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How To

Contouring 101: A beginner’s guide

January 1 | 4 minute read

How To Contour Hero 16x9

Words by Tom Mendes and Sherine Youssef

Originally published on | April 8

Contouring is the technique that went from an insider, under-the-radar makeup artist secret reserved solely for red carpets and catwalks, to a next-level phenomenon that spawned an entire YouTube industry and product category, and a technique that is now part of some people's every day routine.

But what is contouring, exactly? Put simply, it's about shading and highlighting specific parts of the face to enhance some features and camouflage others. Done right, contouring can help carve out the look of cheekbones and jawlines, slim down a nose or forehead and help make the face look more three dimensional. P

icking up a contouring product that's several shades darker than your skin tone can be super intimidating, but take a breath and allow us to walk you through it. This beginner’s skill drill will make sure you've perfected the art of contouring, so you can enhance your features with the skill of a Kardashian makeup artist.

What can contouring do for my face?

As we mentioned, contouring is about shading the parts of the face that you want to recede (it's actually a pretty neat optical illusion) and highlighting the parts of the face you want to bring forward. Finding that balance can help add definition and softness to any face shape.

Is there a difference between contour and bronzer?

Yes, and it’s pretty key: contour is always matte and deployed on specific parts of the face, while bronzer can be any finish you like and is primarily designed to give the skin a sunkissed wash of colour. You can use a matte bronzer as a contour product, but we wouldn't recommend you use a shimmer or a luminous bronzer as these won't do a very good job of shading or recessing features.

What products do I need to contour?

You'll need a matte contour product, and as a beginner, a cream formula is a good place to start. These blend very easily to help you achieve a natural and streak-free finish, and you can buff and build up colour until you're happy with the shade. If you want to extend the longevity of your handiwork, you can always go over the top of your cream contour with a powder contouring product, which will act almost like a setting powder to lock everything in. But be careful: you don't want to add much more colour with these contouring powders, so a light dusting will do.

A good application tool for contouring novices using cream contour is your fingers, as they will help warm up the makeup so it melts and blends into the skin seamlessly. If you prefer tools, however, you can try a foundation brush or sponge. Contouring powders definitely require a brush for application and blending, and for this you can use a medium fluffy or fan brush, or a dedicated angled contouring brush - try the Morphe M310 Large Soft Fan Brush or the Morphe V108 Dense Blending Contour Brush.

Whichever way you go, stay consistent with the textures of your base products (foundation, contour, highlighter, blush) and use either all cream or all powder formulas to avoid any caking. Of course, your final product and makeup layer can be a powder, but don’t switch between the two textures when layering makeup and use, say, a cream highlight over the top of a powder contour.

How to contour your face shape:

Look in the mirror and determine your face shape, as well as any areas you’d like to add depth to or bring forward. The key here is to know that you don’t need to contour every feature on your face, but also, that you don’t need to contour at all. Your face is already pretty perfect.

But if you do want to contour, there are some super general guidelines for different face shapes. Round faces generally benefit from adding angles on the cheekbones and jawline, and oval face shapes can hit the forehead, cheeks and jawline to add dimension. Heart, square and triangle-shaped faces are already strongly structured, so these can generally skip the contour altogether or maybe just shade the forehead, along the hairline, to make it appear smaller, rounder, and less prominent, and highlighter on high points to soften the face.

How to contour and highlight

Here’s a general outline of how to contour these key spots.

Cheeks: Start from the tip of the ear and apply contour beneath the hollows of the cheeks, stopping about halfway down the cheek (line it up with the outer corner of your eye), and then highlight the tops of the cheekbones above this contour line. Blend!

Nose: Working from the start of the brows and down to the bridge of the nose, apply contour in two lines on either side of the nose. Blend!

Jawline: Apply contour along the jawline, starting on either side of the chin, and all the way back to the earlobes, then highlight just above where you've contoured. Blend!

Forehead: Buff contour on the temples and back into the hairline. Blend!

Let’s focus on how to apply contour to carve out your cheekbones.

Step 1

On top of your finished foundation, buff a light amount of contour just under the cheekbones. Remember: start small and build up. It’s easy to add more but hard to buff away a harsh line of product.

Step 2

If you’ve used a powder contour, you might like to take a bit of face powder and add it just underneath where you’ve contoured to sharpen that line. The effect is subtle, but it’s supposed to be (no harsh lines, please!) and has the added benefit of cleaning up any contouring mistakes that might be dragging your look downwards.

Step 3

For your highlight, apply on your cheekbone, then bring it up and around your eyebrow in a C-shape. Don’t forget to highlight any other areas you want to feature, like the tip of the nose, Cupid's bow and centre of the forehead.

Related topics and brand tags

ContourMakeupMakeup brushesMorphe

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