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Contouring, Defined: Learn How To Contour Like a True Pro

Contouring 101: How to Contour Your Face Like an Absolute Pro

14 Mar 2024

Makeup gives you power: It grants you the ability not just to cover blemishes or paint your lids in color, but to transform. This is especially true when it comes to contouring. When you know how to contour correctly, you can sculpt your face and draw attention to your favorite features with ease. Of course, “correctly” is the operative word here. Face contouring may be all over social media, but it’s also a very real professional makeup artist technique.

So, that’s where we come in. Rather than leave you to delve into the world of contour makeup via trial and error, we’ve created a pro contouring guide to, well, guide you through the ins and outs. You’ll learn what contouring is, how to contour your face (complete with step-by-step instructions), and how to factor your face shape into the equation. With this guide, we’ve made contouring easy and foolproof. Keep reading to discover the transformative power of contouring.

What Is Contouring?

Contouring is a makeup practice that involves using makeup to create the illusion of shadows on strategic areas of the face. Done properly, contouring can help your face appear more sculpted or angular. The right technique can help make cheekbones appear more prominent, define your jawline, sculpt your nose, and so on. It all depends on where you contour (more on that later).

Highlighting, on the other hand, is the opposite of contouring: The aim is to brighten rather than add shadow. This can be done either with colors that are lighter than your skin tone or shimmery formulas that reflect light. When used together, face contour and highlight products can have an even more dynamic effect—it’s definitely a case of opposites attract.

What’s the difference between contour and bronzer?

While the terms contour and bronzer are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between these two face products. Contour, as we explained, is intended to mimic the appearance of shadows. As such, contour makeup is usually cool-toned, like an actual shadow. Bronzer, meanwhile, is designed to help give the skin a warm, sunkissed glow, and as such, is usually warmer in tone.

What Should You Use For Contouring?

Contour makeup comes in cream, powder, and liquid formulas, each offering slightly different benefits. Learn more about the different types of contour makeup below.

Powder Contour

Powder products tend to be ideal for oily skin since they won’t slip and slide around on slick skin, and powder contour is no exception. These formulas typically come in a pressed-powder (rather than loose) format and can be applied with a brush. Powder contour is a great option for beginners, as these formulas tend to be buildable and easy to control. When picking a contour powder, keep in mind the best ones will have a shimmer-free matte finish. This is ideal for creating shadows that look real.

Liquid Contour

Liquid contours have a watery or thin gel-like consistency. They often come with a built-in applicator (like lip gloss), which means that you can be pretty precise with your application. Though formulas vary, liquid contours tend to be fairly pigmented, so they’re ideal for those who have their contouring technique down. They pair particularly well with liquid foundation, as the consistency is similar, which helps with getting a more seamless makeup look.

Cream Contour

Last but definitely not least is cream contour—we like to think of these as the perfect medium between powder and liquid contours. Like liquid contour, these products (which often come in a stick form, like our Wonderstick Contour and Highlighter Stick) allow for precise application. They’re also buildable, blendable, and offer a natural-looking finish. You can blend your cream contour out with a brush if you’re after a more defined look or diffuse the color with a makeup sponge for a softer, subtler effect.

How To Contour Your Face: A Step-By-Step Guide

Once you have a product picked out, you can start contouring your face. Here’s how:

Step 1: Wash Your Face

Before applying any makeup, you’ll want to make sure your skin is clean and free of excess oil, dirt, or makeup residue. Lather up with your favorite face wash, then pat your skin dry and move on to step two.

Step 2: Build Your Base With Primer and Foundation

Next, prepare your base. Makeup applies best on moisturized, primed skin, so we recommend reaching for a hydrating makeup primer, like Face Freezie Cooling Primer + Moisturizer, to start. If you’re after a no-makeup makeup effect, feel free to proceed to the next step—it’s totally fine to contour without foundation. Otherwise, follow your primer with a thin layer of foundation to help even out your skin tone (we love Bare With Me Blur Tint Foundation because it offers lightweight, buildable coverage).

Step 3: Contour Your Cheekbones

The bulk of learning how to contour is understanding where to apply contour for the most flattering effect. You can sculpt any spots you’d like to appear smaller or more symmetrical, but generally, there are three key zones to hit: your cheekbones, nose, and the perimeter of your face. While there’s no strict rule dictating which spot you should contour first, we like to start with the cheeks.

But before you can define your cheekbones, you’ll need to find them. While some people are blessed with super prominent ones, not all of us are so lucky (but hey, that’s what contouring is for). To get an idea of exactly where your cheekbones are, suck in your cheeks and pucker your lips. You should spot a ridge on either side of your face extending from your ears toward the center of your face—those are your cheekbones. Define them by tracing your contour of choice just below the bone from your hairline toward your nose, stopping about halfway between your nose and ear. Then, blend. Contouring is about creating an illusion, and that doesn’t work nearly as well if there’s an unblended streak of product on your face.

Step 4: Contour Your Nose

Next up is your nose contour. Determining how to contour your nose depends largely on the result you’re seeking. The most popular nose contouring method involves drawing thin, vertical lines down either side of the bridge of your nose and blending well, leaving the center of your nose free of color. This has a slimming effect, but you can also contour your nose to look wider, straighter, or more button-like. For example, adding a small line of contour where the bridge of your nose meets the tip (and blending well) can help create the illusion of a button nose. This is something we encourage you to experiment with—see what effect suits you best.

Step 5: Contour Your Forehead and Jawline

Our final contouring spot is the perimeter of your face—specifically, your forehead and jawline. Applying face contour to these areas helps give definition to your face shape.

Apply your contour product along your hairline first, focusing on the area just beside your temples. Then, trace your jawline from the bottom of your ear to your chin, stopping right before the center of your chin. Repeat this process on the other side of your face, and once again, blend well.

Step 6: Brighten With Concealer

This step is optional, but can really help enhance the sculpted effect. Once your contour is blended, grab a concealer in a shade slightly lighter than your foundation and apply it to the areas the light naturally hits (usually, this includes the bridge of the nose, the center of the forehead, and the middle of your chin). You can also apply some to your under-eye area, if needed, to help camouflage any dark circles. Be sure to blend the concealer well so there are no harsh or obvious lines.

Step 7: Top Things Off With Highlighter, Blush, and Bronzer

Finally, complete your look with highlighter, blush, and bronzer. Sweep highlighter onto the highest points of your face (the tops of your cheekbones, along the bridge of your nose, and on your cupid’s bow), apply bronzer to key spots you want to warm up, and top your cheeks with blush.

How to Use the Buttermelt Blush and Bronzer when Contouring

While contour makeup can be used on its own, you’ll get the most flattering, seamless effect when you pair it with bronzer and blush. For a velvety, sunkissed look, we recommend using our Buttermelt Bronzer and Buttermelt Blush: both offer a lightweight, natural-looking flush of color.

Start by lightly sweeping the Buttermelt Bronzer Brush across your bronzer to pick up a bit of product. Then, dust the bronzer onto the areas of your face where you’d naturally tan, like the tops of your cheekbones, the center of your forehead, and across the bridge of your nose. We recommend starting with a light hand here: You can always add more bronzer to amplify the sunkissed look.

Then, use the same brush to pick up some blush. Here, you’ll want to focus the color onto the apples of your cheeks, blending it out toward your hairline. Ideally, your blush and bronzer should melt into one another for a soft, natural-looking warm glow.

Step 8: Lock It All In With Setting Spray

When you spend any amount of time creating a makeup look, you want to ensure it lasts. That’s why we recommend completing your routine by locking everything in place with setting spray. Opt for our Matte Setting Spray if you prefer a more matte look, or reach for our Dewy Setting Spray for a more glowy finish.

How to Contour for Your Face Shape

The steps outlined above are the perfect jumping-off point when you’re just starting out with contouring. But you can take things further by customizing your contour application to your face shape. Scroll down to find your face shape, then learn how to contour it for a sculpted, defined look.

How to Contour Round Face Shapes

Round faces are roughly as wide as they are long, with the cheekbones being the widest part of the face. This face shape also tends to have softer features with little to no sharp angles. To contour a round face, follow these tips:

  • Apply your contour product in a curved “C” shape from the upper edge of your temples to a bit beneath your cheekbones. Contouring lower on the cheeks will help create the illusion of more sculpted, defined cheekbones.
  • Create another “C” shape, this time extending from your cheek contour to just beneath your jawline. Together, the two “C” shapes should create a shape similar to the number three.
  • After blending your contour, apply highlighter to the tops of your cheekbones beneath your eyes, taking care not to bring it too close to the center of your face.

How to Contour Oval Face Shapes

Oval face shapes, like round faces, have soft edges and are widest at the cheeks. However, oval faces are slightly longer than they are wide. Contour for oval faces can help balance this length. Here are three tips:

  • Follow the same contour method outlined above, applying the product in a “3” shape from your temples to your jawline.
  • To avoid making your forehead and jaw appear too narrow, use a light touch when contouring these areas.
  • Highlight your cheekbones, chin, and nose, and add blush to the apples of your cheeks to create balance.

How to Contour Square Face Shapes

If you have a square face, your forehead, cheeks, and jawline are roughly the same width, and the edges of your face will appear sharper and more angular. Here’s how to play up your features:

  • Apply your contour to the hollows of your cheeks—no higher, no lower.
  • Use curved lines when applying contour to soften angular features.
  • Highlight the tops of your cheeks and the center of your forehead to draw attention to the center of your face.

How to Contour Rectangle Face Shapes

You likely have a rectangular face if the length is greater than the width, and your jaw is angular and square. This is how to contour for this shape:

  • Contour your cheeks but don’t drag the color into the center of your face.
  • Only contour the middle of your forehead, stopping before you reach the temples.
  • When contouring the jawline, stop halfway between the edge and your chin.

How to Contour Heart-Shaped Faces

Heart-shaped faces are widest at the cheekbones, with a rounded forehead and a more angular, narrow chin. When contouring a heart-shaped face:

  • Apply contour to your forehead and cheekbones, avoiding the jawline (you don’t need it—your jawline is already defined).
  • Accentuate your cheekbones with highlighter and blush.
  • Add highlighter to the center of your chin to help draw attention toward the center of your face.

How to Contour Diamond Face Shapes

Diamond-shaped faces are longer than they are wide, with a narrow forehead and angular, pointed chin. Here’s how to play up your features:

  • Contour below your cheekbones, starting beside your ears and ending near the center of your cheeks.
  • Keep the contour makeup away from your mouth to avoid making your face appear more narrow.
  • Create the illusion of a fuller mid-face with a touch of highlighter on the apples of the cheeks, center of the forehead, and middle of the chin.

Face Contour FAQs

If you still have questions about contouring, keep reading—we’re answering a few frequently asked questions ahead.

Should contour be lighter or darker than foundation?

Contour should always be darker than your foundation to effectively create the illusion of shadows. In general, we recommend using a contour one to two shades darker than your foundation, with a cool or neutral (rather than warm) undertone.

How do you choose a contour shade?

Your contour should be one to two shades darker than your foundation, with a matte, shimmer-free finish. The best way to tell if your contour shade will flatter your skin is to try it out in real life—that way, you’ll get a sense of what it looks like with your foundation and other makeup products. If you can’t test-drive your contour IRL, consider using our virtual try-on tool.

What type of brush is best for blending contour?

You can blend contour with a blending brush, such as our Pro Multi-Purpose Buffing Brush, which works with cream and powder products. If you’re using a liquid contour product, consider using a makeup sponge to diffuse the color and get a soft, seamless finish.

Got your contour routine perfected? We’d love to see how it turns out! Share a pic on social and tag us at @nyxcosmetics!

Next Up: Blush Contouring: All About This Viral Makeup Trend


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