This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Tips for contouring your face

Good contouring can enhance your face’s natural lines, make your favorite features stand out, define your cheekbones and eyes, and refine your proportions. It can be daunting to start, and it may seem difficult to contour without looking overly made up. But with the right products and some practice, you will soon be contouring like an Instagram influencer. 

Prep your face

Cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize

Good contouring begins with good preparation. You’ll get a smoother palette for your contouring when your face is clean and free of flakes, oily patches or dead skin. A good cleanser for your skin type will reveal a brighter, smoother surface. Exfoliation will make sure you’ve turned over any sluggish, dead cells.

Lastly, following a regular regimen of adding skin-friendly hydration such as hyaluronic acid or emollients will ensure skin looks healthy and glowy. Ideally, let moisturizers soak into the skin about a half-hour before makeup application.

Apply your base

The first step in contouring is to give yourself a base of primer, concealer and foundation to even out your tone and hide any blemishes or dark circles. Match your skin tone and color as closely as possible to give your contouring products the smoothest natural base. Oil-based foundation is a good choice for dry skin, while water-based products offer less coverage but are also less likely to cause breakouts in skin prone to them. 

Choose the right products

Pay attention to skin tone

Choosing the right contour products depends heavily on skin tone, even more than your choice of foundation does. If you’ve ever seen contouring that looked harsh or unnatural, chances are that the tone of the product used was wrong for the skin it was being applied to.

Choose a shade two shades darker than your natural skin color at the jawline. Warm contour is right for warm skin tones that tan instead of burn. If your skin tends to look pink or burns easily, you’ll do better sticking to cooler contour shades.

Decide between liquid and powder

The choice is partially based on your comfort. If you have more experience applying powdered blushes, powder may be a good choice for your contour as well. If you’ve applied heavier, oil-based foundation, you may want a creamy, smooth contour color for easier application. Note that powder applied over oil-based foundation can look chalky or patchy, so apply with care.

Contour with confidence

Apply shadows

Contour is, at its essence, a heightening of the natural shadows that fall on your face due to your bone structure. Look at yourself in natural overhead light. Where are the shadows? For most people, they’re under the cheekbones and the jaw. You may also want to apply a base of your contour product in the crease of the eye before eyeshadow application to create color cohesion on your face. 

Suck in your cheeks. With an upward-sweeping, gentle touch, apply your contour product in the hollow created naturally, plus slightly above it to emphasize your cheekbones. Apply a touch at your hairline about two inches above your temples to draw attention to your eyes, and slim down your jawline by applying contour along it and in long strokes along the sides, down toward your Adam’s apple.

Apply highlighters

Now look at yourself in overhead lighting again. Where does the light sit brightest? For most of us, this is at the top of the cheekbones, above the eyebrows and along the jawline. If you’ve got mature skin, go lightly around the eyes with powdered highlighter, as it can settle into fine lines and draw attention to them.  

Consider color

Once you’ve achieved the right level of shadow and light, which may take several passes, you may want to add a wash of color where the highlight meets the contour to add a rosy, healthy glow. Go lightly and continue to consider skin tone. Pink-toned blushes look good on lighter, cooler skin, while peach-infused ones work best for warmer skin tones. 

Set the look

If you need your look to make it through a long day or a night full of dancing, you may want to apply setting spray to extend its life. A spritz of setting spray will lock in your look, making it transfer-free, smudge-proof and fresh. 

What you need to buy to contour your face

Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit

Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit

This is a perfect all-in-one kit that contains both warm and cool contour colors, as well as an assortment of highlighting colors in both matte and shimmery varieties.

Where to buy: Sold by Sephora

Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder

Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder

Created by the renowned makeup artist credited with introducing the idea of contouring into the mainstream in the 1990s, this versatile sculpting powder looks great on many skin tones, although it’s best for cooler ones. Blendable and flattering, it gives you perfect sculpting without being harsh or obvious. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Contour

Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Contour

This creamy contouring stick gives you the glide-on versatility of a cream with the pigmentation you expect from a powder. If you have skin that tends to the drier side, consider a creamy sculpting contour like this product that’s free of parabens and phthalates, which may disrupt your hormones. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

E.L.F. Cosmetics Contouring Brush

E.L.F. Cosmetics Contouring Brush

Inexpensive and effective, this is the perfect brush for applying contour precisely where you want it. The flat edge and short bristles give you precision, while turning it on its wide part helps you blend your products for a seamless, natural look. 

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty

Urban Decay Cosmetics All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray

Urban Decay Cosmetics All Nighter Long-Lasting Makeup Setting Spray

This long-lasting spray is a favorite when you want your contouring and general makeup application to last through a long night out or a full day. It makes your look fade-proof and helps it last for up to 16 hours while keeping it seeming fresh.

Where to buy: Sold by Ulta Beauty


Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Maria Andreu writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.