A Beginner's Guide To Contouring Like A Pro

November 11, 2015 by Lisa Fogarty
shefinds | beauty

Contouring has been around for a few years and celebs like Kim Kardashian have put it on the map as a procedure-less way to define your cheekbones and jawline while concealing “problem areas” you dislike. You only need two shades of makeup to create a flawless look and it should take no longer than five minutes–but without a few good tips, you’ll likely find yourself staring at powders and sponges without a clue where to begin.

Makeup artist Molly Leahy at Blushing Brides Boston knows a thing or two about contouring the face to bring out your best features. Here, she shares four tips on how to do it yourself and come out looking like a pro did it for you.

1. Start with highlighting. The most important thing for people who are learning to contour is that less is always more when you are starting off, Leahy says. Highlight first so that if you decide afterwards that’s enough definition for your liking, you can simply leave it (a makeup method called strobing). “For your highlighter, it’s easiest to take a liquid concealer that is one shade lighter than your skin and blend a small amount into the areas you want to highlight. The best areas to highlight are the tops of your cheekbones, your brow bone, the bridge of the nose and your cupid’s bow. You can also add some highlighter to the middle of your forehead and center of the chin if you feel those areas need a pop.”

How exactly to apply highlighter? Leahy says you can apply a liquid or cream highlighter with your fingertips. Use your ring finger to do it in a light patting motion (along all the aformentioned places) because it is your weakest finger and will prevent you from putting on too much at once. If you have a powdered highlighter you can use a couple of different types of brushes to apply it depending on the look you want. If you want a very soft highlight, use a larger fluffy brush; if you want a more intense highlight, use a smaller firmer brush (like an eyeshadow brush).

2. Choose the right contour color. Note to self: contouring is not bronzer. “A true contour color should be a cool taupe brown (or deeper cool brown if you have darker skin) because a contour is meant to mimic the shadows of your face which have cool undertones,” she says. “This doesn’t mean that you can’t use a bronzer for contouring if you prefer a warmer look, but cool tones tend to look much more natural and have a very natural slimming effect.

3. Find the hollows of your face. Once you choose your shade, it’s time to find the hollows of your face–but how the heck do you do that if you weren’t blessed with Kate Moss cheekbones? “A popular method is to suck in your cheeks to see where the hollows are. You can also just follow the imaginary line from the top of your ear to the corner of your mouth,” Leahy says. “If you are a nervous about contouring then start with perfecting the cheekbones, which is the place that makes the most difference.”

Once you have found the hollows of your face, Leahy advises tapping an angled face brush (sometimes even referred to as a contour brush) into the product. Tap off any excess from your brush so you don’t apply too much, either by tapping it on the side of the table or gently brushing it over the back of your hand to remove the most intense color. Starting back by the top of your ear, gently press your brush into your face along the hollow of your cheekbone from the top of the ear to the corner of the mouth to get the most natural look. If you find that it is too dark, take a clean fluffy powder brush and buff out the contour color in small circular motions to blend. You can never blend too much! A contour should never be a line–it should always just be the suggestion of a deeper shadow on your face giving a slimmer illusion.

4. Use the number 3 method. If you want to jump in headfirst and contour your entire face, Leahy suggests pretending there is a big number 3 drawn on either side of your face and they are facing each other. “When you follow that pattern then you will hit all the key points of contouring–the temples, your cheekbones and your jawline,” Leahy says.

As for application, if you have a cream contour color, Leahy says you can either use a brush with synthetic hairs or her preferred method–with your finger tips. “Using your fingertips to apply any cream color will always be best in my eyes because the warmth of your fingers will help to melt the product and blend it more naturally into your skin,” she says.

Leahy offers two additional contouring tips: Once you get product on your brush, firmly tap it off to get off the excess so that you don’t wind up with a big splotch of dark color on your face. And always start the product by your hairline because if you accidentally put too much on it is easier to hide and blend.

Doesn’t sound too scary, does it? Next, you’ll need great product recommendations–shop the best contouring palettes here.

For more beauty tips, check out 2 makeup and skincare bad habits to break and everything you need to know about highlighting concealer.


Lisa Fogarty is a lifestyle writer and reporter based in New York who covers health, wellness, relationships, sex, beauty, and parenting.

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