I’m no blush expert; expertise requires wearing it regularly, and I’ve applied it to my face a grand total of one time. Thanks to a natural permaflush that’s been attached to my face since birth (it’s either a sign of good health or mild rosacea), I just haven’t felt the need. The closest I ever got to making it a part of my beauty routine was when a former boss, shocked at my revelation, hurled a tiny Korres pot at me and melodramatically screeched, “You’d better wear this tomorrow!” And I did—for one day—before going back to my old, blush-free ways.
But that was until images of orange blush started permeating my feeds and dare I say it’s the first time I actually considered wearing it on my own. At face value, “orange blush” doesn’t sound like something a beginner would dive right into—actually, it doesn’t even sound like something people who wear blush on the regular might consider putting on their face. According to Pinterest’s 2018 Global Beauty Report, though, blush in all shades of orange is becoming increasingly popular (searches are up 250 percent, based on their data). The fall trend has also been a mainstay on Japan’s beauty scene for quite some time now.
After going down a rabbit hole of reference photos, you can definitely see the appeal; the color stands out more than red or pink, yet lends a surprisingly flattering glow to any skin tone.
Ready to confirm my conclusions, I set out to put the trend to the test with a little phone-a-friend help from celebrity makeup artist Ralph Siciliano, who has somehow mastered the ability of making every shade of the rainbow look stunningly wearable. “I just did an orange blush look minutes ago,” he informed me when I texted for help. Coincidence? Or it’s just that much a thing now? Either way, it was perfect timing.
Eager to dive right in, I kicked things off with the fiery 515 Tangerine HD Cream Blush from Make Up For Ever. While the name sounds subtle, the neon shade is so bright that it almost pulsates in the pan. (For a powder equivalent, I love MAC’s Bright Response.)
When I asked Siciliano on advice for choosing the best orange for my skin tone, he kept it simple: “Usually, the first orange I grab is the one I’m drawn to and I just make it work.” As my eyes were immediately drawn to the blush that screamed “ORANGE!” the loudest, I too was determined to make it work. I sheered it out on my cheeks using a double-ended brush from the same brand, picking up the cream formula with the densely packed contour side, then flipping it over to the blush brush side to blend everything out.
“Placement really depends on the look I’m going for,” Siciliano says. “But for everyday, it’s best to just smile and hit the apple of your cheek where you’d naturally blush.” I followed his instructions with my best cheesy smile and spent the next 10 minutes admiring the results from multiple angles.
Since the cream formula had worked out so well, I decided to step things up a notch and go for a darker orange in a powder formula. Siciliano told me that the orange he gravitates toward depends on his mood at the moment, as well as the vibe he wants to create. “I often go for matte—Kevyn Aucoin makes a good all-around matte orange blush that works for most skin tones,” he says. “But you can use any orange.”
Taking the second part of his advice to heart, I erased my Tangerine glow with a makeup wipe and went in with Nars Taj Mahal. If you haven’t tried Nars blushes before, know that they’re pigmented and proceed with caution. The burnished orange powder, flecked with golden microshimmer, was the most intense of all the shades I tried—intense, but beautiful.
“The trick is to apply it with a super light hand,” Siciliano warned me. “Use very little product and pressure on the brush and build it from there. As long as it’s light, it won’t look ridiculous in real life.” If you’re looking for something that’s almost impossible to overdo, he recommends a mineralized formula: “They have less pigment usually, and they give a great dewy effect with less color payoff.”
Another option to keep things subtle is to search out shades of orange that “make the cheeks look fresh and sunkissed.” On my complexion, this translated to paler peach tones with a touch of shimmer. I layered one coat of Make Up For Ever’s Artist Face Color in B306 Mandarin under Charlotte Tilbury’s Beach Stick in Moon Beach for an orange highlighter-blush hybrid that made me look incredibly dewy.
Having discovered a newfound love of blush (when it’s orange), I texted Siciliano a final time to ask what he recommended pairing it with. “If you want to wear it alone, go for it,” he replied. “If you want to wear it with a nude lip or a dark lip, go for it. Or go monochromatic and match it with your eyeshadow or lipstick.” I ended up wearing all four shades with my usual winged liner, mascara, and brushed-out brows. The one constant that I found really made the color shine was a smooth base. While I usually can’t be bothered to wear foundation, a thin layer of Nars Foundation in Vienna acted as the ideal canvas.
I loved every single shade I tried for this experiment, but there’s no need to buy four new pans of blush if you’d rather work with what you already have—or want to test-drive the color before fulling committing. Lipsticks and eyeshadows can easily pull double duty; I found that Catrice’s $15 Paradise Desert palette contained plenty of options that wore well as both blush and eyeshadow.
I leave you with Siciliano’s most helpful piece of advice, which successfully ended my existential crisis over which orange blush to try first: “The only rules are that there are none.”