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Contouring & Highlighting: 101

Whether you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed or watching beauty gurus on YouTube, it seems like contouring and highlighting has become the hottest makeup trend in the past few years!


Contrary to what many people may think, contouring has actually been around as early as the 16th century—long before today’s era, of the Kardashians and Facetuned Instagram selfies!


Working in the makeup industry for nearly 8 years, one of the most common questions my clients ask me is,

“How do I contour and highlight my face?”

Before I can answer this question, we must understand what exactly “contouring” and “highlighting” is…..


What Is Contouring?

Contouring is a technique used in makeup and art to create the illusion of shadows. Shadows refer to an area that receives less light and therefore, we can create these shadows to “push” areas back—creating depth—and reduce the negative effects of highlighted areas on the face.


What Is Highlighting?

Highlighting, which is also a technique used in makeup and art, is essentially the opposite of contouring. While contouring is used to “push” areas back, highlighting is used to “pull” areas forward by bringing light to an area. The technique of highlighting is used to enhance, soften and/or correct the negative influences of shadows.



Choosing a Formula

There are three primary formulas used for contouring and highlighting: cream, liquid and powder.


Cream & Liquid Formulas

Cream and liquid formulas should be applied after base, prior to setting the face with setting powder. These formulas are typically easy to blend and ‘melt’ into the skin. They can be applied using a brush, sponge or even your fingers to apply and blend—making it quick and easy! Unlike some powders, cream and liquid formulas won’t enhance enlarged pores or fine lines, making them great for those with dry and/or mature skin-types! Additionally, you can layer a powder formula over-top to extend the wearing power and/or to create a more dramatic appearance.



Powder Formulas

Powder formulas should be applied after setting the base with setting powder. These formulas are typically easy to blend on the skin, leaving a velvety-matte finish. Powders can also be layered over cream/liquid formulas, extending the wearing powder and/or to achieve a more dramatic appearance. Additionally, powders help to absorb excess oil on the skin, making it a great option for those with oily skin!




Choosing The Right Shades For Your Skintone

When it comes to picking the right contour shade, you want to choose a color that is 2-3 shades darker than your skintone.

I like to work with neutral/cool-toned contour shades (i.e. Kevyn Aucoin's The Sculpting Contour Powder), because they provide the most realistic appearance of a shadow.

When picking a highlight shade, you should choose a color that is 2-3 shades lighter than your skintone.


If you're looking for the ultimate powder contouring & highlighting palette, check out the Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette! This refillable, all-matte palette is arranged by undertone, and contains six magnetically-removable powders (three contour shades and three highlight shades), making this the perfect contour & highlight palette!





Contouring For Your Face Shape

Unlike all the Instagram videos you might've seen, every face shape is different.

As a makeup artist, my job is to manipulate light (highlight) and shade (contour) to help balance and/or correct each face shape.

The “ideal” face shape is oval.

Below, I've broken down six of the most common face shapes. In order to help you identify which face shape you have, I've broken down the characteristics of each shape.

Once you’ve pinpointed your face shape, you'll be able to achieve the most ideal contour and highlight application!


Face Shape: Round

Characteristics:

  • Length & width of face is about equal

  • Rounded jaw, with no angles

  • Cheekbones are the widest part of the face

Contour Application:

  • on the sides of the forehead and along the temples

  • area below the cheekbones, beginning at the ear and working down towards the jawline (avoid bring contour past outside corner of the eye)

Highlight Application:

  • center of the forehead and center of the chin

  • under the eyes in an upside-down triangle shape





Face Shape: Oval

Characteristics:

  • The “ideal” face shape

  • Most common face shape

  • Slightly longer than wide

  • Cheekbones are the widest part of the face

  • Jaw is narrower than the cheekbones


Contour Application:

  • sides of the forehead

  • below the cheekbones, starting from the ear, towards the middle of the cheeks (avoid bring contour past outside corner of the eye)


Highlight Application:

  • center of the forehead

  • center of the chin

  • under the eyes and along the brow bone





Face Shape: Square

Characteristics:

  • Squared jaw

  • Cheekbones, jaw & forehead are about equal in width


Contour Application:

  • sides of the forehead

  • below the cheekbones, starting from the ear, towards the middle of the cheeks (avoid bring contour past outside corner of the eye)

  • under the jawbone/jawline


Highlight Application:

  • center of the forehead

  • center of the chin

  • under the eyes & along the brow bone






Face Shape: Heart

Characteristics:

  • Wider forehead

  • Narrower/Pointy chin

  • Widest part of the face is forehead or cheekbones


Contour Application:

  • sides of the forehead and temples (this will create balance between the upper and lower portions of the face)

  • area below the cheekbones, beginning at the ear and working down towards the jawline (avoid bring contour past outside corner of the eye)

  • the very tip of the chin


Highlight Application:

  • center of the forehead

  • center of the chin

  • under the eyes in an upside-down triangle shape






Face Shape: Diamond

Characteristics:

  • Cheekbones are the widest part of the face

  • Narrower/pointier forehead & jaw

  • Pointy chin


Contour Application:

  • area below the cheekbones, beginning at the ear and working down towards the jawline (avoid bring contour past outside corner of the eye)


Highlight Application:

  • center of the forehead

  • center of the chin

  • under the eyes in an upside-down triangle shape


Face Shape: Triangle

Characteristics:

  • Narrower forehead with a wider, strong jawline

  • Chin is square or flat in shape


Contour Application:

  • lower parts of the face

  • area below the cheekbones (beginning at the ear and working down towards the jawline, avoiding bringing contour past outside corner of the eye)


Highlight Application:

  • center of the forehead

  • center of the chin

  • under the eyes in an upside-down triangle shape


Now that we’ve gone through the basics of contouring & highlighting, as well as different application techniques for each individual face shape, the next step to take your highlighting game to the next level is using an illuminating highlighter!


Check out my blog post all about Highlighting, Illuminating & Strobing!

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