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The blush of youth

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It may not have the instant sex appeal of a smoky eye or the go-to glamour of a red pout, but ask any beauty insider and they’ll tell you the same thing; blusher has the power to knock ten years off you, and it just so happens that this season it’s one of make-up’s must-have trends.

While blusher might have been out in the cold for the last few seasons, it got an injection of cool on the a/w catwalks, and top make-up artists – Pat McGrath, Dick Page and Gordon Espinet- made sure their models were sporting the instant youth-giver in their shows. “We don’t normally do this much blush,” says McGrath, who described the look she created for Dolce & Gabanna as ‘feverish’, while she gave Auquascutum’s models a “windswept, in from the cold look.”

Why the resurgence? You can thank a return to products which rely on the artistry of nature rather than artificial enhancements. Because, when used properly, blusher has the ability to recapture the essence of youth – rosy, plump cheeks - without the need for invasive procedures, expensive products or abrasive creams. A study carried out at the University of St Andrews found that rosy cheeks are perceived as healthier, younger and more attractive than those without. “We’re programmed to find healthy characteristics attractive and a rosy complexion is a sign of good health,” explains Dr Ian Stephen who led the study.

But why does a pop of pink equal perceived healthiness? “Our skin contains many blood vessels which carry blood laden with oxygen and nutrients to the skin cells and also allow the body to lose heat. Individuals who have a healthy heart and lungs and higher levels of aerobic fitness have more blood vessels, so they flush more easily than people who are unhealthy.”

So by mimicking this with blusher you instantly appear healthy. It doesn’t just suggest health, but youth too – the beauty holy grail. Take a look at your photo album and you’ll spot how much pinker your cheeks used to naturally be. “Our blood vessels are also affected by levels of sex hormones, which diminish as we get older,” he adds. “It’s very likely this is one reason our skin loses colour as we get older.” The oxygen count in our blood diminishes too, resulting in a lacklustre glow. “When we’re young, our skin is naturally more oxygenated. As we age, the ability of our blood to regenerate haemoglobin [which carries the oxygen and gives blood its colour] declines, and therefore our skin looks duller.”

The loss of a pinky glow is gradual, but Dr Stephen’s study proves that we perceive the subtlest differences, especially when it comes to reading signs of health, attractiveness and age. So perfecting the art of blush is the swiftest way to a younger looking face.

THE POWER OF PINK

“Blush makes skin look clearer and eyes brighter, so you can get away with wearing less make-up, and that looks youthful, too,” adds MAC’s head of make-up artistry Terry Barber, who believes that blush is becoming an extension of skincare. “Modern formulations mean blushes look more natural than ever and because they brighten your whole face, women are applying blush as part of their grooming routine, rather than as a specific make-up look. Add a pop of blush to clean, well-hydrated skin and you’re ready to face the world.”

But, adds Barber, choosing the right shade is essential. “It’s the most critical aspect of blush,” he says. “Your perfect shade is the colour of your cheeks after you have been exercising - you’re aiming to mimic a mini blood rush. Pinch your cheeks a few times and see what colour they go. Chances are it will be a dark-ish pink with blue tones. After all, nobody flushes peach.”

Your perfect shade is the colour of your cheeks after you have been exercising

Instead, look for dark-rose, deep pink and berry shades. “Wine-coloured pigments will also pat down to the kind of shade you’re after, even if they do look a bit scary in the pot,” says Ward. “Creams, gels and stains are all great as they add colour without texture, but they can be trickier than powder to apply, as you need blend them quickly and thoroughly. It’s worth it practising, though, as they give a realistic glow.”

Powders have their place, too. “They’re easy to apply and there’s no reason why the right shade blended well shouldn’t look natural. Just make sure your skin is really well hydrated and go for finely-milled formulas [like Sisley’s Phyto Blush Éclat, £43.50] that have some dewiness,” says Barber, who recommends using two tones to create a natural effect. “Apply a natural, tawny shade first, then dust over it with chosen pink.” And unless your pores naturally ooze glitter, avoid anything with too much sparkle or shimmer.

Placement’s also key. As Barber points out, there is one school of blush that’s all about using the colour just beneath the cheekbone for a sculpted look. “This works best on flawless, ‘dressed’ skin in tawny, peach or bronze shades where the product’s adding colour, but providing definition, too,” he says. “But to achieve that youthful flush, you need to add colour to the apples of you cheeks.”

Barber adds: “Don’t be afraid to take the colour quite high, and in towards the nose. Sometimes, I even pull it down slightly towards the jaw to mimic a flush. It looks very outdoorsy and romantic – just make sure you use a nice sheer formula and blend it well.”

Finally, if you want to shave years off your skin age, follow Bobbi Brown’s advice, “Use your perfect cream blush on your lips or find a moisturising lipstick that’s close to the natural colour of your lips and dab it on, then use the excess on your cheeks for an instantly youthful look.” And no surgery involved.

For our top blusher picks, have a look at our online gallery.

Words: Annabel Meggeson

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