Long before Kim Kardashian-West posted Insta videos showing us how to contour our faces within an inch of their lives, and even before the technique was made infamous by the world’s best drag queens, face contouring using greasepaint, chalk and soot was used by actors to help them convey emotions on stage as far back as the 1500s.
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Today, it is instead used to enhance a person’s natural features, creating more contrast between these features and to give their faces a natural glow and radiance. It’s used to alter the shape of a person’s face, to make them appear thinner or make a square face look more round. It’s even used to elongate and emphasise noses.
Face contouring has fallen a little out of fashion recently in favour of strobing and more natural and minimal looks, however, it’s still a hugely popular technique and if you’re looking for advice on how to contour – or even want to know more about what it is – our super-talented resident makeup artist Victoria Howe has revealed her top tips.
Before we get into the specifics of how to contour, it’s worth explaining a little on what the technique involves. It’s also worth investing in decent brushes – Beauty Bay sells angled contour brushes for as little as £2.95. You can also see more brush options in our best makeup brushes list and our best foundation brush guide.
All the best contour kits offer a mix of light and dark shades and it’s worth remembering that contouring is as much about light as it is shade.
The definition of contouring is to mould into a specific shape, and to mark (a map or diagram) with contour lines. This requires a series of dark lines and contrasting light lines to make the former stand out and maximise the effect. The lighter shades, and in particular the use of highlighter, is to mimic how the light hits the skin to brighten and lift your look and draw the eye across the face.
Foundation, concealer, contour
Contour and highlighter are applied on top of your foundation and concealer so when looking at how to contour, start by applying your foundation and concealer as normal.
Chisel your cheekbones
To chisel your cheekbones, suck in your cheeks to find the hollow.
Apply your chosen darker shade – it doesn’t matter if it’s a cream or a powder – into the hollow and up towards the hairline, near the top of your ear.
Bring the product downwards and inwards almost in line with the corner of your mouth, and then blend it really well so you don’t have any harsh lines.
To emphasise the contour, apply highlighter to the cheekbones, directly above and in line with the contour you have just applied. Blend from the corner of your eye to the centre of your cheek.
Contour your forehead
To contour your forehead, apply the darker shade to your temples and blend up into your hairline, then apply highlighter to the top centre of your forehead to bring it forward.
Shape your nose
To contour your nose, apply the darker shade down each side of your nose then blend well.
Finally, apply a highlighter down the bridge of your nose from between your brows to the tip before lightly blending.