stila Aqua Glow Watercolor Blushes, which are quite liquid.

Stila Aqua Glow Watercolor Blush in Water Lily.

Cheek stain: Actual cheek stains seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years with the rise of gel blushes, which are much easier to work with. But you know what I'm talking about: Benefit Benetint is probably the most famous stain example, or Tarte Cheek Stain (which is slightly more forgiving). Like gels, they have excellent staying power and do well on oily skin; on dry people, they may cling to dry patches. Stains have to be blended with fingers, which you may or may not be comfortable with, and you must work extremely fast, before it dries! For that reason, my fave stain at the moment is new Dior Cheek & Lip Glow, reviewed here, which is extremely subtle and buildable.

Dior Cheek & Lip Glow.

Now that we're up to speed on formulas, let's talk about putting it on.

Too Much Blush

Blush has such a fabulous "wake-up-your-face" effect, it can be easy to fall into the habit of more, more, MOAR! We pile it on and we think we're fooling people that we only got four hours' sleep last night.

Alas, this is one instance where less is very much more. Just look at Olivia Munn, who might've carried this pink if the application weren't so heavy-handed:

Olivia Munn at the 2010 E! Oscars viewing party.

She's definitely veering into clown territory, which is never good.

Of course, lighting is everything. If you're not applying your blush in natural light, it can look garish once your lighting situation changes. Methinks that's what happened to Drew Barrymore:

Drew Barrymore at the 2011 CoverGirl 50th anniversary party.

Her blush is in the right spot, but it's way too intense. (Not to mention the whole white powder issue.)

So if anything, I think we should err on the side of not enough blush instead of too much. Heavy blush is always worse than looking a bit pale! A blush-free Isabeli Fontana still looks gorge, see?

Isabeli Fontana at the 2015 Cannes amfAR Gala.

What's the perfect amount of blush? Here's Beyoncé getting it exactly right:

Beyoncé at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

Super-seamless, just a whisper on each cheek to tie all the makeup together. That's what we want!

Blush That Isn’t Blended

Having well-blended blush—and all your makeup, really—is just as important as choosing the right shades for your skin tone. 

Think about it. You could have most flattering blush colour known to woman, but if it looks streaky or patchy, it won't do you any favours.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

A few examples. Cat Deeley's blush colour isn't wrong on her medium, golden skin, but it sure is clinging to a patch in the centre of each cheek. It just makes her makeup application look sloppy.

Cat Deeley at the 2014 Teen Choice Awards.

Mindy Kaling has deep enough skin to pull off a red-toned blush, but the way it stops rather abruptly at mid-cheek is very distracting.

Mindy Kaling at the 2014 Emmy Awards.

This one isn't so bad, but if you look closely, you can see bits of Rachel Weisz's blush sitting on top of her skin.

Rachel Weisz at the 2015 Cannes premiere of 'Youth'.

First of all, make sure you're moisturizing well. Blush will cling more to dry areas and look patchy or blotchy. If you have a dry skin type, definitely consider swapping powder for a cream.

Then, obviously, blending will make everything better! You know what helps with that? A great brush! You've got a few choices:

  • Blush brush: Most people will feel comfortable with a medium-sized, fluffy blush brush (you can't go wrong with the Bobbi Brown Blush Brush). Use swirling motions to apply and blend the blush. Go ahead and use it with powder and cream formulas—it really helps blend the creams!
  • Stippling brush: Alternatively, you can use a stippler (like the MAC 188 Small Duo Fibre Face Brush) to press or dot on the blush, and then lightly swirl to blend. These pick up less product, so the result is more sheer.
  • Blending brush: It's not a bad idea to have a brush like the Laura Mercier Blending Brush to swirl all-over following your makeup application. Don't use it to deposit any colour, just use it clean, to buff everything out. 
  • Sponge: A sponge like the Beautyblender is handy to drag across skin when you've applied too much product.

Here's Anne Hathaway with her perfectly blended and delicate peachy flush:

Anne Hathaway at the 2012 New York premiere of 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

For more blending tips, check out Katrina's article here.

Blush Too Close to Your Nose

You want to leave at least one or two fingers' width between the side of your nostrils and where your blush starts. 

Otherwise, when blush gets too close to the nose, it can really accentuate redness. You know how you look when you have a cold? Well, that's what Catherine Zeta-Jones ended up with:

Catherine Zeta-Jones at the 2008 Global Leadership Gala.

Blush? Bronzer? I don't know what this is, but it's not working.

Mischa Barton has a similar thing going on:

Mischa Barton at the BritWeek 2012 launch.

This is not to say you can't sweep blush across your nose for a sun-kissed look. Just keep it higher up, on the bridge, instead of close to the nostrils. Erin Heatherton has the right idea:

Erin Heatherton at the 2013 premiere of 'Grown Ups 2'.

Unless your skin is absolutely free of redness, it's always a good idea to pair your blush with a quick concealer touch-up around the nostrils—and anywhere else you need it.

Blush Too Low on Your Face

Ideally, blush should not sit any lower than the bottom of your nose. It's okay if your blending goes slightly below nose-level, but the main colour focus needs to be right in the middle of your face, on the fleshy parts of your cheeks.

When blush is too low on your face, it just drags everything down, so you look saggier and older than you really are. Take Emily Blunt for example:

Emily Blunt at the 2014 premiere of 'Into the Woods'.

Am I right? I would even argue that Amber Heard's blush is too low (and heavy) here as well:

Amber Heard at the 2015 premiere of 'Magic Mike XXL'.

Take it up a little, and you get the reverse: an instant face-lifting effect. Eva Mendes shows us how it's done:

Eva Mendes at the NY&C Spring 2014 collection launch.

Blush Too High on Your Face

On the other hand, you don't want your blush too high, either.

Putting it across the tops of the cheeks and around the temples can give you a doll-like effect, instead of a natural flush. Plus, when blush is too close to your eyes, it can have the same reddening effect as when you put it near your nose. Here's Minka Kelly demonstrating:

Minka Kelly at the 2011 People's Choice Awards.

Nicole Kidman's blush is creeping dangerously high also:

Nicole Kidman at the 2015 Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards.

And darn, there's that white powder again!

However, I think the most compelling reason not to place blush too high is that it can make your face seem longer.

When blush sits above the centre of your face, you create the illusion of a shorter forehead—and if your face shape is oval to oblong, you're left with this big expanse of blank skin the rest of the way down.

A good rule of thumb is to use the centre of your ears as a guideline for where the most colour should be.

Blush as Contour

I know people do. Like frequent contour-as-blush offender Sarah Hyland:

Sarah Hyland at the 2015 Kindred Foundation Fundraiser.

But that's why we have actual contouring products now! They're specifically designed to create the illusion of a shadow, and being tone-on-tone (instead of pink, rose, etc.), they will look far more natural under your cheekbones than a blush would. Plus, you don't have to worry about that face-dragging-down thing I talked about above.

Two contouring palettes I really like, that go on subtle and have enough shades to work on the whole gamut of skin tones, are the NARS Contour Blush:

NARS Contour Blush.

And the Marc Jacobs #Instamarc Light Filtering Contour Powder:

Marc Jacobs #Instamarc Light Filtering Contour Powder.

The idea is to keep it subtle, like Jamie Chung's sculpted cheeks:

Jamie Chung at the 2015 premiere of 'Resident Advisors'.

Again, keep any colour to the fleshy parts of your cheeks, not the hollows. See how much more natural Sarah Hyland looks with the blush in the right spot?

Sarah Hyland at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

Disappearing Blush

So you put your blush on before leaving the house. But when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror a few hours later, it's like you might as well have not bothered. It's gonzo. 

What's a cream blush-lover to do?

Try setting it with a powder. You can layer cream blush under a matching powder blush. Or, if that potential colour explosion scares you, just dust a finely-milled, loose translucent powder, like the Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder, over top.

Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder.

If you still need more colour after that, then you can add a dab more cream blush to make your cheeks pop. (I know, technically, creams don't go on top of powders, but I got this tip from a top makeup artist, so I don't stress about it.)

Alternatively, blush that pulls a disappearing act could be a sign that you need to switch formulas. Try a gel or stain for way more staying power than a cream, or even powder.

And so concludes this guide to better blush! Signing off with a final pic of seamless, perfect blush (Léa Seydoux, natch):

Léa Seydoux at the 2015 premiere of 'Journal d'une femme de chambre'.

Hope you found these tips useful! Here's to improving our collective blush game!

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