How to Contour in Four Steps (or One If You Don't Have Time)
Do you know how to contour? Are you sure? Even for those of us who love makeup, contouring—the art of shading and highlighting the cheekbones, forehead, chin, and other facial features—can be intimidating. Done right, it gives you sculpted cheekbones and a more streamlined nose and jawline. Done wrong, it makes you look like you rubbed dirt on your face and then drew attention to it with a bunch of shimmer.
To avoid the latter scenario, we sought the advice of Eugenia Weston, the founder of L.A.'s Senna Cosmetics and an Emmy-nominated makeup artist who used to make Barbra Streisand's custom foundation. Eugenia has been using contour makeup since she started out in the business, so if anyone knows how to contour properly, it's this woman.
Before we start, what's the point of contouring?
Contouring is basically your own real-life Photoshop studio. "Contouring creates symmetry and balance [in] the face," Eugenia says. "Maybe we don't have high cheekbones and we can enhance them with highlight, maybe we have a weak jawline ... maybe we have a high forehead and we can shade that down. ... We can slim a nose, we can widen a nose, we can make it look longer" she adds. Bottom line? Contouring plays with shadows and light to emphasize certain features and downplay others.
Convinced? It's time to gather your makeup supplies.
Here's what you'll need:
- Powder or cream foundation in a neutral brown color OR a matte bronzer
- Powder or cream foundation in a color that's three shades lighter than your skin tone OR a highlighter
- Blending sponge (if you opt for cream products) OR contour brush and small blending brush (if you opt for powder ones)
- Translucent loose powder and fluffy powder brush
Professionals typically use at least three different shades when they contour—a gray-brown shade, a highlight, and a lowlight—but Eugenia says the average woman really just needs two. "I would just get a neutral brown and a really light, light shade, either in a cream or powder form."
If you don't want to think about it too much, pick up a contour kit.
But if you don't want to buy a whole kit or if you would rather use what you have, try a bronzer and a highlighter. Though contour shades are distinctly different than bronzers, which are designed to warm the skin, Eugenia says that a bronzer works well as a contour shade for most women. Just make sure it's brown, without an orange or red hue, and matte, without a hint of shimmer. A face powder three to four shades darker than your skin tone works too. As far as highlighters go, pick one with champagne or pink tones if you have fair to light skin and golden tones if you have olive to dark skin.
How to Contour in Four Steps
1. Sculpt the face.
Apply your normal foundation, then using the dark color, shade beneath your cheekbones by following your jaw's natural indentation "from the top of the ear angling toward the mouth," Eugenia advises. (If you're having trouble finding this spot, suck in your cheeks like you're making a fish face.) Shade around the hairline and temples, down the sides of the top of the nose and along the tip, and under the jawline. This area is particularly important for older women. "As women age, gravity makes the face fall, so you don't have that nice definition," Eugenia explains.
2. Blend it out.
Soften any obvious lines. If you used a cream, tap a damp blending sponge over the shaded areas until they blend with the rest of your foundation. If you used a powder, use a small, clean, fluffy brush to blend the shaded areas.
3. Get lit.
Apply that "light, light" foundation underneath your eyes to add a bit of lift to the face. Then swipe it on the cheekbones, forehead, down the center of the nose, under the brows, and in the middle of the chin. If you're using a shimmery highlighter, Eugenia suggests placing it on the cheekbones and down the center of the nose only. That's because shimmer tends to exacerbate oil, large pores, and fine lines.
4. Set it and forget it.
Dust translucent loose powder over the face using a fluffy brush. This sets your foundation and contour and highlight shades (especially creamy ones) and helps blend any lingering visible demarcations. If you're using a shimmery highlighter, set your face with the loose powder before applying it as the loose powder will remove the flattering sheen.
How to Contour in One Step
Say there's an alien invasion and I have exactly 12 seconds to contour before I flee into the forest. What then?
You have two choices: just bronzer or just highlighter. With the bronzer, use a medium-size powder brush to shade under the jawline, under the cheekbones, and above the brow bone. "You could even use it in the crease of the eye," Eugenia said. "That really is quick [and] easy, and it looks really good." If you use only highlighter, apply it on the cheekbones and blend it up to the eye.
Like good contouring, good eyebrows can really change your face. Read Eugenia's tips on how to get the best brows.