Blush gets a bad rap. It seems hard to apply, the shade options are overwhelming, and there’s a chance it'll make you look like a clown. But whatever your reasons are for leaving it out of your makeup routine, your blushstinence ends today. Because blush is the one beauty product that can make even the sleepiest, most stressed-out person look like they just took a week-long nap on the sands of St. Tropez while cuddling a Golden Retriever puppy—all in under 30 seconds.
So today’s the day I dispel every myth and translate all the jargon, so you and your beautiful little gum drop of a face can live your best blush life. And if you don’t think you’ve been missing out on one of the most underrated pieces of makeup, please take a look at these incredible before-and-after photos, below, and get blending.
Deep skin tones, like our model Imani’s, need bold, intense red pigments—anything too light or milky will read as ashy on deep skin, and anything too dark (like plums and burgundies) can look bruise-like. “A super-vivid, almost fluorescent red blush may seem crazy, but it actually translates to bright, fresh, and natural on deeper skin,” says makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci, the blush master behind these photos. “It’s one of those magical shades that manages to flatter both undertones—it cancels out sallowness on cooler skin tones, yet mimics the natural flush that’s seen in warmer skin tones.”
The easiest way to apply blush is to lightly swirl it in circles from the apples of your cheeks to your temples using a fluffy brush.
Though Ciucci used Nars Blush in Exhibit A, you can get the same effect with any bright-red shade—as long as its matte. “If you put anything oily or shimmery on deep skin, it tends to look almost too reflective, especially in photos, which is why I prefer a matte powder blush,” she says. That’s not to say you can’t use a cream blush (live your life! You do you!), but if you want to avoid an oil-slick effect, make sure to choose a matte formula without glitter or shimmer.
If you have darker skin, look for blush in the terracotta and brick family (i.e. deep red-orange shades) to add a natural-looking depth and warmth to your face. “Amanda here has warmer undertones—you can tell because the base color of her skin looks yellow, not blue—so I used Nars Blush in Taos, a warmer brick-red blush with flecks of gold shimmer, to give her even more of a glow,” says Ciucci.
After applying it to your cheeks, tap a bit of blush across your lips to tie the whole flushed look together.
If your brain just melted at the thought of having to decode your undertones, don’t freak. “Finding your undertone isn’t an exact science, and really, it’s not that important as long as you’re in the right shade family,” says Ciucci. Which means even if you skew a bit cooler than our model Amanda, you’ll still look gorgeous using any brick-red blush. “When all else fails, a little bit of warmth will be your skin’s best friend,” she says.
No, one woman cannot possibly represent the vast spectrum of “medium” skin tones in the world, but, because two-million people couldn’t fit into our studio, we’ll use our lovely model Veda as an example. “Medium skin tends to have green or yellow undertones that can easily look sallow, especially if you use warm, orange-hued blush,” says Ciucci. “So to neutralize any yellow tones and redness, look for a cool, rose-pink blush that’s pigmented and opaque.”
Apply cream blush by stippling it over your cheeks with a damp Beautyblender, or by tapping (not rubbing) it on with your ring finger.
Though Ciucci used Nars Blush in Amour (no, she’s not a spokesperson for a brand; she just loves their blushes), you can get the same flush with any rose-pink shade—as long as it’s dark and rich. “Most rose blushes are milky and will look muddy against medium skin, so make sure to choose a rose shade that has some punchy depth to it.” If all that sounds confusing, don’t worry—just pick from one (or all!) of these formulas, below, and get blendin'.
The ultimate blush goal? “Ideally, you want your blush to give you the same flush you’d get if you just ran through the snow or had sex,” says Ciucci. “But on lighter skin with cooler undertones, like Marina’s here, that flush isn’t necessarily a blood-red color—it’s usually a cooler, pinker shade.” Which is why Ciucci used a blue-based, watermelon-pink blush (specifically, La Prairie’s Cellular Radiance Cream Blush in Plum Glow): “It’s really going to mimic those cooler undertones you often see in lighter skin,” she says.
To give your entire face a flushed-from-within glow, sweep a layer of blush over your eyelids, too.
Though, again, every skin color can have multiple undertones, anyone with lighter skin can’t really go wrong with a cool-toned pink blush. And, if you’re someone whose skin tends to have the pallor of milk toast (this applies to you if you've ever uttered the phrase, "Ugh, I look dead right now"), then opt for a formula that’s iridescent or shimmery to subtly brighten and warm your complexion.
Very fair skin, like our model Abby’s, can teeter on the edge of looking translucent, which makes redness and flushing significantly more visible. But if that’s what’s been holding you back from wearing blush (“My face is already red; I’m not adding more!”), then you’ve been missing out, because a layer of blush—specifically peach-hued blush—can actually make the redness in your skin look purposeful, rather than accidental.
Fake an eight-hour sleep by also blending a sheer layer of blush over your temples and around the edges of your forehead.
“I feel like fair-skinned people tend to gravitate toward a cool-toned, dusty-rose shade, which ends up looking almost chalky on their skin,” says Ciucci. Instead, “look for a warm peach shade, because it mimics the natural flush of fair skin.” Though Ciucci used the cult-classic Nars Blush in Orgasm on Abby (“Honestly, it looks excellent on every single person with fair skin,” she says), you can recreate the flush with any of these peach formulas. “I like using something with a bit of a sheen or an iridescence, since it looks more realistic and fleshy on alabaster skin,” she says.
Photographed by Tyler Joe