Here’s a confession: I’m totally the type to jump on the bandwagon when the masses are raving about a particular beauty product. Case in point: I own all three Urban Decay Naked Palettes, which—realistically—is totally not necessary. I mean, does a girl REALLY need three eyeshadow palettes full of neutrals? (Of course she does. And don’t think I won’t be snapping up the new Naked Smokey palette the day it’s released. But moving on.)
My point is that I like to try new trends and products when it comes to beauty. But as of late, there’s been one big fad I’ve been holding off on trying: highlighting and contouring. Now, to back up a second, highlighting and contouring is by no means a “new” thing. It’s a technique makeup artists have been using for decades to transform faces. But, in recent years, thanks to Kim Kardashian and other celebs, it’s made its way into the spotlight.
So if it’s so popular, why have I shied away from it? Well, to be honest, it seemed a little too involved for me. Don’t get me wrong. I will happily spend an hour painstakingly applying makeup. But the idea of drawing lines all over my face with light and dark colors—then making them look like a seamless part of my skin—just seemed a little intimidating.
A few weeks back, I visited my local makeup artistry school for another free class (you can see my recap of my correcting and concealing class here), this time on highlighting and contouring. That definitely changed the way I thought about the technique. Our instructor’s whole philosophy is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to the process. It’s all about showcasing features you like and playing down features you don’t; and it’s not like any two people have the same exact features (unless you’re twins, I guess). She also showed us how subtly it can be done, and how easy it can be to apply.
Armed with knowledge from that class, I picked up a “beginners” product to help get me started in the world of highlighting and contouring: the NYX Wonder Stick. This is a dual-ended cream stick, with one light tone used for highlighting and one dark tone used for contouring. It’s available in 4 shades: Light, Medium, Dark and Universal. I purchased Light. And for the record, don’t purchase Universal unless you want to look like a disco ball; the highlighter has shimmer in it, which is a big no-no when you’re highlighting an entire face!
I chose a cream product because it’s easier to blend into a liquid foundation base. But there are plenty of powder options and it’s an easy way to get your feet wet before jumping into cream (in fact, I’ve been lusting over the Anastasia Contour Kit, which is all the rage with beauty bloggers these days). In terms of color selection, I learned in my class that you should only use a shade lighter than your skin for highlighting and 1-2 shades darker for contouring. The Light shade was the best option for my skin tone.
I started by moisturizing and priming my face, then applying my foundation (Make Up For Ever Face & Body). I concealed my under eye circles using L.A. Girl HD Pro Conceal and MuD Blue Corrector, and covered up a few tiny blemishes using Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer. Then it was time to highlight and contour.
I’ve found it’s best to start with your highlight, since it’s the lighter shade. Essentially, you want to place it where light naturally hits your face—or anything you want to accentuate. I placed it on the middle of my forehead between my eyes, on the tops of my cheekbones, on the tip of my nose, on my cupid’s bow and on my chin—like you can see in this photo.
Before I applied the contour shade, I blended the highlight into my skin with my trusty Beauty Blender sponge. This sponge is so worth the money. I use it almost every day for applying foundation, blending, etc.
After blending, I then applied my contour shade. While most people typically highlight the same areas as I did, each person may have slightly different areas where they want to contour. The Maskcara blog has a great overview of how to contour for your face shape. There is one important tip I learned in my contouring class, however. Applying contour to an area will make it look slimmer. So if you already have a slim nose or a slim face in general, you may not want to contour those areas, as it will make them look even slimmer. The important thing is to figure out what works best for your particular face.
Anyhow, for me personally, I have an oval shaped face, so I applied a little on my forehead near my hairline, under my cheekbones, under my jawline, and very lightly on each side of my nose to create a little extra definition. I also like to add just a touch under my bottom lip, which makes it look a little fuller and poutier. You can see in the picture below that I don’t extend the contour under my cheekbone too far. You want it to look like a natural hollow in your cheek, and the closer to your lip that you bring it, the less natural it will look!
After applying the contour shade, it’s time to blend. I like to use a brush (specifically, the Morphe M512) and gently buff it into my skin, making sure I don’t take the color outside of the intended contour area. Under your cheeks, you should buff it slightly up, versus down. But under your chin, you want to buff it down onto your neck; don’t buff it up onto your face, or you’ll lose the shadowing effect and instead just look a little dirty! For your forehead, buff it up into your hairline. And on the sides of your nose, buff in an up-and-down motion.
Once you’ve applied cream highlighting and contouring shades, you need to set them with powder. This is super important, otherwise your hard work won’t last. I like to use a translucent powder (like NARS Light Reflecting Loose Setting Powder). You can also lightly go over the contoured areas with a non-shimmery powder brozner like Benefit Hoola if you want a little more depth/color. I often do this extra step to give my cheekbones some extra oomph, and I like to use my Morphe G30 brush to apply it.
Apply a little blush on the apples of your cheeks, and – if you want – dot a little shimmer highlighter on the tops of your cheekbones and you’re done!
You’ll see in the before and after pics that this isn’t a red carpet highlight/contour. It’s meant for everyday wear. I don’t do it every time I wear makeup, but I’ve found myself at least doing a little contour under my cheekbones more often than not these days. It’s just a nice way to add a little more definition!
Have you tried highlighting and contouring? Do you have any favorite products? Let me know in the comments below!