Contouring has officially been put back on the map by celebrity contour products, well, that and Kim Kardashian.
Once a market monopolised by Anastasia Beverly Hills, the beauty industry has seen an influx of new, extremely hyped products from Kim Kardashian's KKW contour and highlight stick to Rihanna's Fenty Match Stix.
You may have thought it was a phase, but no, contouring will always be a vital part of any make-up lovers beauty routine. Yes, everyone hailed strobing as the new contour and highlight. Yes, everyone said contouring was SO 2017. But actually, once you’re a contour connoisseur, it’s difficult to imagine a full face of makeup without it. And now, with all of these new products to try, contouring is more enticing than ever.
That being said, for many it's still a world filled with pitfalls and question marks. Do you use liquid or powder contour products? How should you contour for your particular face shape? What’s the difference between contouring and simply bronzing? Luckily, we’re here to answer all your questions, and provide you with the best products to do so…
What is contouring?
Contouring is the art of creating definition and shadow in your face, thereby changing the appearance of the shape of your face by applying darker coloured products in certain areas. Essentially, wherever you want to create shade on your face you want to contour. This is why the most common places to contour are underneath the cheekbones, your jawline, your hairline and along the sides of your nose.
Contouring in these areas creates shade, so for example contouring underneath your cheekbones makes them look more pronounced. Contouring along your hairline makes your forehead look smaller and contouring along your jawline makes it look more chiseled. Applying the darker shade along the sides of your nose also makes it appear thinner, and if you contour under your bottom lip you can make it look bigger, or at least more pronounced.
As you can imagine, since we all have different face shapes, we should all be contouring slightly differently.
How is contouring different to bronzing?
Contour is about creating shade in the face, whereas bronzing is about giving you a tanned or dewy glow. Typically, people apply contour to areas they will then bronze after, but the colouring is usually different. Contour products are often cool toned, whereas bronzer is warmer.
While there shouldn’t be any set rules to makeup, it’s an artistic passion after all, if you’re after a certain look, the biggest mistake you can make it following a one size fits all approach. Just because your favourite Instagram model contours her forehead almost down to her eyebrows, doesn’t mean that will suit you. It depends on your own features, so if you should compare them to the guide your following and adapt to your own desires.
Contouring for your face shape
There’s an image that’s CONSTANTLY used as a reference point, which pictures a girl with a heart-shaped face and lines all over it. That’s good for people with a heart-shaped face but won’t fit everyone.
For a longer, oval shaped face, you may want to make it appear shorter, in which case you would apply your contouring product to your forehead and blend it down lower than if your forehead is smaller. The same goes for your jawline, blending it up slightly if you want your chin to appear smaller. Highlighting the centre of your face and blending it out further will also contribute to this effect.
If you have a wider, round face, you may want to draw light into the centre of it to make it appear less round. That means only contouring your hairline and jawline slightly, while making sure to chisel your cheekbones till your Kate Moss ready.
For heart-shaped faces, you may not need as much contour at the top of your forehead but blending it down into your temples will give a narrower face shape effect. Your jawline may not need as much contouring, as do your cheekbones!
For square faces, you may want to round off your face and soften your edges. That means applying contour to your jawline and blending it up slightly on the sides of your face, tapering out at your chin. Similarly, a strong contour on the cheekbones will give the face a narrower look.
What order do I apply products to contour?
After moisturising, priming and applying foundation, it’s then up to you whether you want to liquid contour or wait until your onto powders. If you choose to liquid contour, you can do this before or after foundation, depending on how blendable your product is. If you struggle to blend it, applying it after primer and then foundation on top will make sure it looks natural, as you can then define your contour more with powder if any of it is lost in the foundation application.
If your contour product is blendable, applying it over foundation is no concern. You can then blend it, apply any concealer or highlighting liquid products you want before setting the entire face with powder. The general consensus with makeup is a liquid before powder approach, but it’s all about experimenting with what works for you personally.
Should I use liquid or powder to contour?
That really depends on how confident you are and what look you're going for. In the early stages of learning how to contour, it’s often best to stick to powders as they’re easier to blend and to fix any mistakes.
Essentially, you can get the same effect from both, but liquid contour tends to be more pigmented, and is often more durable. A lot of makeup artists contour with liquid AND powder, so it’s really up to you.
KKW Contour Stick: Worth the hype?
The Queen of contour herself brought out KKW Contour sticks just last year, and with a reputation such as Kim Kardashian, the product was HUGELY hyped. While the application products, i.e. the brush and sponge sticks, received a firm NO from the online beauty community, the product itself was praised.
The product is surprisingly light in terms of pigmentation and is definitely a more natural contour look. However, the amount of product you get for the price was widely criticized, plus you can only apply it with light pressure without the stick breaking off. Essentially, if you have a light touch and you like a light contour, it’s for you, however the shade range is not good enough and for the price, there are other products that will give you more of the same effect for less.
Fenty Contour Stick: Worth the hype?
The highly acclaimed Fenty beauty line was widely praised for its contour stick, finally offering more inclusive colours for every skin tone. The product was dubbed blendable, highly pigmented and well-toned, the holy trinity of contouring.
Contour palettes versus contour sticks
With all this talk of contour sticks, you’d think there the only product on the market. In reality, contour palettes were the first love of the makeup community. The major difference is that you tend to get more shades, a cool and a warm toned, plus highlighting colours. So really it’s just whether you want to get everything in one, and whether you’ll use every colour in the palette (which is very rarely the case).
Can I contour my body?
You can contour anywhere, since it's essentially creating shadow and drawing the eye to other assets. Contour Queens will know that adding some definition to your collarbones is often a normal part of any full face makeup routine, however you can go the extra mile if you want.
There have been various phases of contouring body parts, but the only ones that stick, and are most likely used in various Instagram photoshoots is contouring your abs and boobs. For abs, drawing a line down the centre of your stomach and blending it out can give the appearance of more pronounced obliques. You can even give yourself a mini six-pack by faintly outlining where the muscles would be on your stomach.
Contouring your boobs is a whole new story, with highlight a necessary step to achieve the full look. Check out our article here for the full tutorial.
What brushes should I use to contour?
There are various sculpting brushes that you can use, and there is no set rule as it depends where on your face your contouring. Generally, for cream products its best to use a sponge, like a beauty blender as it achieves a more natural look. However, for a more defined contour you make want to use something like this short duo fibre brush from MAC.
For powder contour, an angled brush can be great for the cheekbones, with a larger powder brush easy to blend over the forehead and jawline. You'll need a more precise, tapered brush for the nose.
Best contouring make up products
From creams to powders, sticks to palettes, here are all the products worth your money...
Kat Von D Shade and Light Cream Palette
The shade and light palettes were once the shining glory of contour makeup, with the powder palette a hot commodity in any makeup lovers bag. The creme palette, £37, is a tried and true product that we still love.
Best contouring tutorials
The YouTube community is fast becoming the best place to find out whats hot and whats not in the beauty industry. Not only can you find out the latest products to try, you can see them in action, with beauty gurus creating a work of art on their face in every video. Here are some of our favourite beauty guru's to help teach you how to contour...
Just in case your not here for the full Nikita Dragun experience - which you really should be tbh - the contour starts at 14 minutes...
Let the contouring commence...