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How to Contour Your Face

You don't have to be a makeup artist to master contouring and highlighting; just follow this step by step guide on how to contour your face with ease.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Contouring is one of the most effective ways to improve your makeup routine. Once you learn the basics, you'll learn that investing just a few more minutes each day can go a long way! Read on for our top tips on how to contour your face.

Step 1: Gather your tools.

Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

Make sure you have the best countour makeup brush sets so that you can achieve your ideal look with contouring and highlighting. You'll need a foundation brush or sponge to apply foundation, and then a beauty blender or contour brush to make sure that the darker and lighter shades you layer over your foundation blend into your natural skin tone. The last thing you want is a face with stripes of color fanning out in random directions! You'll also want a fluffy brush to apply loose powder to lock in your look as needed.

Step 2: Identify your colors.

After you gather your tools, you'll want to identify your colors for contouring and highlighting—this is perhaps the most important step in learning how to contour your face! Take your skin tone into account and choose a color that matches your face so that when you apply foundation, you'll achieve a natural base for your contour product. You want your foundation to disappear into your skin, evening out the tone, and not changing it significantly. This will prevent you from looking like you've layered on a mask of color. You'll also want to choose two additional foundations; a stick foundation usually works best. One foundation should be one to three shades lighter, depending on the drama you hope to achieve, and one should be one to three shades darker. If you have cool undertones, choose darker and lighter shades that are also cool. If you have warm undertones, stick with those. If you don't know, go to a makeup counter and ask a clerk or a makeup artist to help you choose the right colors. The proper colors make all the difference.

Step 3: Ready your canvas.

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels

You might think that step one involves finding your contour product and applying foundation, but if you're planning on applying a lot of makeup, whether you're going for a liquid or powder foundation, making sure your face is in tip-top shape is essential. Your face is your canvas, and you are the artist, with brushes in hand, ready to blend colors and create a work of art. If you have any product on your face, gently remove it using warm water and patting your face dry with a soft washcloth. Never rub or scrub. If you have product left on your face, use a light, hydrating face wash or gentle makeup remover to make sure your face is clean and ready to go. Then squeeze a dime's worth of moisturizer into your hands, rub your hands together to warm it gently, and then, using a circular motion, apply it to your face. 

Step 4: Apply a primer.

We know we're harping on the prep work here, but any good makeup artist will remind you that if you want your skin tone to look dewy and natural after your contour product blends perfectly to your foundation, you'll need to apply a primer for your skin's needs. This will give your foundation and contour product something to stick to, and will help them stay in place all day. If you have naturally oily skin, some primers can actually help prevent a shiny face look. Search for a product with the word "matte" on the front or in the description. Some primers come in a tube, and others come in a compact; the idea is to let your moisturizer dry and then gently apply primer all over your face in a very thin layer. If you are worried about excess oil, you can layer a bit more product in your T-zone (forehand and nose). While this might seem like overkill right now, trust us when we say that prepping your skin is a key step in learning how to contour your face.

Step 5: Apply foundation.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Burst

Liquid foundation often works best, but if you can blend stick foundation or powder foundation into your skin well, you can try those. If you're using liquid foundation, act like a makeup artist and pour a small amount onto a clean, new CD so as not to contaminate the product with germs from your fingers or makeup tools. (A CD works great because you can hang onto it easily with your finger through the hole in the center!) Then, use a brush or sponge to dab some foundation in small dots across your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. Use a beauty blender, brush, or sponge to gently massage the color into your skin. Remember, the goal is to even out your skin tone; the drama will come from contouring and highlighting. Think of this as a base for your contour product. If you're working with stick foundation, you can dab dots of color directly onto your face. If you're working with powder foundation, gently apply in small circles until you get the level of coverage you need.

Step 6: Shape your face.

Take the foundation that is one to three shades darker than your skin tone. Consider your face shape. Draw a thin line with your foundation stick on either side of the bridge of your nose to narrow it. To get hollow cheeks and dimensions, draw a thick line of darker color under your cheek bones. To define your jaw, draw another thick line from the bottom of your ear halfway down to your chin. Draw a small, upside down triangle above the longer side of your brows, on your temples. Add a bit on the hairline or your forehead if you'd like. To narrow your chin, draw a short line on either side of the point of your chin. This is all about your face shape and taking this process step by step. It might take some trial and error for you to find the look that works best for your contouring and highlighting goals, and your skin tone, as you experiment with how to contour your face. If you're working with powder foundation and want a powder contour, use a dense brush (like a foundation brush) and build color in long stripes with your deep powder bronzer or darker powder foundation color. At this stage, don't worry about anything other than layering on a lot of pigment.

Step 7: Blend, blend, blend.

From on Pexels

Now you need to blend, blend, blend! To prepare yourself for highlighting with your foundation that is one to three shades lighter (the next step), and to achieve a glam look with your contour product after you apply foundation, you'll need your beauty blender or contour brush. You can work your brush gently into the color to blend it onto your foundation. You'll want to buff the edges so that the color appears smooth, not like a giant stripe. Some makeup artists even recommend wetting your beauty blender slightly and tapping it into your contour product so that it blends naturally into your liquid foundation. If you're using a powder contour, switch brushes and gently buff the edges of your color so that it blends into your foundation more naturally. 

Step 8: Layer on the lighter color.

Once you've blended your darker foundation, you'll work with your second foundation—the one that is one to three shades lighter than your base foundation. This helps even out your skin tone, and creates more dimension as you work on your face shape. Add some lighter foundation under your eyes. You can also add a bit to the bridge of your nose, the center of your forehead, and the tip of your chin. Then, as before, blend, blend, blend! You shouldn't have as many areas to buff as with your darker foundation color, but you'll still want to work your beauty blender or brush through the color to achieve the perfect contouring and highlighting look. If you're working with a powder contour, simply add the lighter color with a foundation brush first, focusing on pigment again, and then use a contour brush to blend the color and soften the edges. Adding the lighter color is a key step as you learn how to contour your face.

Step 9: Set your look with loose powder.

Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

The very last contour product you need to achieve a makeup-artist look is loose powder. Whether you've been working on a powder contour or used liquid foundation, you'll need a translucent powder to set your look. Using your fluffy brush, gently tap a bit of powder all over your face. Dust the product gently over your forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. This adds the finishing touch to your contouring and highlighting, and creates a professional, matte look as it evens out your skin tone and helps your face shape pop. Between setting powder and your primer, your contour product will stay fresh and in place all day.  

Step 10: Apply other makeup as desired.

Now that your face shape is perfect, your contouring and highlighting is complete, and your skin tone is even, you can look ahead to other fun touches such as some of the best lipsticks under $100, eyeshadow, and mascara. Be careful as you apply these products not to drip any powder onto your contour product, or you'll lose the cleanness of your look. If you want a fresh-faced appeal, there's no need to add anything else other than lip balm. Or, if you'd rather, you can go full on glam with eye products! A well contoured face is only the beginning, and learning how to contour your face can lead you to other makeup experiments as well!


This step by step guide is just the beginning to your contouring and highlighting journey. You can also leverage bronzer and blush applied with a fluffy brush or fan brush to continue layering on color and adding dimension to your look. But if you follow these steps to applying foundation and contour product, your face will look flawless every day.

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