How to Contour Your Face in 6 Steps: Easy Contouring Tutorial
Oh, contouring. Search for “how to contour” on YouTube, and you’ll get more than 227,000 results. On Instagram, the hashtag #contour delivers more than 1.5 million tags. Even here on Lipstick we’ve talked about the technique to death: the products we love for it, the many, many controversies surrounding it (like when Bobbi Brown said it “looks like dirt” or Reese Witherspoon got real about how out of control the craze has gotten). And it really has gotten out of control. Have you seen the “How to Contour” YouTube tutorials going viral lately? Butt contouring? #nothanks.
But here’s the thing, when done right—and not for gimmick—contouring really can help enhance the gorgeous features you’ve already got. The biggest problem is, that even with the endless amount of info out there on the topic, figuring out where to begin isn’t any easier. We’re here to help you navigate the world of contouring with a clear guide that teaches you how to contour your face step by step.
We talked to three leading makeup artists: Sir John, the man behind both Beyoncé’s and Karlie Kloss’s sculpted cheekbones; Fiona Stiles, who just launched a mistake-free makeup line; and Daniel Martin, a celebrity makeup artist for Dior and color consultant for Honest Beauty. Learn how to contour step by step. Your no-B.S. guide starts here.
Use the Right Shade and Texture
Choosing the right shade and texture is key to contouring. Your contouring product “shouldn’t be more than two colors deeper than your complexion,” Sir John says. If your skin is light to deep, go for taupes and grayish browns. Darker skin tones should try warmer, cognac colors, according to Stiles.
For a bold look, try a cream. Creamy contours, like sticks and palettes (try Make Up for Ever Pro Sculpting Palettes, $45, sephora.com), are more dramatic than powders. Blend in a small amount with your fingers, a brush, or a damp Beautyblender sponge, Sir John says; then build more color for a stronger result.
For a polished look, try a powder. Contouring powders (try Fiona Stiles Beauty Sheer Sculpting Palette, $28, ulta.com) are sheerer and also ideal for shiny skin. Wondering how to contour with powder the best way? Dust on a translucent powder, then apply the color. This prevents it from sticking to the natural oils in your skin.
For a subtle look, try a liquid. For natural-looking dimension, go for a liquid matte bronzer. “Work it between your fingers and press it into the hollows of your cheeks to give a touch of warmth,” Sir John says. We like Benefit Dew the Hoola Liquid Bronzer, $28, benefitcosmetics.com.
Don’t Contour Everything
You can sculpt your entire face, but you don’t have to. A little contouring can go a long way. Focus on your cheeks, forehead, nose and jawline. Using the contouring product of your choice, try your cheek hollows: Start from the middle of your ear and move toward the corner of your mouth, stopping midcheek. Shade additional features based on your goals, whether it’s a less pronounced forehead (apply along your hairline and temples), a more sculpted jawline (buff under chin), or a slimmer nose (blend soft parallel lines on either side). It won’t magically change the shape of your face, but it will add some definition.
Layer Your Product
“Invisible contouring” is Sir John’s signature layering technique. “You’re elevating the bone structure without a ton of product,” he says. Begin with a light application, then add color until you get a subtly carved-out look. “You should get compliments on your features, not the product,” he says.
Avoid Products with Shimmer
When you think about it, the reason is obvious: “You’re [trying to add] a sense of depth with matte taupes or cool browns that absorb light,” Sir John says. Shimmer reflects light, so bronzers with flecks in it will do the opposite of the desired effect. Save the shimmer for your highlighter.
Balance It All Out with Highlighter and Blush
Here’s where placement is everything: Concentrate a shimmery gold highlighter (choose one that’s the same texture—cream, liquid, or powder—as your contour) underneath your eyes and on top of your cheekbones to “brighten the complexion and add just enough sheen,” says Martin. If you’re not exactly sure where this is, use his foolproof trick: Smile with your mouth closed and apply highlighter on the area where your cheeks puff up. Then diffuse the formula up slightly toward your eyes. We like Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Highlight ($22, nordstrom.com) for cream, Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Moonstone ($41, sephora.com) for liquid, and Pacifica Golden Lotus Highlighting Powder ($18, pacificabeauty.com) for powder.
Your Highlighter How-To
For a natural looking highlight, get a lit-from-within glow is choosing a pinkish-gold liquid highlighter like Clio Kill Cover Perfection Wear Sheer Blender Foundation in Sheer Champagne ($32, clubcliousa.com). “It’s super subtle and flatters all skin tones,” says Martin. Use your finger to lightly dab it where light naturally hits—on lids, cheekbones, just above your lips on the Cupid’s bow, and down the bridge of your nose. If you don’t have highlighter, try a bit of clear lip balm instead.
Compliment Your Contour with Eye Makeup
For a natural look, simply sweep the same formula you used to hollow out your cheeks across your entire eyelids with a medium shadow brush to enhance the natural contours of your eyes; work a bit more into the crease for extra drama. Fill in your brows, curl your lashes, and apply a coat of lengthening mascara.
If you want to rock bold eye makeup, Martin has a pro tip — start with your eye makeup before your contouring. By doing your eyes first, you won’t mess up your foundation and contour when cleaning up any fallout.
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