How to Contour: The Basics

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Knowing how to contour is an important skill as all makeup applications involve contouring on some level. But to many, the thought of doing it at home seems inaccessible and a little too tricky. But it's easier than you think! “Basically, all makeup is contouring,” says Los Angeles-based makeup artist Brande Bytheway. “When you contour, all you’re doing is accentuating your natural features.” To get the technique down, we had Brande walk us through the how-to's and tools to create a basic look using contouring. 

This approach will look different on every person, depending on the shape of the features. Brande’s one piece of advice: practice, practice, practice. Try it, play around, and discover what works on your face. “It’s not as complicated as it seems,” Brande swears. “Some people do it every day!”

When you learn how to contour there are two main techniques: lowlighting and highlighting. Lowlighting refers to using a darker color wherever there’s an area of the face or feature you want to recede or de-emphasize. Brande recommends a hue about three shades darker than your own skin—and making sure your product is matte, never frosted or shimmery. The opposite of lowlighting is highlighting—this you do on areas you want to emphasize or bring forward. For highlight, you can use either matte or frosted/shimmery color, whichever you prefer.

Here’s how to do a basic contour on the cheeks, nose, eyes, and jaw. For this tutorial, we used powder eye shadows from Inglot. Make Up For Ever’s sculpting kits also get Brande’s thumbs-up; check out this quick guide to contour kits at every price for more ideas, too.

Cheekbones

According to Brande, the first thing most people want to contour are the cheekbones. To start, try receding the hollow of the cheek. You can find the hollow of cheek right underneath the cheekbone—there, apply your darker lowlight shadow using an angled medium or large brush. We used taupe-y brown here.

Contouring cheeks

Every area you lowlight, you want to balance with a highlight. After receding the hollow of the cheek, counter that by making cheekbones stand out. To do that, brush on a frosted gloss or light shadow along the cheekbones, and blend out toward the temple.

Highlighting cheeks

Nose

This is a basic strategy to slim down the nose just a bit (which remember, may not work on every face). For the nose, use the same lowlight shade you used for cheeks. Start at inner corner of brow and apply down either side of the nose.

Slimming the nose

Next, apply your highlight down the bridge of the nose. For the nose, always use matte product, even for highlighting. “Generally speaking, people don’t want the nose or T-zone to look shiny, so in those areas, I’d stay away from frost or shimmer,” Brande explains. Finally, blend the two together using a brush.

Apply highlight on the bridge of the nose

Eyes

To make the eyes pop in two simple steps, start with your lowlight. Apply into the crease of the lid and blend well.

Two steps to make eyes pop

Then, counter that with a highlight, brushed right along the browbone.

Highlight along the browbone

Jaw

To lowlight, apply your darker shadow below the jaw along the jawline, right where the jaw meets the neck. Then blend down into the neck using a clean brush, so you don’t have a line.

Contouring your jaw

Then, highlight right on top of the jawline, and blend together. Be careful not to go all the way around to the chin here. You want to highlight on the sides, along the mandible. “If you go all the way forward to the chin, it can make the chin look bigger, like it’s jutting forward,” says Brande.

Before and after of contouring

Do you know how to contour? What are your favorite contouring products, tips, and techniques? Tell us, and show us your looks below!