How did blush shed its powdery, ’80s reputation to become the must-have product of a generation? Emily MacCulloch explains.
After decades of being pushed aside for other cheek enhancers like contour cream, highlighter and bronzer, blush is back in its rightful spot in a makeup routine: front and centre. “Gen Z has fully embraced glowing skin and makeup that enhances natural features,” says makeup artist Lilly Keys, whose client roster includes A-listers Olivia Rodrigo, Addison Rae, Jenna Ortega and Emma Chamberlain. “Blush is the easiest way to achieve a healthy, youthful glow.”
This isn’t the makeup category’s first rodeo, though. Back in the ’80s, blush reigned supreme. The decade was known for a certain “just ran an entire marathon” flush, and It girls like Grace Jones and Debbie Harry were famous for their overly rouged cheeks. But once the over-the-top decadence of the ’80s passed, the ’90s and aughts ushered in more neutral tones. Our rose-coloured glasses came off, and beauty trends were all about Kardashian contouring and cheekbones so defined it seemed like they might be visible from outer space. During the rise of Instagram, blush was reduced to an afterthought, as more dramatic makeup looks (like sharp winged liner, bold brows and, of course, a face full of contour) became king. And their seemingly unrelenting reign lasted for more than a decade.
But with the beginning of the pandemic came an understandable desire to bring colour and radiance back into our faces. Forget the chalky-grey undertones of contour creams; daily Zoom calls required rosy, glowing cheeks. Then in September 2020, Selena Gomez launched her cosmetics line, Rare Beauty, and released the now-viral Soft Pinch Liquid Blush. The ultra-pigmented products started making waves almost immediately. “I was working at Sephora when Rare Beauty launched,” says digital creator and makeup artist Sean Anthony (@Seananthonyv), who now shares makeup tutorials with his over 900,000 TikTok followers. “It was like nothing we’d ever seen before.” Shades were flying off the shelves and selling out for long stretches of time — in stark contrast to just a few years prior. “When I started working at Sephora in 2016, many cream blushes were being phased out,” presumably due to a lack of consumer interest, says Anthony.
Today, blush is a must-have makeup product, with brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Nudestix and Saie seeing huge success with cream and liquid formulas over the past two years. According to the global payment and shopping service app Klarna, there was a 161 per cent increase in Canadian sales of liquid blush between November 2022 and April 2023. More specifically, there was a whopping 1,408 per cent increase in pink-blush sales in Canada between April 2022 and April 2023. And who can deny the chokehold the colour pink has had on us for the past several years? From Glossier’s millennial pink a handful of years ago to Barbie pink today, the fashion and beauty industries’ colour of the decade is still going strong. La vie en rose, indeed.
Cream and liquid blushes deliver healthy-looking, luminous skin that’s beloved by makeup-savvy Gen Z, the driving force behind many of today’s big makeup trends. And unlike their powder-blush predecessor, these creamy formulas are loved for their foolproof application and youthful glow. Powder formulas have no place in the recipe for radiant “glazed doughnut” skin. Keys stockpiles versatile creams in her kit because they can be applied on the fly, using just her fingers. “When you warm up the product, it sinks into the skin for a dewy, sexy, flushed appearance,” she says.
For the generation that values authenticity and individuality above all else, another reason blush is enticing is that its purpose isn’t to cover up, conceal or carve out angles and shapes that aren’t naturally there. It’s your natural flush — but better. “Blush encourages people to embrace their own unique beauty,” says Keys. “And it’s a confidence booster.” For Anthony, part of the appeal of cream blush is its popularity within the Korean and Japanese beauty communities, both of which have a major influence on North American trends. He recalls that when he was growing up in the Philippines, blush was a makeup product everyone wore, even during the contouring craze in the West. “The routine in the Philippines has long been blush and lip tint — that’s it.”
Meanwhile, TikTok is spearheading North America’s blush comeback. Creators who feature traffic-generating products like Rare Beauty’s Soft Pinch blushes and Charlotte Tilbury’s Beauty Light Wand are seeing big numbers as a result. Currently, the hashtag #blush has a staggering 4.8 billion views on the video platform, with #RareBeautyBlush clocking in 1.5 billion eyeballs. In fact, many of the makeup trends that have taken hold thanks to TikTok have been blush-centric. (Think of the recent “sunburn makeup” and “cold girl makeup.”)
“I love cream blushes because they give skin a more natural look,” says beauty and lifestyle creator Jawaria Khalid, who boasts over 1.2 million followers on her TikTok account, @Jawarshere. Blush has always played a key role in Khalid’s content, including her popular “Get Ready With Me” videos.
“I always include a clip where I’m putting on blush because it’s the most hyped part of my makeup routine,” she says. “People know me as a blush girl and look forward to seeing different types of blush on my skin tone.” Anthony says he also sees a noticeable boost in views when he posts about blush, specifically the Rare Beauty formulas, even though the product is no longer a new launch. “I find that featuring those blushes is a no-brainer if I need a boost in views,” he says. “People get so invested when they see that packaging.”
Now that it has conquered contouring and taken over TikTok, what’s next for cream blush? Hopefully more inclusivity and shade offerings for deeper skin tones. “For the longest time, it was hard for people with melanated skin tones to find blush that showed up on their skin,” says Anthony. Earlier this year, makeup brand Juvia’s Place launched an ultra-pigmented cream formula in deep shades, like burgundy and burnt red, that quickly went viral on TikTok, signalling that the appetite for cream blush is still growing. And even though the beauty industry is famously fast-paced and fickle when it comes to trends, it appears that blush has some serious staying power this time around.
Shop the our favourite cream blushes below — one swipe of these velvety formulas and you’ll have bouncy, rosy, FYP-worthy cheeks.
Nars Afterglow Liquid Blush in “Orgasm”
Nars’ new buildable liquid blush comes in six wearable shades, but our top pick is, of course, Orgasm. Based on the makeup brand’s iconic powder blush shade that looks good on everyone. Promising eight hours of hydration and a lasting radiant finish, this peachy pink shade with tiny flecks of gold shimmer is a must-have.
Summer Fridays Blush Balm Stick in “Warm Desert”
Launched earlier this summer, Summer Fridays’ new Blush Balm Sticks have already become makeup bag staples and gone viral on TikTok. And for good reason. Jam-packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid and glycerin, the colour sticks are hydrating, easy to swipe on, and can be used on cheeks, eyes and lips.
Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Light Wand in “Pinkgasm Sunset”
The liquid blush that started our collective obsession, Charlotte Tilbury’s Beauty Light Wand, is available in an irresistible new shade called Pinkgasm Sunset. The rose-pink highlighter-blush combo is a cult fave for a reason. It’s the perfect wash of colour that can be built up for a more dramatic look, all while leaving you with a glow that can’t be beat.
Juvia’s Place Blushed Liquid Blush in “Sweet Berries”
Available in 12 different shades, Juvia’s Place liquid blush offerings are to die for. Ranging from Barbie pink to dark burgundy, there’s truly something for everyone.
Tower 28 BeachPlease Lip+Cheek Cream Blush in “Dream Hour”
Speaking of Barbie pink, Tower 28 has just launched a new addition to their beloved cream blush lineup: a bright pink shade called “Dream Hour.” It’s a super-hydrating and nourishing tinted balm that’s loaded with aloe vera and green tea extracts that’s suitable for even the most sensitive skin types.
Urban Decay Hydromaniac Blush Glow Hydrator in “Wrecked”
Formulated with kombucha to detoxify and nourish skin, and marula oil to provide lightweight hydration, you can’t go wrong with this easy-to-use, on-the-go Urban Decay liquid blush. Available in six versatile shades, a little goes a long way with this buildable blush.
Nudestix Nudies Blush Stick in “Hot Fire”
In case you needed any convincing, this is the blush formula Sofia Richie used on her wedding day. Available in a gazillion different shades and three different finishes (satin, radiant and matte), these all-over face colour sticks do it all—highlight, blush, bronze. Bonus: the brush on the other end of the stick makes this a true no-brainer.
Rare Beauty Soft Pinch Liquid Blush in “Happy”
Ladies and gentlemen: her. The crème de la crème of liquid blushes, Rare Beauty’s Soft Pinch Liquid Blush is the “It” makeup product of a moment. If you know, you know.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s September 2023 issue. Find out more here.
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