There are never enough hours in the day. Between work, family, and beauty rest, you’re lucky if you have enough time to scroll through your Instagram feed. So getting glam shouldn’t take more time than you have to spare. With this in mind, we’ve created the three minute contour. Want the crafted cheekbones of Rosie Huntington-Whitely or the chiseled bone structure of Kim Kardashian? Well, now you can fake them, and without much effort or time.
After applying foundation, choose two powders, one that is one to two shades lighter and one that is one to two shades darker than your natural skin tone (you can substitute a bronzer for the darker powder option). Apply your dark or contouring powder in the shape of the number three on the right side of your face. Start at the center of the forehead, swoop the hairline, up the cheekbone toward the nose, back across the hairline and below the jaw, and finish in the center of your chin. Now reverse the number three on the left side of your face. Gently blend in harsh lines. Congratulations, the contouring part is officially done.
With your light powder, or highlighter, dust onto cheekbones, Cupid’s bow, in the hollow of the cheek, and in the center of your forehead. Add highlighter to any other areas that you wish to illuminate, such as the brow and collarbone. When it comes to your highlighter, shimmer is optional, but recommended.
With these simple and quick contouring steps, you’ve created definition and opened up your face while still leaving time for life’s other pleasures. Like taking the perfect #selfie.
Products to Try:
Make Up For Ever Sculpting Kit ($48) – This palette has both your dark and light shade in powder form
Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick ($44 each) – If you prefer a creamy consistency, try these foundation sticks for contouring – choose one stick that is lighter and another that is darker than your natural skin tone.
RMS Living Luminizer ($38) – An all-natural, sheer, satin-pearl highlighter that works like magic to brighten and illuminate specific areas of the face.
One of the trickiest beauty application techniques to learn is that of highlighting and contouring. Over my almost ten years as a beauty writer, I have had the opportunity to interview some of the most important makeup artists in the business and I am always fascinated with their ability to transform the shape of a face. Create cheekbones, thin a nose, raise the eyebrows – with makeup, not surgery. Of course, sculpting and defining is quite complex but here are my favorite basic tips that I have acquired – and use – to contour and highlight.
1. Start by priming your skin. Click here for all of the reasons a primer is necessary but a quick recap, a primer will keep makeup on longer. This is key to creating your flawless complexion. Primers to try: Joey New York Correct-A-Line ($36); Clarins Flash Balm ($45); Nars Pro Prime Oil-Free Pore Refining Primer ($34)
2. Use a BB cream, tinted moisturizer, or foundation over the entire face. Apply with a sponge or foundation brush to give skin a more airbrushed, natural look. I’m really loving BB creams for coverage and color correction. Try Amore Pacific Color Control Cushion Compact Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ ($60); Kiehl’s Actively Correcting & Beautifying BB Cream SPF 50 ($37)
3. Skip powder and go directly to your bronzer. Using bronzer as your contour, or dark shade, gives the technique a very fresh and natural look. But make sure the bronzer is matte.
In an interview I did with Josie Maran (read here), she offered up the best trick for applying bronzer. “Make the number 3 from your temple down to your chin. So with your bronzer brush, start at your forehead, curve into your cheekbone as if you were writing the number 3 and then curve under your chin. Apply on both sides, so a backwards 3 and a regular 3, on each side of your face,” explained Josie. I use this every time I apply bronzer. Some favorite matte bronzers: Tarte Matte Waterproof Bronzer Park Avenue Princess Matte ($29); Serge Lutens Blusher ($160)
4. I read somewhere that the trick to highlighting is all in the application. An easy and fast foolproof technique is to create a heart shape with your fingers. Line up the top of the heart just above eyebrows and the bottom, or tip, of the heart at your cupid’s bow. Inside this space is where you apply highlighter. It works so well with Josie’s “3” bronzer application technique. You are basically highlighting bridge of nose, cupids bow, brow bone, and cheek bone. I suggest using a powder highlighter with this technique. Try Stila All Over Shimmer Powder in Kitten (I use the lightest shade in the duo) ($22); Dolce & Gabbana The Illuminator Glow Illuminating Powder (I suggest Eva, which is a sheer, colorless shimmer) ($50)
5. Now you just have to go over your work. Sculpt a bit, if you will. A Make Up For Ever makeup artist once gave me the best advice regarding sculpting cheekbones. She said to think of your face as having peaks and valleys. The peaks, like mountains, are the high points of the face – cheekbones, top of forehead, nose, tip of chin. The valleys, or low points, are any area that curves inward, like directly under your cheekbones (the hollow of your cheeks), sides of nose, the area between your under eye and your cheekbone. Contour, or sculpt, the valleys with your dark shade, highlight the peaks.
Here’s how I do it: I apply a very small amount of my dark shade to the tip of my forehead, tip of my chin, and directly on my cheek bone (feel for where the indentation begins, apply on the bone starting from your hairline and going inwards to about the outer corner of your eye). Make sure to blend the dark shade! Then apply your highlighter above the cheekbone, directly under your eyes (outer corner only), brow bone, cupid’s bow, and you can even do a small amount above your brow bone as well. Try Make Up For Ever Sculpting Kit ($48). It comes with the two shades – dark and light – and you can choose from 4 options, Tom Ford Beauty Shade and Illuminate ($75), another duo that has the dark and light powders combined in one compact.
6. Now you can use a liquid or cream highlighter for an extra dewy kick, but apply sparingly. If you’ve truly sculpted your face with the powders, you really only need a bit on the edge of your cheekbones, brow bone, and cupid’s bow. My absolute favorite cream highlighter is RMS Living Luminzer ($38). It provides the perfect dewiness to the skin and the formula is all-natural (I use it on my eyelids too for a glossy look!) and works for all skin tones.
When people say that makeup is not an art form, I tell them to look at before and after photos of a model who has just been shaded and contoured to the nine. Contouring can virtually allow you to change the shape and look of your features without the need for permanent surgery. Highlighting allows you to take your features and exploit them. As Cargo artist Annesley Broadhead says, “Contouring and highlighting plays with shadow and light, just like a black and white picture.”
Together, contouring and highlighting can take your face from average to magnificent. Trust me, all the celebs use these tricks. So pay close attention. Contour and highlighting is about to become your new best friend!
CARGO artist Annesley Broadhead explains:
The idea behind contouring and highlighting the face is to bring out our best features and minimize minor flaws. The most important thing to remember is that if you are going to play with contouring and highlighting it must look natural. To make something look deep or recessed (contoured) you use a shadow; to pull something out (highlight) you use a light shade.
There are a few ways to contour and highlight. Make-up artists will often use a combination of light and dark foundations. For everyday women there are lots of great products that can achieve realistic results. Here’s how:
To thin the nose:
Shade the edges of the nose using a flat eye shadow brush and a bit of matte bronzer of matte taupe colored eye shadow. Lightly apply along either side of the bridge of the nose from the inner corner of the eyes down to the tip of the nose. Now use your finger to blend downwards towards the cheeks so that it does not look like a stripe. Next apply a touch of light champagne colored eye shadow in a soft line down the center of the nose from the bridge to the tip. Again blend well for a natural effect.
To shape the face and emphasize the cheekbones:
Apply your foundation as usual and then apply a very light shade of concealer along the upper edges of the cheekbone; this will pull out the cheekbone. Powder as usual. Apply a matte bronzing powder under the cheekbones to contour. To find the proper placement, hold a pencil against the face from 1 cm above the upper part of the ear to the outer corner of the mouth. This is the most flattering angle to place the contour color. Now apply the same matte contour shade along your jaw line to create a more angled jaw. (This is a great tip for those with a more rounded face shape.) If you have a longer chin that you wish to minimize, place the contour shade under the chin as well. To minimize a prominent forehead, a little contour along the side of the forehead by the hairline will work wonders. Just remember: when shaping your face it is all about being subtle and bringing out your best features.
To highlight brow bones:
This is the simplest trick and can take years off your eyes giving the look of an eyelift without surgery. After applying your eye shadow, use a soft white or cream color directly under the eyebrow along the arch. The shadow can be matte or shimmering depending on what you prefer. Complement the under brow highlight by placing just a tiny dab above the brows just past the arch. This draws an onlookers eye upwards and adds even more lift. I love CARGO EyeLighter™ because it is designed just for highlighting the eyes and can be easily tossed in the purse for touch ups.
Make Up Forever Kevin-James Bennett our Director of Pro Business Development and Artist Relations says:
how to thin the nose:
I’ve always found that highlighting the bridge of the nose is much more flattering and realistic than contouring the sides. I like to use a foundation 3-4 shades lighter than the rest of the face and draw a line from top to bottom and then feather out to the sides.
shape the face
I study the natural contours of the face and then exaggerate the areas that fall into shadow with a contour color (usually a very taupey brown devoid of any strong yellow tone). Then I fade the contours by blending the foundation color back into the outer edges of the contour. Blending VERY well is key here.
how to emphasize cheek bones:
The easiest way to “pop’ a cheekbone is to highlight the diagonal area that spans from the side of the nose up to the outer corner of the eye. This not only emphasizes the cheekbone, it creates a beautiful light in the center of the face that makes the eyes pop.
how to highlight brow bones:
NEVER use a white shadow or anything shimmering to highlight the brow bone. Simply use a foundation or eyeshadow 2-3 shades lighter than the rest of the face. This should be a subtle, flattering highlight, not and un-natural focus point.
Celebrity makeup artist Troy Jensen (Kim Kardashian’s favorite) offers the following tips:
The art of contouring starts with a prepped face of a light moisturizer, then apply a cream or liquid highlighter, for fair skin tones, use a white pearl, medium skin tones use a shimmery beige, and for dark skin tone, bronze or gold works best.
Apply highlighter with a small concealer brush and apply it to certain areas of the face only, not all over. just area’s that look amazing when the light hits the face. Such as the top of the cheek bones, down the center of the nose , above the bow of the lips, and the inner part of the eyes near the tear duct. Then apply your liquid foundation with a foundation brush. The highlighter will glow through the make up, giving a natural glow that is not too glittery.
Contouring can be done with dark cream foundation or with a matte powder bronzer or dark face powder. Dust the powder bronzer to contour under the cheek bone and along the jaw line to get rid of double chins as well as fullness to the face. If you have a long nose. Instead of contouring both sides of the nose to give the look that it’s more narrow, dust a bronzer across the bridge of the nose. This will give the appearance the nose is not as long.
Highlighting areas like the brow bone, should not be highlighted with a shimmer, but rather a matte shadow in a pale skintone shade. Like bone, or off white.
The key is that it should look natural, so blend, blend , blend.
Prescriptives Director of Artistry, Jillian Veran, offers this tip:
Using an illuminator to highlight skin can help you glow, but too much can create an unwanted shine.
An illuminator, like *magic Illuminating Liquid Potion, on the top of the cheek or over blush is a great way to get a subtle glow. Be sure to use a semi matte blush to avoid overdoing the glow.
Joanna Schlip, celebrity makeup artist for Physicians Formula says:
To emphasize cheek bones, make a fish face and brush bronzer or the darkest shade of the trio underneath the bone, where the hollow starts. On the highest point of cheekbones, dust a lighter highlighting shade.
To thin the nose, use the darkest shade of the trio (or any bronzer) on both sides of the nose to streamline it and use the lightest color on the bridge of the nose. To make a nose look shorter or reduce a bump, use the darkest color side-to-side across the bump or on the tip to make it shorter
To highlight brow bones, I love the Physicians Formula Shimmer Strips Custom Bronzer, Blush & Eye Shadow in Sunset Strip. Use this or any shimmer powder (anything that reflects light) above the eyebrow and right below the brow. A kabuki brush is great for sweeping shimmer right on top of the brow area – just make sure to blend really well and don’t forget to rub any excess powder off the hair.
Tips from Jillian Dempsey, AVON Global Creative Color Director:
How to emphasize cheek bones:
Start by smiling to see the apples of your cheeks and then apply a dot of cream blush, like Avon’s Be Blushed Sticks, to the center of the cheeks. Use your fingers to blend upwards towards the outside of the face. Follow by layering on an iridescent powder to lock in the color but avoid applying it to the t-zone to limit shine.
How to thin the nose:
The key to contouring the nose is using matte bronzer and loose powder to create definition. Start by using a small brush to lightly apply a loose powder like Avon’s Ideal Shade Loose Powder down the center of the nose. Follow by using a fan brush to add bronzer to the sides of the nose, creating contrasting color that adds dimension to the nose. Finish by using a powder brush to wisk away any access powder that may have fallen and set in fine lines.
celebrity makeup artist Terri Apanasewicz’s (includes Cindy Crawford, Gisele
Bundchen and Miley Cyrus as clients) on highlighting and contouring:
thin the nose: Use just a shade darker than your usual foundation or the softest hint of a powder (MAC Taupe eye shadow is a good one). Apply to each side of your nose and make sure to blend. Then powder so it will disappear to the naked eye into the rest of your makeup.
shape the face: For this, a matte bronzer is best or “Hoola” blush from Benefit. Lightly dust it around the parameter of your face, gently hitting the high points. Creating dimension in your face should always be subtle and effective.
emphasize cheek bones: Using one shade darker that your usual foundation, brush it under your cheek bones making sure there is no definite start and stops with the brush. Amazing Cosmetics Velvet mineral foundation is a personal favorite – it’s subtle and does the trick.
highlight brow bones: Use a light shade eye shadow, matte for day and a little sheen for night. I like a cream or soft pink. Apply just under the brow bone along the arch of the brow. It doesn’t have to be heavy to be dramatic. Anastasia has great brow highlighter pencils, just make sure to soften the edges with your ring finger.
To read the entire interview with even more incredible, exclusive tips, click here.
I’m going to do an entire post on the art of highlighting and contouring (as a girl’s guide), but thought I’d give you a sneak peak at the genius of makeup artistry.
Senna Cosmetics has a magnificent, DIY, step-by-step contouring booklet that I just had to try.
Here’s me before — blank face:
And here’s how you contour via the Senna’s Fabulous Face Contouring Color Book (6 colors come in the palette).
Step 1: Sculpt with ‘Mirage’
Purse your lips and suck in, using fingers to locate the hollow under your cheekbones. Using an angled face brush, apply your sculpting powder in the hollow of your cheeks, angling color from the outer face near the ear down toward the mouth, stopping about 1” away from lips. Reapply until you see a shaded area that makes your face look more defined. Using a smaller brush, apply sculpting powder to sides of nose, bottom of chin and around the upper hairline.
Step 2: Highlight Cheekbones with ‘Lace’
Brush your highlighting powder over the cheekbones and out to edge of eyes to brighten and define cheekbones. Apply a thin strip down the center of the nose and dab on the center of the chin.
Step 3: Lighten with ‘Buttercream’
Apply this soft creamy color over your entire eyelid to create a smooth, even base for your shading color.
Step 4: Shade & Contour with ‘Nudist’
Using a soft, fluffy eye shadow brush, apply this neutral brown eye shadow to your entire eyelid, focusing on the crease area.
Step 5: Highlight with ‘Crystal White’
Use a firm tapered brush to apply this ultra bright highlighting powder under brow arches, at the center of the lid, if desired, and at the bridge of the nose near the tear ducts of your eyes.
Step 6: Line eyes with ‘Espresso’
Emphasize eyes by using a fine and firm liner brush to apply a thin line of color along the upper and lower lash lines.
Check back next week for the girl’s guide to contouring and highlighting!