My love affair with blush started on my first day of sixth grade when I snuck into my mom’s makeup bag and dusted her favorite Estée Lauder blush all over my face as if it were face powder. Needless to say, that is not the right technique, and I looked like a sunburnt flamingo. Thankfully, in the years since, my application skills have gotten better, and thanks to an increased demand for inclusive shades, Black women can finally find a multitude of options that are specifically catered to our melanin-rich skin.
To avoid that “burnt flamingo” effect, step one means finding the right shade of blush. Marc Reagan, Director of Global Education, Artistry, and Events at Hourglass, recommends staying away from dull colors that don’t have enough pigment saturation. “If the color looks deep or vibrant in the package, it is going to translate well on dark and deep skin,” he says. “The richer in tone and color, the better it will look on dark skin tones, bringing instant brightness while still looking natural.” In other words, everything from bright corals and pinks to deep wines and berries are fair game.
Warm tones, in general, are a great option for darker skin because they “create a vibrancy that can appear like a natural flush,” says celebrity makeup artist Alana Wright. But that shouldn’t stop you from experimenting with the whole color wheel. “Poppy, violets, plums, deep cherry, magenta, and tomato-like hues are gorgeous on brown skin,” she adds.
How to choose a blush
While the decision between cream versus powder comes down to personal preference, your skin type can help guide your choice. According to Reagan, cream formulas play nicely with dry skin “because they help the skin look fresh and hydrated,” he says. “Plus, the colors tend to be a little clearer and have subtle transparency when they are applied, which prevents rich colors from looking milky or grey on the skin.” Powders are also a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin, says Wright, because the texture acts as a “safeguard” against irritation.
When you have combination or oily skin, then you’re better off sticking with powder blushes to ensure it lasts throughout the day and to avoid looking greasy. If you’re on the oilier side and prefer the look and feel of a cream blush, Reagan suggests looking for one with a soft-matte finish.
If your skin type falls somewhere in between “dry” and “oily,” well, lucky you, because you can get away with either a cream or powder blush. “Just make sure that your complexion products are providing the finish you are looking for first, whether that’s dewy, glowy, natural or matte,” says Reagan. And if you really can’t decide between cream and powder? Just use both. “I think it’s fun to layer a cream or gel with powder to customize the blush color,” says Wright.
How to apply blush properly
According to celebrity makeup artist Brandy Allen there are three tools you can use to apply blush: sponges, a fluffy powder brush, and your fingers. “Sponges are perfect because they give you buildability, which means you can gradually add the blush until you reach the desired coverage,” she says. If you’re able, order a smaller sponge made for applying blush, such as the BeautyBlender Cheeky ($16). Then, wet the sponge until it doubles in size, ring out the excess water, and you’ll be ready to go.
If you need something goof-proof, opt for a fluffy brush like the Bobbi Brown Face Blender Brush ($60), which Allen says will allow for more control of the blush placement. And if you don’t want to deal with tools at all “I love applying blush with fingers, because rubbing the products helps warm it and move it around, so it looks more like skin,” says Allen.
As far as the actual application process goes, celebrity makeup artist Vincent Oquendo suggests starting with a dime-sized amount of product on your sponge, brush, or finger. “Start from the center of the cheek and create a sideways oval shape,” he says. “Work your way back towards the ear before you go forward towards the nose, because that way you have a little bit more control of your blush.”
To maximize the wearability of your blush, consider using it alongside a setting powder. “Use a triangle sponge for powder blush application before setting your foundation with setting powder,” says Wright, who adds you can use the same technique with a cream blush on a sponge or your fingers. “Be sure to blend out with a clean side of the sponge or clean fingers. Then reapply blush on top of setting powder with a fluffy brush to a vibrant yet diffused color payoff.”
The best blush for darker skin tones
1. Shop now: Mented Cosmetics Blush in Berried Away $22
“This vegan cruelty-free blush is the perfect amount of bright berry that gives color without overwhelming the face,” says LA-based celebrity makeup artist Tasha Reiko Brown. Yara Shahidi’s makeup artist, Emily Cheng, also relies on this soft, berry-shade blush. “This one I’ve had in my kit for a while as part of a palette,” she says. “I opt for it when I want a light flush of color or definition when I’m focusing on other features, like a bright lip or a smokier eye.”
2. Shop now: Glossier Cloud Paint in Dawn, $18
Brown calls this jelly blush in Haze as “sun in a tube,” and lauds it as one of her go-tos. “This lovely tangerine shade perfectly compliments, warms the skin and the gel formula glides into the foundation for an undetectable smooth finish,” she says. She likes to buff it on the apples of the cheeks to add “summer warmth,” and also applies it to lips with a layer of balm for a “clean, coordinated look.” I like to buff this over the apples of the cheeks to add summer warmth. For a clean coordinated and easy face, I’ll also buff over the lips for soft color and just add lip balm on top.” Wright is also a fan of Glossier’s “Haze,” a buildable raspberry tone that works just as easily on the cheeks and lips.
3. Shop now: Nars Powder Blush in Exhibit A, $30
Wright and Oquendo both love this vibrant red blusher on their deeper-complected clients. “It’s very bright, so just a little goes a long way,” says Oquendo. “I really like to just use a little bit then blend it out and build it because then the color is going to have much more depth.”
4. Shop now: Fenty Beauty Cheeks Out Cream Blush in Summertime Wine, $20
This soft, berry cream blush from Rihanna’s cosmetic line is a makeup artist favorite. “Cream blushes are also ideal for normal to dry skin because it helps create a supple and hydrated finish to the skin,” says Wright. Use a small duo-fiber stippling brush, like the MAC 188 Small Duo Fibre Face Brush ($50), to apply this cream blush directly to your cheeks.
5. Shop now: The Lip Bar Fresh Glow Blush Duo in Staycation $20
This two-in-one compact includes a burgundy blush plus an ebony bronzer to add extra warmth to brown skin. “Layering your blush is a great way to prolong its wearability,” says Wright. Pro tip: “Only layer a complimentary colored powder blush to create a punchier cheek color,” she adds.
6. Shop now: Maybelline Cheek Heat in Berry Flame, $8
“One of my favorite colors for deeper complexions is called Berry Flame. I absolutely love it because it just adds that warmth to the cheek,” says Oquendo. If you want something with a bit more warmth, he’s also a fan of the line’s cherry-tinted “Fuschia Spark” shade.
7. Shop now: Black Up Cosmetics NBL01 Blush, $27
“This shade is absolutely stunning for darker skin tones with red or navy undertones,” says celebrity makeup artist Jessica Smalls. “The silky formula allows the product to melt into the skin, making it look like the color is coming from within.”
8. Shop now: Armani Beauty Neo Nude A-Blush #54, $36
“For cream blush, I love Armani Beauty Neo Nude A-Blush in shade 54, it’s the perfect berry tone on dark skin,” says celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose. “Applying your blush all depends on how much coverage you want to have with your makeup. If you’re more of a bare skin, tinted moisturizer kind of girl, then use your fingers to tap on the blush.”
9. Shop now: Kevyn Aucoin The Neo-Blush $38
Photo: Kevyn Aucoin
“My favorite go-to blushes for black women are berries, cool pinks, and bright orange,” says Allen, “Berries make the skin appear rich and regal. Cool-toned pinks placed directly on the low points of the cheeks near the nose instantly brighten the face. Orange blushes add a tropical, golden hour tint to the skin and lay seamlessly on top of bronzer.” These gradient blushes are available in the exact tones Allen believes is flattering for our melanin-rich complexions. Be warned: They’re super pigmented, so use a light touch and build up the intensity slowly.
10. Shop now: Scott Barnes Cheek Chic Palette, $58
Photo: Scott Barnes
And now for my personal favorite: The palette that made fall in love with blushes all over again. There are six matte powder blushes and two shimmery amplifiers that double as highlighters. Over the last few months, my everyday no-fail-cheek look is to dip my Bdellium Tools Golden Triangle Duo Fibre Blusher 965 Brush ($22) into Strike a Rose and Crush and Blush. While Mango Fizz and Rose look intimidating in the palette, the hues can be built up with ease and play nicely with each other. Mango Fizz, in particular, adds a natural warmth to my caramel complexion.
11. Shop now: Jillian Dempsey Cheek Tint in Scarlett, $28
This vibrant, vegan-friendly blush is made with good-for-you ingredients like sunflower seed wax, organic shea butter, coconut oil, and bamboo stem extract. I like to use my ring and middle fingers to tap and blend these creamy and long-wearing blushes (either in this high-impact “Scarlett” shade or coral-hued “Rosy”) into my complexion that surprisingly plays well with my oily skin, even during the summer.