After a certain amount of time has passed, it becomes embarrassing to ask questions about something seemingly everyone knows everything about, like contouring. If the details of this trend have managed to totally escape your knowledge base, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Many people have no idea what contouring actually entails, despite hearing the word over and over again on TikTok or even using the word yourself. And it turns out, contouring your face is actually way easier and less intimidating than it seems.
Of course there’s the full-on way of carving out lines with a darker and lighter concealer color, baking the product in with powder, and more, but there are many different variations of contouring that can be tailored to your everyday routine and needs. Here’s everything you need to know about trying out contouring on your own so you can learn what you like, what works for you, and what makes your morning makeup routine easier and more effective, according to top makeup artists in the biz.
What Is Contouring?
According to Kristen Fortier, makeup artist and product innovation lead for Crunchi Cosmetics, “Contouring is a technique used to shape, define, sculpt, and add dimension to the face by using the effect of shadows and light.”
You’re basically tricking the eye into seeing a more chiseled and defined face, thanks to playing with colors and highlights on certain areas of the face to highlight cheekbones, bone structure in the nose, and overall face shape. This technique allows you to change the shape of the face and certain parts of the face as you wish.
“The basics of contouring is understanding that you want to add shadows and light to the face,” says celebrity makeup artist Tarryn Feldman. “Really understanding this will help you contour better.
The 2 Products You Need For Contouring
Contrary to popular belief, contouring can be simple. According to Fortier, all you need is two products “to achieve shadows (contour) and light (highlighting) on the skin.” Those two products are bronzers and highlighters.
First, reach for a cool-toned bronzer in powder or cream form that is a couple shades darker than your natural skin tone, says Fortier. If you’re unsure about using a cream or powder bronzer, think about your skin type. Oily skin types may prefer to use a powder formula so their face appears less greasy, while dry skin types might prefer a cream bronzer to add moisture to the face.
From there, choose your “highlight” color. This can be a brightening concealer (a concealer about one to two shades lighter than your natural skin tone), or a tried-and-true highlighter in liquid or powder form. “[Use] brightening concealer and/or highlighter to bring light reflecting properties to the skin to further enhance the dimension,” says Fortier.
How To Achieve A 5-Minute Contour
There are three key points to remember when contouring: 1) the edges of the forehead, 2) the cheekbones, and 3) the bottom sides of the chin. It’s easy to remember this when you picture a number three placed on the side of your face, with the openings of the number going towards your nose. Then, highlight any points of the face that “stick out” like the apples of the cheek and the nose. Once you get it down, this can take just a few minutes.
“The quickest way to achieve an easy contour is to apply a powder cool toned contour or bronzer to the hollows of the cheekbones, top of forehead working it into the hair line, and under the jawline,” says Fortier. “Next, apply a powder or cream highlighter to the highpoints of the face. Once you get the contouring technique down, no matter how detailed you get, it can be done rather quickly and look stunning.”
How To Level Up Your Contouring
If you want to go all-out like your favorite beauty influencer, level up your contouring by following these steps.
1. Prep the Skin
“Your makeup will apply much better and provide longer-lasting performance if you incorporate a great skin care routine,” says Fortier. First, exfoliate the face with an AHA/BHA cleanser to slough off any lingering dead skin cells.
Then apply your typical skin care routine. You can add an antioxidant-rich vitamin C serum to protect against the elements, and then an SPF for added sun protection throughout the day. Pro tip: If your skin still looks dry and flaky under your makeup, try this easy towel trick from TikToker @roseandben. Right before you apply your foundation or CC cream base, prep the skin with a primer. “I recommend using a primer to ensure your look stays in place but it also helps create a buffer between your skin care and makeup effortlessly so the skin looks flawless,” says Fortier.
After you’ve applied your foundation, pick your bronzer and “apply in a ‘3’ formation starting at the forehead and temple, then sweep underneath the cheekbone, and drag down towards the jawline,” says Fortier. She loves using a big fluffy brush to achieve this contour and applying it in circular motions to ensure no harsh lines are left on the skin.
Feldman has another hack she loves for contouring that involves using self-tanner. “Use a self-tanner to contour your face beforehand,” says Feldman. “Along with tanning your body, you can hit the areas on your face you would normally contour. Once you wash it all off, you have a great base to follow for your makeup. Does the trick every time.”
“You want your highlighter to reflect light but it should not be leaving behind any chunky glitter, this can cheapen the overall finished look,” says Fortier. This is usually best achieved with a liquid highlighter.
Remember that less is more! Apply just a small amount of product to the cheeks above the contour in the hollow of your cheek on the bone that rises. You can also dot a small amount on the tip of your nose and the top of your cupid’s bow.
“As a final step, go back in and lightly blend everything and ensure there are no harsh lines or any start and stopping points to the makeup,” says Fortier. “Everything should look seamless on the skin.” If you want to make sure everything stays in place all day, you can “bake” the products onto the skin using a sheer loose finishing powder. Pat it on top of your concealer and contour and then brush it off after a few minutes.