Home > Beauty & Grooming > Makeup > Contouring 101: Here’s a step-by-step guide for beginners (plus, best buys)
Contouring 101: Here’s a step-by-step guide for beginners (plus, best buys)

Though we’re not at the peak of the contouring trend right now, we’re still intrigued by the idea of a sculpted look—albeit one that’s more natural than in years past. The intensely shaded, highlighted aesthetic isn’t for everyone, but it has taught some of us how to carve cheekbones and enhance our jawlines. It’s not always apparent which products to use and where on your face to sweep them, which is why we’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to contour your face.

Everything to know about contouring


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by TehraniTo (@tehranito.style)

What is contouring?

Contouring is the process of shaping a part of the face and enhancing the facial structure with makeup. It is a technique formerly reserved for runway models and high-end photo shoots, which is now part of many people’s everyday routines, owing in part to celeb and Instagram makeup artists who share the same passion for the chiselled look.

The old contouring and highlighting trends were about transforming your entire face to look a certain way, but today it’s about embracing your natural shape and adding realistic-looking depth and dimension to your face. So, how exactly do you achieve the subtle illusion rather than a full-on Instagram filtered face? Continue reading to learn how to contour your face for a natural, pretty-looking result.

What is the difference between contour and bronzer?

We know that you have two products that appear to be almost identical, but they are not, and they each serve a different role. To begin with, a contour product is always matte. You need a product that can provide the illusion of a shadow (and shadows aren’t shimmer) while contouring to make the angles of your face pop more. When applying bronzer, envision sunlight rather than shadows. The purpose of bronzing is to give the appearance of a warmer complexion by blending the product (which typically has a sheen or shimmer to it) where the sun would naturally hit your face: temples, nose, around the sides of your face, and so on.

What all do you need for contouring?

Image: Courtesy Shutterstock

Experts advise picking a product three shades darker than your skin tone that stays within the same undertone family for the perfect contour. When it comes to undertones, go with a cooler, greyish-brown shade if your complexion is cool-toned, and a warmer, red-brown shade if your skin is warm-toned.

The next step is to determine whether to use a cream or a powder. This is primarily based on personal choice, however makeup professionals recommend taking your skin type and texture into account while selecting the right formula. If your makeup settles into fine lines or you have really dry skin, use a cream contour. When applying and blending liquid or creamy products, use the warmth of your clean hands or a damp makeup sponge to help the product melt into the skin.

Use a powder if you have oily skin or just want a matte finish. Powder formulas, unlike creams, do not blend well with your fingertips, and great blending is essential when creating a natural-looking contour. Instead, select a makeup brush based on the look you want to achieve. Use a brush with blunt bristles to get a razor-sharp chiselled effect. A fluffy angled brush will help you distribute the product while you sculpt for a softer finish. A smaller shading brush is recommended for contouring tiny regions, such as the sides of your nose.

How to use contour: A step-by-step guide for contouring your face

You don’t have to be a pro to accomplish this step in your makeup regimen because contouring is no longer about changing your face shape. Here’s a simple step-by-step procedure that you may follow loosely and customise to your own face shape.

Step 1: Prep your face

Always use skincare to prep your face before applying makeup. To prevent makeup from forming around dry skin or harsh lines, wash your face and apply moisturiser. Prime your face using a primer which acts as a barrier between your skincare and makeup, allowing both to work better and last longer. Cover any blemishes or dark spots with a little foundation and/or concealer in shades that match your natural skin tone and undertone.

Step 2: Shadow

The most well-known method of contouring is to use your darker shade to create a shadow beneath your cheekbones. Suck in your cheeks and trace the product along the hollows of your cheeks, following the natural shape of your jawline and temples to find your cheekbones. You can place your shadow in one of three places, depending on your face shape: along the sides of your nose, in a “3” shape that follows your hairline, under cheekbone, and jawline. Experiment with different lines and shadows to sculpt your face until you find the look that suits you.

Step 3: Highlight

Apply a lighter concealer shade or a shimmery (but not sparkly) highlighter to areas of your face that naturally reflect light, such as your forehead, nose bridge, tip of nose, top of cheekbones, cupid’s bow, and around the eyes and brow bone.

Step 4: Blush

While applying blush to the apples of your cheeks isn’t required for a contoured look, it can help your makeup look more natural by appearing as a bridge between your shadow and highlight areas.

Step 5: Blend

Blending is especially important when working with shades that do not match your skin tone. Blend your shadows and highlights into your skin or foundation layer with a large, fluffy brush, blending brush, or makeup sponge until the lines you created appear more natural-looking.

Step 6: Set it in place

Apply setting powder or spray to lock your sculpted face in place and achieve a flawless finish.

Featured Image: Courtesy Charlotte Tilbury; Hero Image: Courtesy 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: What are the best contouring products?

Answer: Some of the best contouring products are: Huda Beauty Tantour, Benefit Hoola, Fenty Beauty Match Stix, Wet n Wild MegaGlo Contouring Palette, etc.

Question: What does a contour do?

Answer: Contouring is a method for sculpting and adding dimension to your face that involves using makeup that is slightly darker or lighter than your natural skin tone. Unlike regular foundation and concealer, which we want to match our skin exactly, contouring is all about creating the illusion of shadow and light.

Question: What is the difference between contour and bronzer?

Answer: The main distinction between contour and bronzer is how they are used. Contour is intended to sculpt your face, manipulate light, and define your features. Bronzer, on the other hand, is designed to bring warmth and accentuate your skin's natural warm glow where the sun naturally hits your face.

Question: How to contour your face?

Answer: Step 1: Apply a moisturiser and primer on your face. Step 2: Highlight your cheekbones, down your nose, brow bones, and inner corners of your eyes using a cream highlighter. Step 3: Blend your foundation over your face with a damp beauty blender after mixing it with a beauty oil to give it a flawless look. Step 4: Follow the shadows of your own face shape to contour. If you don't think your jaw is as defined as it may be, apply some powder or cream along the edges of your jawbone. Blend a contour line beneath your cheekbones if you want to chisel your cheeks. Leave your nose alone if you like it! Step 5: Use setting powder to set your T-zone, then spritz your face with setting spray to blend it all together.

Contouring 101: Here’s a step-by-step guide for beginners (plus, best buys)

Anushka likes to write about fashion, beauty, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she likes to make her Pinterest boards come to life.


Never miss an update

Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest updates.

No Thanks
You’re all set

Thank you for your subscription.