Highlight & Contour – How To & Best Products
Using dark shades and light shades of makeup is a very easy and painless way to accentuate features you love and features you don’t like as much. With the use of highlighting (light colors to reflect light) and contouring (using dark colors to detract light) you can change the shape and look of your face and its features. Learning how to do this technique takes time, practice and lots of trial and error. I also highly suggest trying this in natural day light, even if you plan to only use this technique for a more “night out” look. You never want to be caught off guard with very strong lines and shading that is extremely dark.You may even want to snap a few photos of yourself to see how this will show up on camera if you plan to take pictures with this look.
Let’s start with some diagrams of where on your face to contour:
This first diagram is one of the first I used when starting to try highlighting and contouring (I am still working and perfecting my technique). As you can see the white areas are where you would apply a highlight. The dark areas are where you put your contour. The dark areas, like below the chin for example, helps to decrease the appearance of a double chin and make the neck look thinner and more defined. Adding contour to the forehead/hair line and temples will help to shadow around that area and create the appearance of a smaller forehead. This is great to do especially when you put your hair up. Adding dark contour to the outside of the bridge of your nose and under the tip will make your nose look more narrow.
Here is an example of highlight and contour on Kim Kardashian. You can see exactly how the look happens. The highlight on the bridge of her nose and darker color on the sides makes her nose look very slim and narrow. The highlight under the eye area makes her look well rested, bright and fresh. The dark contour on the cheek, in the hallow of the cheek makes her face less round/full and more chiseled and defined. This makes her appear slimmer. Highlight on the brown bone makes the eyes pop in the right place and having the highlight in the center of the forehead and contour on the sides makes her forehead appear smaller.
So now you know where you should be highlighting and where you should be contouring. So now what? Now you need the products and not all products work for all skin tones or skin types. I will list below some of my favorites and some popular products as well for both.
What are good products for contouring?
Typically for contouring you want a dark brown that is matte. I always go for a powder so it blends easily, though some people do use cream or foundation for contour. The goal with the dark contouring colors is to make those areas appear smaller. The darkness draws less attention to those spots, for example if you have a larger forehead you would want to darken near the hair line with a dark powder and around the temples. This drawers people’s attention away from those areas and has them focus on the areas that are highlighted in the center. It’s all about illusion ladies and gents!
Here are my favorite products:
1. Too Faced Tan Without the Twinkle Chocolate Soleil Bronzer with Brush - it’s not extremely dark and this is good if you want to contour a bit during the day time. The lines are not harsh and you will achieve the chiseled cheek bones without looking scary. It also smells delicious and the added benefit of Too Faced Cosmetics is they are cruelty-free and not tested on animals. (bonus!) You also get a great little Kabuki brush too which is great to buff out and blend in after applying with a contour brush.
2. MAC Blush in the color “Blunt”. If you go to the MAC counter and ask for something to do contour they will recommend this blush because it’s dark and it is matter or one of their bronzers which I don’t recommend because I don’t like anything shimmery for my contour. It is a dark color and highly pigmented so be a bit softer with your application on this one especially during the day time. Great to contour the nose area and temples.
3. MAC Sculpting Powders Pro Palette: The darker colors are very dark so go a shade lighter than you think you should. I have this in “Bone” which is very light but good for day time and then I have “Shadester” which is super dark. These are great if you want to do a bit of dimension with your contouring with lighter and darker shades. I usually but the canister refills and put them in my MAC pro palettes.
4. Benefit Cosmetics Hoola Bronzer – this is a very popular product for basic contouring. It also smells amazing and comes in great packaging. This is good for all skin tones. You’ve probably seen a ton of Youtube Beauty gurus use this and I have to say it is a great addition to any makeup kit of vanity table.
Benefit Cosmetics Hoola – buy online here.
5. Nars Laguna Bronzer Blush – This one is a dark brown and great for contour. Nars blush and powders always have staying powder and I really love their blushes (Sin and Mata Hari are my favorites). This one really will last you a long time and it is very popular. The only concern here is it’s a bit pricey but if you need a go-to contour color this is a sure bet.
NARS Bronzing Powder Laguna – buy online here
6. L’oreal True Match Powder in Cocoa – this is a drug store alternative that will work just as well as any of the more expensive brands above. It is matte which is great and blends great on the skin. I will admit though this one is dark and needs a bit more blending to not look too harsh. But this will cost you a fraction of what some of the higher end brands cost, so if you are just starting out you might want to pick this up and then decide if you want to spend more on the others.
What are good products for highlighting?
Remember that the goal of highlighting is just as it sounds: these are the areas you want to pop! You want to draw people’s eyes and attention to these areas. That is why they are in spots where you want to exaggerate great features like the cheekbones, bridge of the nose, etc. Light bounces off of these areas and is beautiful!
1. MAC Prep and prime highlighting pen in Light Boost – I love this product! It is a clickable pen with a brush applicator. I love it because it goes on smooth and you can control how much you put on. This blends nicely and adds a great highlight especially on the nose and under eye area. It will not make you look very pale in those areas but help to diffuse the light, it’s also so soft and smooth especially on your very delicate under eye area. I will buy this over and over again when it runs out, it really is amazing and I highly recommend it.
MAC prep + prime Highlighter LIGHT BOOST – buy online
2. Graftobian concealer palette – This is a staple in my makeup bag for over 5 years. This product is made for cinema; photos and film. This means it reflects light amazing since it has been used on faces who have light on them on sets. It has five colors and the palette comes in various colors. It is under $30 and when I say it will last you one to two years I mean it. This is one item I will never ever go without, it covers everything and comes with me everywhere. I cannot say enough great things about these palettes, because I buy them and use them everyday. I have a winter/pale color one and a summer/tan colored one. This I use year-round and think it’s the best cover up makeup out there. It’s the best and I have to say if I never buy another concealer in my life it would be okay as long as I have this one. I love this and think it is the best best contour palette on the planet for all needs!
Graftobian HD Corrector Palette – buy online
They also make a larger, more variety of colors, palette that is a bit pricier but if you are a makeup artist and need more colors this might be right up your alley:
Larger palette is roughly $72.99 here
3. Mac Shaping Pro Palette Powder in “Emphasize” – this is a dusting type powder which works mainly for the brow area and on the cheeks. It is not a heavy concealer but helps with the cheeks. I usually place this just on the top of the cheek area between the eye corner and cheek bone. I also pop this into my MAC pro palette with my contour color pans and this way I have them all in one easy, convenient place.
4. Maybelline New York Age Rewind Under Eye Concealer and Brightener – this is a drug store alternative for brightening the under eye area when you are contouring. You just click the tube and it will come out the sponge. Just dab it on the under eye and blend. You can get this in the pink/salmon hue which works on darker under eyes or in light for more of a contour effect. Think of this as your best friend when you’ve been out a little too late the night before or are just looking a little tired around the eye area. It helps to brighten everything up and create a beautiful fresh look.
5. MAC Pro Longwear Concealer - this is the best for under eye. It doesn’t cake or crease and I recommned 1-2 shades lighter than your MAC foundation to help with the contouring/highlighting. If I wear NC30 I get this in NC20. I will say that a little goes a LONG way with this stuff so even one pump will be more than needed.
MAC Pro Longwear Concealer – NW15 9ml/0.3oz - buy online
6. L’Oreal Studio Secrets Dream Lumi Highlighter – I ordered this from Ulta in light. I heard great things about this drug store alternative to the Mac Prep and Prime highlighter. This is half the price and just as good! It has a soft finish and feel pretty light on the skin. This seems to show up more than the MAC highlighter pen so if you want a “whiter” look then go with this and save yourself a few dollars too.
L’Oreal Magic Lumi Concealer, Light, 0.05 Ounce - buy online here.
Kits and Palettes
If you want to get a bit more bang for your buck you may want to start out with some highlight and contour palettes and kits. These help you to test out a few colors without buying multiple different brands and items. Here are some that are at various price points but all very helpful to have in your makeup arsenal
It Cosmetics My Sculpted Face Palette – click here
SHANY Cosmetics Professional Cream Foundation and Camouflage Concealer 15 Color Palette – click here
Contour Kit by Anastasia Cosmetics – click here
I hope that one or some of these products will work for you as you attempt your highlighting and contour. Remember this is a “technique” and it’s not a one size fits all one. You will need to test and try this out on yourself and see what works best for you. Over time it will become part of your routine so play around a bit and have fun with it! As I try new items I will update this page with reviews. Enjoy!!
Some brushes that I use and suggest:
For highlight and contour the right brushes are just as important as the products you use. I like brushes from Sephora, B&H, Sigma, MAC and Real Technique. Real Techniques are my favorite because they are also cruelty free, something I opted to buy more of (almost only) in 2014 and beyond. When possible now I only cosmetics and brushes not tested on or made of anything related to animals.
Some great suggested items to purchase to organize your make up and vanity:
Check out all the items mentioned in this post by clicking the image below: