Un-Blush Blushes

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Hello again. Trace here with the formula you’ve come to know and hopefully love me for, the un-blank blank. There’s been un-lipstick lipstick, un-polish nail polish, un-bed bedhead, and now, un-blush blush. Bear with me.

It’s not that I’m into the “natural' look above all else—I love a good strong cheek and deep Rihanna-goth lip as much as the next girl (hi, next girl!). But those kind of things require precision and placement. And most of the time, I’m fresh out of both. Un-blush blush lets you blur the edges and dials down the more arcane associations of rouge. Because, apparently, I’ve never really done it right.

First, there are all sorts of conflicting dicta—put blush on the cheekbone, no! the apple of the cheek, no! get a little on the hollow. And then there are different application styles for different colors—please don’t think I didn’t try every single one. It all looks so right on the Cruella-style cheekbones of the standard makeup-face diagram. And look, I don’t exactly have the face of a blobfish—I mean, I can tell where my cheekbones are. But somehow, in the journey between the hot pink blush compact and my face, there’s a problem. I end up looking ruddy, shapeless, weirdly reassembled, and much less Anne Hathaway and more like a student-production of Les Miserables' Fantine. My face looks like a storm’s brewing.

Bronzer’s not that much better. What with the advents of contouring, now everyone’s supposed to know where to apply that too—brow bone, cheek hollow, bridge of nose, under the chin, collarbone, and “everywhere the light hits.” Um, well, the light hits my entire face, so that’s not helpful. Unless it’s noon, and then the sun’s just hitting the top of my head and burning my scalp. Clearly, strategic placement is not going to save me.

Neither is cream blush, because although it’s lovely and creamy and all, it feels like it just sits on my face in any weather above 70 degrees, just waiting for me to touch it so it can start sliding around like finger paint.

So I’ve settled on these un-blushes—powder formulas that give you light washes of color that can’t go on wrong. These brighten up and enliven your skin tone without Picasso-ing your bone structure. Brush them on (you could even finger them on) eyes and cheeks—they're super low-committal. We’ll save the rouge rouge for another time and another diagram. Welcome to the dream I personally dream:

Clinique Soft-Pressed Powder Blusher in Honey Blush: The green swirly-marbled classic. This is the sheer coral terra cotta your aunt in Florida uses that she'll (you'll) never outgrow—you just grow more into it. I’m into it anyway.

Jouer Powder Blush in Rose : Dusty Rose, the aging cowgirl of makeup shades, rides again. Not into the night, but into the mid-morning office in muted bloom. Lass-so chic.

Cargo Blush in Tonga : The color is James’ Giant Peach in a ballerina leotard. Swipe on to keep away unwelcome comments from both ends of the spectrum, from “Are you sick?” all the way to “Are you wearing blush?” If anything, you’ll just get, “Hi! Great day, right?”

Christopher Kane For Nars Blush in Silent Nude : Sounds like a Helmut Newton exhibit, and (appropriately) is a little darker than it seems at first. This is less rosy and more neutral-toned—I use this instead of bronzer.

Notably absent from this list is Nars Douceur. A longtime ITG favorite, the shade was the perfect middle ground between bronzer and blush (sans shimmer at that). And it was discontinued last year. RIP. Has someone started a petition to bring it back yet? I'd be happy to sign.

—Trace Barnhill

Photographed by Tom Newton. Want more blush stories? Check out Kelly Mittendorf play with red.