Contouring: If your first instinct is to say, “What the hell is that?” then READ ON

You may have heard people throw this term around or seen it written on some random products here and there. If it’s both scared and confused you, have no fear. Contouring is the term makeup artists use for using certain products and techniques that make your face look more dimensional and chiseled. It can produce the illusion of higher cheekbones and a thinner nose. When you cover your face in foundation, you’re flattening all the edges and curves of your face. This can make your face look big, boring, and washed out. Let’s break down the steps for contouring, shall we?


There are three components you’ll need for contouring:

1) Contouring powder (NOT bronzer!)

2) Bronzer (Optional)

2) Blush

3) Highlight

These are ALSO the steps in which you’ll want to apply these. The order is important, that way you don’t wash away your work as you move from step to step.

1) Contour

A) Picking a contouring product

Right off the bat, I’m going to mention that we DO NOT want to use a bronzer here.  The product you want is going to be your skin tone but several shades darker. It’s important that you choose a matte formula. What does matte mean? It means no shimmer, sparkle, or iridescence. Tons of bronzers out there are packed with shimmer. I must urge you, please please please, RESIST THE PRETTY SPARKLES!!! They might look attractive sitting there in their little package, but they aren’t going to look great on your face when you’re contouring. Matte formulas will create the illusion that the part of your face you’ve applied it to is farther away in space. It will cause things to recede. This will make more sense when I talk about where to apply it. Keep reading!

Contours also come in cream formulas, such as the NARS Matte Multiple or Tarte Amazonian Clay Face Slenderizing System. For someone just jumping into the world of contouring, I recommend you stick with a powder. It’s easier to build up and blend. Creams work great, but require more finesse and usually give a more intense look. You can purchase a matte bronzer, but if you find that bronzers are too orange for you (which can happen, especially with fair skin tones), then feel free to purchase a foundation powder a few shades darker than your skin tone. See which works for you!

B) Tools for contour

If you’re using a powder, you’re going to want a fluffy brush that’s smaller, with more densely packed bristles than your regular foundation/setting powder brush. Natural hair (or imitation) brushes are what you’re going to want. It will provide smoother and more even application, with is critical for contouring and not looking like a crazy person! This brush can also have a slight angle to it, if you prefer. Sometimes this allows you to better see and place the bronzing powder as you apply it. Up to you.


If you’re using a cream, you can use a dense brush with shorter bristles, sponge, and/or your fingers. If you’re using a brush, you’re going to want strictly synthetic bristles. Natural hair brushes will pick up the pigment you’ve just laid down and wipe it off, leaving streaks. The bristles should feel more smooth and wiry, not fluffy!

You can also use a makeup sponge like the BeautyBlender to apply and blend cream contour formulas.. It’s a little trickier to work with, but if you practice, you’ll get the hang of it. Just go easy. Cream contouring can make you look like this real fast:

C) Applying contour

Once you’ve applied your foundation, concealer, and then your foundation/setting powder, you are now ready to start contouring! You’re going to place your powder/cream in the hollows of your cheeks. Blend the bronzer from underneath your cheekbones back and forth towards your nose. The most bronzer should be applied closest to your ear/hairline and blend it towards your nose. You don’t want to put too much near your nose. It will make your whole face look dark and ruddy.

You also want to drag the bronzer down to your jawline. Again, don’t add more bronzer to your jawline. You want it to fade out from your hairline towards the center of your face. Applying a matte bronzer here will make the fattier part of your cheeks to recede in space. This will make your face look thinner, and your cheekbones look higher. Yay! You can then apply bronzer on your neck, underneath your jaw. It will disguise any potential double chin… not that you have one, or anything!

Now apply bronzer to the areas on either side of your face, in between your forehead and your temples. It will be just above the outer ends of your eyebrows. Use a very little bit, and blend back and forth. Then drag the color up onto your forehead, pushing it into your hairline. This makes your forehead look smaller and further helps your cheekbones to stand out.

Finally, we’re going to apply a little bronzer to the sides of our nose. It might help to use a smaller, fluffy brush here. Sweep bronzer up and down the sides of the bridge of your nose. If you want to decrease the size of the bulbous part of your nose, use a small, fluffy eyeshadow brush to carefully place bronzer in a “U” motion at the tip of your nose. You don’t want to put bronzer directly on the tip of your nose. It will flatten it and look strange. You want to place the bronzer just around this area.

2) Bronzer

A) Picking bronzer

Bronzer is meant to simply warm up the face and give it a nice glow. I say it’s optional, because not every makeup look requires that bronze glow. It’s really your preference. Your bronzer can be shimmery or matte. I prefer matte, as I like to reserve my shimmer for my highlighter. If you’re going to use a matte highlighter, feel free to use a little shimmer in your bronzer or blush. To be safe, I’d say blush or bronzer can be shimmery. I might not do both, unless you’re really sure of what you’re doing. Things can get super sparkly, super fast. Uh oh!

B) Applying bronzer

The trick is to apply bronzer where the sun would naturally hit your face: tops of cheekbones and your T-zone (forehead and nose).

C) Tools for bronzer

Use a big, fluffy brush that isn’t too dense. You just want to add a kiss of color to the face, so you don’t want it to look streaky. Have a light hand and add just a little at a time. You can always add more, but trying to wipe powder from your face is always going to results in a streak, patchy mess. No bueno. Go easy, my ladies.

3) Blush

A) Picking a blush

[See my article Don’t Make Me Blush… Oh no, wait, DO!]

B) Applying blush

I’ve seen many tutorials on how the placement of blush can change the shape of your face yada yada yada. The placement of bronzer shapes your face more than blush. Blush adds color. You want to be able to see it on the apples of your cheeks. If it’s not there, you could look washed out. You can use cream of powder blush. Again, cream will give you a stronger color payfoff, but it will be more difficult to blend. Want both? Apply cream blush first. It will give you the strongest color and will last the longest. Then apply a powder blush of a similar color (or a different color if you want to add depth to your color or otherwise change it) over it. The powder over the cream will help with blending.

C) Tools for blush

So, grab a big, fluffy brush like you use for foundation. It can be a little smaller, which will give you more precise placement. Too big of a brush, and you’ll have a hard time controlling where you place the blush. Too small of a brush, and you’ll have streaky cheeks. We need a brush that’s just right (said Goldilocks. Sorry, I had to do it!). Apply blush starting at the apples of your cheeks and brush it towards your hairline. Feel free to swipe back and back and/or make little circles with your brush that go from the apples to your ears. The blush should just meet where you’d put your bronzer before. It shouldn’t be covering or wiping away any of the bronzer work you did.

It also helps if you sweep a little blush on the center of your forehead, nose, and chin. Be very, very light with this application. Adding a hint of color here just helps warm up the face and makes the blush on your cheeks not look artificial…

3) Highlight

A) Picking a highlighter

A highlighter is used to highlight (what?! Haha). It’s best if it’s shimmery but NOT GLITTERY! For the love of God, no glitter. Shimmer does the opposite of what matter formulas do. Shimmer catches and reflects the light. It will cause whatever area you put it on to look closer to you (as opposed to matte, which causes things to visually recede in space). You’ll see why this is important when you read about highlight application. You’re going to have a bunch of options, here. Liquids, powders, creams etc. It’s really more personal preference. Not all liquids/creams/powders have the same intensity of color and shimmer. Try a few out and see which you like. Some are more subtle than others.

The most flattering highlight shade should be a shimmery champagne color. If you’re fairer, choose a slightly more pink champagne color. If you’re darker or more olive-y, pick a more tan champagne color.

I should mention that you can use a highlighter that’s matte, but that gives you a little bit of a different look You can always use a matte highlighter, and then add a little shimmer over it when you’re finished. If you’re not sure if you’d like matte or shimmer, try them both out and see which look you prefer.

B) Tools for highlighter

A cream or liquid highlight is most easily applied with your fingers. You can also apply a powder highlighter with your fingers, but sometimes a brush is easier and a little more even. The brush you’ll want to use is a small, fluffy, eyeshadow brush. It can be tapered, angled, or just rounded. You want natural (or imitation) bristles. The more densely packed the bristles, the stronger color payoff. It’s best to get a less dense brush. You don’t want to place too much highlighter. It can look distracting having too much shimmer on your face.

C) Application of a highlighter

Apply the highlighter along the tops of your cheekbones. This will cause your cheekbones to look more prominent and higher. Then apply it to your browbone. This is the area just underneath your eyebrow. Now, some eyeshadow palettes come with their own highlight shade. This shade can be used on the browbone instead. For example, the palette might have a bunch of purple-y shades, and the highlight might be a very light purple shade. Use this shade on the browbone, but don’t use it on your cheekbones. That would look weird.

Then put highlight near your tear ducts. This will make you look more awake a alert. Again, you can also use the highlight that comes in an eye shadow palette. But this is the last place where you could use it. Every other place I mention, use only that champagne-y color.

Now, I must caution people before reading the next section. If you get extremely oily in your T-zone, you might want to skip this step. If you are normal or dry, go right ahead. Place highlighter from the center of your forehead, down the center of the bridge of your nose, above your lip (called the cupid’s bow), and on your chin. Don’t use too much, lest you make yourself appear oily. This highlight in the center of you face helps to make your whole face look thinner. Also, putting the highlight on your cupid’s bow helps make your lips look bigger and plumper. Nice!

Ok, well not like THAT.

There are hundreds and hundreds of how-to pictures online of where exactly to place bronzer/blush/highlighter. Google some of those after reading this tutorial. They might be slightly more complicated or have little variations to them, but now you’ll know how to read them and adapt them for your face!

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