The Ultimate Guide to Contour & Highlight Like a Pro

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last almost decade, contouring is considered a staple step in any makeup routine. Along with helping to enhance the look of your cheekbones, effective contouring can also balance your features. It can be a great skill to master. And thanks to a wide array of contouring products, it’s easy to find the right shades or even formulas that work best with your skin tone and skin type. 

With our Angled Blush Brush, you can easily use it to complete two tasks — highlighting and contouring. While contouring might seem like a tough trick to master, it’s not that hard once you nail the basic principles. So, if you’ve been hesitant to contour, keep reading for some essential tips to help boost your makeup education. 

Contouring Basics

Before we dig into the step-by-step details for applying contour, it’s important to start with a bit of background information and basic tips to help you nail your look. 

Contouring Isn’t New

Contrary to what social media would have you believe, contouring isn’t a new technique. It’s been around as long as the theater world has existed. While the techniques have been modified for a more realistic effect that doesn’t look harsh up close, the purpose of contouring has always been to define your features. For the theatrical world, this meant that performers would still look distinctive — even for the patron who had the worst seat in the back of the house. 

And while social media has presented an image of contour as a strong “in your face” makeup trick, it’s not meant to be that. The real goal of contour is “your face but better” — accentuating your features in a way that doesn’t look obvious. The goal is for people to think that your cheekbones are really that sculpted — not for them to ask you what contour product you use. 

Don’t Take A One Size Fits All Approach

No matter how much you might enjoy watching your favorite beauty gurus apply and buff their contour, it’s important to remember that makeup is personal. What works for one person may not be effective for another. Applied to contouring techniques, this means that you can’t always apply your contour in the exact same places as someone else and expect a positive outcome. 

You need to consider whether you have more pronounced or hidden cheekbones. Similarly, when contouring your nose, don’t forget to maintain balance with the rest of your facial proportions. Making your nose too skinny when your face is wider will create a visual disconnect. Your contour might technically be flawless, but because you applied it incorrectly, your entire makeup look will appear “off”. 

Likewise, your face shape will also dictate where you apply contour. So, as much as you might love the 3 or E-shaped contour technique that everyone and their mother is using on social media, it’s an ideal placement for people with oval, round, and heart-shaped faces. So, if this isn’t you, your contour won’t look right. 

Pick the Right Product

Contour products can come in powder, cream, and even liquid formulas. And in many cases, if you prefer, you can use concealer or foundation to accentuate your features rather than a dedicated contour product. Beginners might find that they have more control with powders and creams (including contour sticks) as these will give you a bit more control and allow you to apply product precisely. 

But just as important as the formula is picking a shade that makes sense. When contouring, you’re ideally using a product that’s only one or two shades darker than your natural skin tone. Picking a contour that’s too deep or too light won’t work. When it’s too light, your contour will be nonexistent. And if you pick a shade that’s too dark, good luck buffing it out so that it looks natural rather than harsh. 

However, there’s a caveat — pay attention to the undertone. Contour products come in a range of tones including warm, neutral, and cool. And depending on your undertone, you’ll want to choose accordingly. And while most people are probably fine with one contour shade, it’s not uncommon for pros to use two shades to create a more customized, natural effect. 

As a general guide, fair to medium skin tones should focus on neutral shades. Tan and olive skin tones can work with golden undertone hues that help to prevent looking ashen. And deep or dark skin tones should opt for warmer contour shades to avoid creating a gray cast. 

When Should You Apply Contour?

Spend any time watching beauty gurus and beauty reviews, and you’ll see that there’s not always a consensus on when you should apply your contour. While some people prefer to apply contour after foundation others prefer the reverse order. 

Is one inherently better than the other? Not necessarily, but the version that makes the most sense for you will depend on your makeup goals. If you want a more pronounced contoured look, then contouring after foundation will achieve that goal. But if you want a “that’s just how her face looks” effect, then contouring before applying foundation can ensure that it’s more subtle and looks more realistic. 

How to Apply Contour 

Assuming you’ve picked the right products and you have our Angled Blush Brush on hand, it’s time to get started with contouring. Decide whether you want to apply contour before or after foundation. 

Whichever you choose, your next step is to pay attention to contour placement charts and to choose the placement recommendation that matches your face shape. Keep in mind that the chart is a general guide. Once you get more comfortable with contouring, you can make adjustments to create whatever desired effect you prefer. 

Apply Your Contour to Core Areas

In most scenarios, you’re going to focus on a few key areas when initially applying your contour: your hairline, cheekbones, chin, and nose. If you’re using a pressed powder or cream contour product, swipe your Angled Blush Brush into the pan and start with a light amount on your brush. Remember, you can always add more if you don’t feel like the contour is strong enough. But if you put too much, you’ll need to start over. 

Gently swipe your brush over the areas you wish to contour, laying the product on the key areas you want to accentuate. For cheekbones, this means you should run the brush below your cheekbones. If you’re not sure where to apply, look in a mirror and smile. The immediate curve below the apples of your cheeks is going to be your target.  

Note that not all face shapes are encouraged to contour their jaw. If you already have a pronounced jawline, you most likely don’t need to contour it. 

Contouring Your Nose

While nose contour is one of the most widely promoted techniques shown on social media, it can be a hard trick to master. You may need to engage in a bit of trial and error to find the right placement that creates your desired shape without throwing off the rest of your features. 

As we mentioned earlier, if you attempt a severe contour that pinches your nose, it can create an imbalance with the rest of your features. In particular, your eyes will look too wide set against a very narrow nose. Additionally, your nose contouring technique is going to depend on your nose shape. Whereas face contour is more general, how you contour your nose will depend on your starting shape and your desired goals. 

Generally speaking, you’ll want to apply contour along the bridge of your nose from the inner brow down to the tip. However, depending on the shape of the tip of your nose and nostrils, you may want to add additional contour against your nostrils or even across the tip of your nose to create a more defined shape. 

Also, note that darker skin tones may find that focusing on nose highlight rather than contour can be more effective. The Angled Blush Brush is too large for applying and buffing nose contour to give you the precision you need. So, consider using our Angled Crease Brush to apply contour and the Eyeshadow Blending Brush from the Professional Eye Brushes Set for this task. 

Buff Your Contour

Once you’ve applied your contour where you want it, your goal now is to buff it out to create a natural effect rather than the harsh lines currently on your face. Using either small circular motions or a gentle back and forth sweeping motion, buff the contour lines using the Angled Blush Brush to soften and blur them into your skin. 

If you feel you need more contour, you can apply more and buff it out using the steps above. 

Set It with Powder

Once you’re happy with your contour outcome, it’s time to set it with powder so that it doesn’t shift or fade with wear. Clean your Angled Blush Brush and lightly run it over pressed powder or swirl it in loose powder. Tap the handle to shake off excess powder and lightly swipe your brush over your contour. 

Note that if you have dry skin, you’ll want to use less powder. Meanwhile, those with oily skin may benefit from using more powder. 

Onto the Highlight

Whereas contour is designed to minimize and carve features by creating the illusion of shadows, highlight is meant to add brightness as if a light is hitting your features. While you can use a contour/highlight makeup kit that offers more traditional shades like gold, light copper, or even pink, these days you can highlight with almost any shimmery hue depending on your comfort level and makeup goals. 

To determine where to apply highlight, you can follow a face placement chart that provides a guide based on your face shape. Or, you can simply look in a mirror or take a selfie in natural sunlight. Wherever the light is naturally reflecting off of your face (usually cheeks, under eyes, nose, forehead, and chin) is where your highlight should be placed. 

When Should You Apply Highlight

Similar to contour, the answer for this is going to depend on your goals. Those seeking a bold highlight — think strobing — will prefer to highlight after foundation and contour have been applied. Meanwhile, anyone who prefers a less is more approach will want to highlight before applying foundation. 

Highlight is available in a wide array of formulations including loose and pressed powders, creams, and liquids. If you’re concerned about your highlight getting wiped away if you apply it first, opt for a liquid that will have a bit more staying power. 

How to Apply Highlight

Applying highlight is similar to contour. If you’re using a pressed powder or cream, dip your Angled Blush Brush into the product, tap off any excess and gently apply your highlight to any desired areas. For beginners, it’s best to start with a light amount of product and build to the intensity you desire. Be sure to blend your product to avoid having any harsh shimmer lines. 

Tips for Nailing Your Highlight and Contour

Highlight and contour can seem like intimidating makeup tricks. But they’re not if you take your time and use an application method that complements your face. 

Less is More

We can’t stress enough that it’s easy for contour to look overdone. Keep in mind that it’s a theatrical technique that’s been co-opted for everyday use. It’s always better to start small and build up to a stronger coverage after you’re confident that it looks right in all light. 

Lighting Matters

Makeup looks different indoors versus outside. So, you’re going to want proper lighting — especially when applying contour and highlight. Cool LED lights are usually your best bet for indoor makeup applications as they better mimic natural sunlight. 

But if you’re applying makeup for a nighttime event, you may find that warm LED light is better. If you can, opting for lighting with adjustable temperatures for makeup applications is the best way to ensure that your makeup doesn’t look off. 

Practice Makes Perfect

If you’re new to contouring and highlighting, don’t wait until a major event to try these techniques for the first time. The added stress of trying to get ready in time will almost certainly guarantee that you’ll make mistakes. Instead, practice new makeup tricks on days when you’re not in a rush and the stakes aren’t high.

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