Contouring & Highlighting – What’s the hype all about?

Contouring and highlighting has BLOWN up over the past year. Likely thanks to all the mapped out selfies of Kim Kardashian on Instagram. But nonetheless, truth of the matter is that we DO look better when we play with a little light and dimension.

Mastering the perfect contouring and highlighting technique is actually very easy, but the problem most women have is that they see said photo below, and think “that’s how I need to contour”. FALSE.

Contouring and highlighting is different on every face shape, and changes depending on what it is you are trying to achieve. Are you wanting to make your forehead appear less prominent? Or make your jaw line more pronounced?

Understanding the basics of light and shadow will really help you master the art of contour. So let’s start with the basics. Light makes things appear more prominent and draws your vision to them first. Shadows make things appear as though they are receded.

Here’s an example: If you have a square face, and want your jaw line to appear LESS prominent, and more like an oval shape, you would contour your jaw line. The same works the opposite way, if you had a round face and wanted your jaw line to appear MORE prominent, then you would highlight that area.

A really easy way to remember this is to highlight the areas or features you want to stand out, and contour the ones you want to “hide” or bring less attention to.

Now that you’ve begun to understand light and shadow and that those photos of Kimmy K have nothing to do with how you would approach your own face, let’s actually discuss HOW you would contour and highlight, because here is where almost ALL people do it wrong.

Before I start, let me just say one thing, I hate rules and I’d rather not follow any, but for the purposes of understanding this…fad (for lack of a better word), I am laying down some “rules”.

Rule #1: DO NOT USE A BRONZER TO CONTOUR. Whoever told you that you could do that was wrong, it’s not a thing, some people may do it, and that’s fine, but I strongly encourage you NOT TO. If you’re contouring with powders, which is the easiest and fastest way to contour, especially as a beginner, use a powder with a grey-undertone.

Here is why: bronzers and most contour powders out there, have “red” or “orange” undertones. For a bronzer, that’s fine because the idea behind “bronzing” is to make you look sun-kissed, and generally when we tan we get “golden”. But actual shadows are more grey. Shopping for the right contour powder can be very tricky, 90% of all contour powders out there have a red undertone, here are a few that don’t:

  • Kevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder in Medium
  • Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze and Glow
  • MAC Sculpting Powder (Pro only) in Shadester, Shadowy and Bone Beige
  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Pallette Refills in Nutmeg, Fawn, Carob and Clay
  • Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour kit (contains a cool-toned contour powder, a warm-toned bronzer and a highlight powder)
  • Ben Nye MediaPro Contour Poudre Compacts

If you’re contouring with a cream, the same rule applies, shop for a cream foundation with a cool undertone, not a warm one.

Rule #2: Blend out ALL lines. Work with small domed brushes to prevent over-application. If you can see the contour lines, then we’ve just defeated the point of contouring. The idea is to trick the eye. You shouldn’t be able to see where the contour ends and the highlight begins. Everything must be blended seamlessly. Some great brushes that I like to use when I’m contouring with powders are the Cozzete S150 and the S135 from the Divinity Collection.

If I am contouring with creams the Beauty Blender is a great tool to have and you can find some really inexpensive ones on eBay. If you contour with a cream, remember to set it with a matching powder.

Rule #3: Follow your natural bone structure. I know this may seem contradictory to what I just said earlier. But what I mean here is, when you contour your nose don’t just start at the bridge of your nose, you must start just under your eyebrow, this diagram says it all:

When contouring your cheek bones, feel for the actual hollow under your check bone with your fingers. That hollow is where you will contour. Another way to find it is to draw an invisible line from the highest point of your ear to the corner of your mouth. That’s where you would contour your cheekbones. One thing to note, you should NEVER carry that line ALL the way to your mouth, that line should FADE before it reaches the corner of your mouth.

When you contour your jaw line you must remember to blend up, just under your ear and then down your neck. This will also help give the appearance of a longer neck.

When done correctly, contouring can really change a person’s appearance and accentuate our features. Don’t let it intimidate you. The best way to learn how to do it is through trial and error, that’s exactly how I did it. Experiment with different products and tools until you find the ones that work best for you.

If you are still struggling with this, I will be doing a video tutorial shortly that will also help. So stay tuned!

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