Makeup Contouring

Crystal Schwanke
makeup contouring

Makeup contouring can add dimension to your face after you apply foundation. It can make your face look thinner or allow you to emphasize your features. Though the heaviest contouring is best saved for photo shoots, there's still a place for lighter contouring for everyday wear or special occasions.

What You Will Need

You can contour with cream or powder products. Overall, cream products will be best for dry skin while powders will be better for oily skin. If you choose a cream product, you'll have the option for an even more subtle contour under your lighter coverage foundations. Products you will need for contouring include:

  • A cream or powder that is two shades darker than your face and matte/satin
  • A cream or powder that is two shades lighter than your face and matte/satin
  • A blending sponge (like the BeautyBlender or Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge) if using cream products
  • An angled blush brush if using powder products
  • A smaller angled brush (an eyeshadow brush will work, but choose stiffer synthetic bristles if using a cream product)
  • Translucent setting powder for setting cream products or foundation, pre-contour
  • Optional: Kabuki brush for additional blending of powders
  • Optional: Finely milled shimmering highlight shade for finishing touches

How to Contour Your Face

When contouring and highlighting, remember that the dark places are the ones you want to recede and the lighter ones are the ones you want to bring forward, or out. The image below provides a visual to go along with the following instructions. Use Adobe to download the PDF if you'd like a hard copy of the diagram.

  1. Apply your foundation. If you plan to use cream or liquid foundation and powder contouring products, go ahead and dust translucent powder over your foundation. This will help prevent the darker color from looking patchy and will assist in blending.
  2. Use the larger angled brush to apply the lighter shade to the tops of the cheekbones, extending to just below the eyes in an inverted triangle shape. Do not use the shimmering highlight product for this step.
  3. Apply the same light shade to the center of the forehead and, using the smaller brush, down the center of the nose in a thin strip.
  4. Continuing with the smaller brush, apply the light shade just below the arches of the brows (for a lifted effect), above the cupid's bow (for the appearance of fuller lips), and in the center of the chin.
  5. Use the larger angled brush to apply the darker shade at the temples. If you have a high forehead you'd like to make look smaller, apply along the top edge and blend the product up and away into the hairline (don't leave a gap between your hair and the dark product).
  6. Use your fingertips to find your cheekbones around the mid-ear point. Don't try to find your contour mark by sucking the cheeks in because that will make the contour too low. Imagine a vertical line that crosses the pupil of your eye. Trace the contour line of your cheekbone until it intersects that invisible line. Use less pressure as you approach the middle of the face so there's less product there and more up toward the ear. Repeat on the other side. This will give the illusion of more pronounced cheekbones.
  7. Use a light hand and/or a smaller brush (depending on the nature of the contouring product you chose) to darken the sides of the nose up to the brows, the creases of the lids (unless you're applying eyeshadow there later), and just below the middle of the lower lip. This will give the illusion of a slimmer nose, more defined eyes, and a poutier lower lip.
  8. If you'd like a more sculpted jawline or have a double chin, you can trace the darker shade just underneath the sides of the jaw and/or under the chin to make those areas recede.
  9. Dampen the sponge and pat over your face until there are no sharp lines left. The color will still be there, so you'll have the sculpted appearance without obvious lines. Go over the light areas first to avoid muddying up those areas with the darker color that will end up on the sponge. Check your blending from all angles and in different lighting, especially if you're not applying your makeup in natural light. If you used powders, you may find that you prefer blending with a kabuki brush, but the sponge works well for either type of product.
  10. Set everything with translucent powder.
  11. For extra glamour, take the finely milled shimmer powder on the small brush and lightly dust it down the bridge of the nose, along the brow bone, on the tops of the cheekbones, and just above the upper lip. You can also add it to the inner corners of the eyes. This type of highlighting product is best used in small doses to catch the light and bring attention to the angles of your face.

Product Recommendations

If you already have a cream foundation makeup you like, you could always purchase the lighter and darker shades from the same line. However, there are many products that will get the job done.

  • The Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Cream Kit (under $50.00) comes in Deep, Fair, Light, and Medium. Each set has six shades, so you can find your perfect match and go more or less dramatic by choosing different shades. A variety of shades makes it less likely you'll need to pick up new products when the seasons - and your skin color - change. This creamy formula is designed with bendability in mind. If those sound great but powders are more your thing, there's a powder version for the same price, available in three color ranges.
  • Also available for less than $50.00 is the Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette, available at Sephora. This palette also includes six shades (powders), each specifically designed to mimic the colors of shadows and light to avoid looking too bronze or orange on the skin. The Shade + Light brush is sold separately for just over $30.00, and recommended for flawless application.
  • The Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour Kit is also under $50.00. It keeps things simple with just three colors (powders), a brush, and instructional cards that walk you through the process. Choose from the Light/Medium set or the Medium/Dark one.

Experiment for Your Perfect Sculpted Look

No two faces are exactly the same, so not everyone's contouring process will match. Perhaps your forehead is small or you don't wish to contour your nose. Maybe you feel highlighting your chin and the center of your forehead is unnecessary. Experiment with the application and take some selfies (for a more objective point of view) to see which techniques flatter your facial features the most.

Makeup Contouring