The Ultimate Makeup Guide- Highlighting and Contouring 101

by Jasmine Acevedo

Being a makeup junkie and also a professional makeup artist I jumped on the highlighting and contouring wagon not right away. I took baby steps my way into learning the highlighting and contouring technique. Soon enough I aced it and started doing it quite religiously because it worked like a charm. So in this post I’m going to start from the basics and explain step by step on how to contour and highlight the correct way.

What Is Highlighting and Contouring?

Highlighting and contouring is a makeup technique done by celebrity makeup artists like Mario on Kim Kardashian to create light and dark areas to sculpt and define the shape of the face in a subtle manner. Playing with light and dark skin tone colors creates depth on the face as it will look plain right after the application of foundation and concealer. To give face more structure and to accentuate the cheekbones this highlighting and contouring technique comes in real handy. In other terms, it is basically plastic surgery through makeup. Want to achieve chiseled cheeks or lose that double chin or even correct the crooked nose? The highlighting and contouring technique will take care of it all for you if you know how to use it right.

Why Do You Need Highlighting and Contouring?

Think of your face as a slate; You can even out the skin tone and cover the dark circles with foundation and concealers and in the end no matter how good your eye makeup and lipstick are, you face will look very one dimensional and flat. The art of contouring is not only for shaping the face, but to bring attention to the different features. You can accentuate your cheeks to bring out the cheekbones or you can contour your forehead to make it look smaller. Highlighting any area will bring it forward and contouring will recede. If you are a noob at makeup and still don’t understand these terms then let me break it to you even further for better understanding. Highlighting means applying a slightly lighter shade of product to bring light onto that area making it look more prominent than normal and contouring means applying a slightly darker shade which in turn creates shadows and recedes that area taking away any unwanted attention.

Types Of Highlighting and Contouring-

Normal Contouring-

This is the traditional contouring technique. After applying primer, foundation and concealer, you apply the highlighting and contouring products.

Reverse Contouring-

In the reverse contouring technique one uses a foundation that is 2-3 shades darker than the actual skin tone and highlight with a lighter shade and also with the actual skin tone shade bringing back structure to the face. This way you can use up any darker foundations that you may have bought or if your self tan fades.

How To Highlight and Contour Correctly?

Determining your face shape is the most important factor when it comes to highlighting and contouring. This is not a one size fits all thing. You need to know which area to highlight and which area to contour to bring out the best features in your face. Highlighting the problem area will only make it look worse than it already is like for example highlighting the double chin is definitely not a good idea. Know your face and work with it for best results.

Oval: Oval shape is considered as the ideal face shape. The forehead is at the correct proportion and the chin tapers with soft edges. For those of you with this shape, there isn’t much contouring needed.

Round: You have very round chin and wide cheeks that makes your face look round. For those of you with this shape, you will need to contour your chin and cheeks along with your forehead to create shadows to give the impression of an oval face.

Square: Very similar to Oval but with very prominent jawline, sharp cheekbones, pointed chin. For those of you with this shape, you will need to create shadows around the chin to soften it.

Oblong: This face shape is the long version of Oval. All the features are elongated and sometimes ends with a prominent chin. For those of you with this shape, you will need to contour both the chin and the forehead to de-emphasis on the length and to bring more attention to the center of the face.

Heart: This shape will have a hairline that is closer in the center and recedes on the sides giving it a heart like shape. Some may also have prominent jawline and pointed chin. For those of you with this shape, you will need to contour the forehead to take the attention away from the receding hairline and also if you have a pointed chin, create shadows to soften it up.

How To Choose The Right Shades For Highlighting and Contouring?

This one is pretty easy if you know the undertone of your skin. There are three different undertones: warm, cool and neutral. Warm undertones means you will have a yellow tint to your skin no matter how pale or deep your skin is. Cool undertones means you will have more of a pink tint to your skin. Neutral means it is neither warm nor cool.

Warm Skin- Choose highlighter that is 1-2 shades lighter than your actual skin tone with warm undertones.
Cool Skin- Choose highlighter that is 1-2 shades lighter than your actual skin tone with pink or peach undertones.
Neutral Skin- Choose highlighter that is 1-2 shades lighter than your actual skin tone with neutral undertones.

Warm, Cool & Neutral Skin- Choose a contour product that is 2-3 shades darker than your skin tone with grey/taupe undertones.

Step by Step Contouring and Highlighting Guide:

Step 1: Apply-

Now that you have selected your shades of contour ready, apply them onto the face. With your lighter concealer, apply it in the areas where you will want to bring forward or to simply conceal. These areas would be the bridge of your nose, chin, under eye area and the middle of your forehead. Next with your darker concealer, apply it in the areas where you want to add more depth. For most people, these areas would be the sides of your nose, the jawline, the hollows of your cheeks, your temples and the perimeter of your forehead. Finally, you can also use the darker shade on your jawline. This when blended will make the jawline look more prominent and chiselled.
If you are using a cream based concealer, then apply it using fingers or brush and if you are using powder concealer, then you can just use a brush.

TIP: If you are a beginner, I would recommend you to add both highlighter and concealer subtly on one side of the face and a little more prominent on the other. This way you can experiment on how much will suit you and you can mix and match to get the perfect contours and highlights for your face.

Step 2: Blend-

Now that you have added in the lines of contour whether it be stick or powder, it’s time to blend it in. The key here is to keep the core of the shade almost intact while blending out the edges so it gradually blends to the foundation shade( After all, no one has exact line contours unless it is for a cartoon or halloween makeup). For cream concealer, I would recommend using a buffing brush or sponge while for powder concealer, you can just use the same brush you used to apply the concealer.

Step 3: Set the makeup- (For cream product)

Now if you have used liquid or cream product to contour, you will need to add a dab of translucent setting powder to set it into place so it won’t easily wipe or fade off. If you are using a contour powder, then you can skip this step.

Step 4: Highlight-

Highlighting is, as the name suggests, to highlight the parts of the face to make it more prominent. This can be your cheekbones, bridge and tip of your nose, chin, cupid’s bow, and above your temples by your eyebrows. Now depending on the style of makeup, you can even highlight the inner corners of your eyes and your brow bone. Again as with contouring, there is no one correct way of highlighting and every one will have a different results so I recommend you to experiment by applying on the different areas of your face and seeing the end result. For me applying just above the cheekbones, on the bridge and tip of the nose and cupid’s bow suits best. Always start from the subtle highlighters and once you find the perfect areas to highlight, then move up to the intense ones to experiment.

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