As far as makeup techniques go, contouring is one of the elite. With just a few products and blending skills, you can lift, shape, and sculpt your face. Enhancing your features is one of the biggest benefits of makeup. However, after years of overly chiseled cheeks and jawlines, the method has gotten a bad reputation. In today’s “no makeup makeup” world, it would seem that the beloved technique has taken a backseat. “I think we're finally at a place where the goal is to see skin through the makeup,” says celebrity makeup artist Neil Scibelli. Put simply, it’s time to re-learn how to contour your face.
These days, au naturel is the gold standard. So, it’s unsurprising that a subtler approach has emerged. After all, even the most basic routine can benefit from shaping and defining the features. The good news is that you don’t have to completely forgo it. As Scibelli mentions, we are currently in an era of modern contouring. Instead of harsh lines, the new way to contour relies on a combination of products, and most importantly, a light hand. If you’re wondering exactly how this fits into your routine, you’re not alone.
Many brands have released a range of products (no doubt in response to the desire for a softer look) designed to make contouring easy. Below, TZR chatted with two celebrity makeup artists to find out how to achieve a softly sculpted look.
What Is Contouring?
The technique is used to define and enhance your natural facial features. The traditional method involves using darker-toned products to add shadows and depth to areas like the forehead, nose, and jaw. However, at the height of its popularity, contouring was less of a supporting role and more of a feature act. “When contouring was first trending, the dark lines used for shaping were front stage and center,” says Scibelli. The core purpose hasn’t changed much over the years, but as Scibelli mentions, now, it’s behind the makeup a bit more. “Today’s look is about creating softer shadows that complement the bone structure and enhance your natural appearance,” he says.
How To Contour
Step 1. Determine The Placement Points
The modern approach to contouring is (thankfully) not as involved as in the past. You still want to hit the target areas and can even utilize some of the previous placement methods. “Following the “3-shaped” technique is still pretty standard,” says Scibelli. Not only does it touch the main parts of the face, but it allows you to do so with one flawless swoop. Another benefit? It works with a range of product formulations. “Focus on the forehead, along the hollows of the cheeks and jawline. Contouring should just add that touch of shadow to the bone structure,” says Scibelli.
Step 2. Apply The Product
Contouring should be seemingly invisible. That said, you don’t need to use a ton of product to achieve a sculpted look. Underpainting is a popular method that uses a minimal amount of product under the foundation. “Flipping the order and using a lightweight skin tint gives a subtler contour,” says celebrity makeup artist Sarah Egan. For this approach, she suggests applying the product to the center of the cheekbone and then drawing a shorter line up toward the temple. “Instead of a straight line that stops at your ear, it should curve and turn upwards,” she adds.
If underpainting isn’t your thing, you can still follow the traditional foundation first method. After applying a full base, Scibelli recommends going in with your contour color beginning around the perimeters of the forehead. He also notes that you should look for a product one to two shades deeper than your skin tone and foundation. “This helps make the contour less harsh and a lot more wearable,” he says. Bronzers have their place, but when you’re contouring, Scibelli notes it’s ideal to stick to matte formulas. “You want to create a solid tone so that it's able to give the illusion of shadow,” he says.
Step 3. Blend With Purpose
OK, this step is arguably the most important. Even if you’ve correctly placed your contour, improper blending can instantly turn your look into a hot mess. According to the experts, brushes, sponges, and fingers are all acceptable tools. “Beauty sponges will give you a diffused finish, especially if you’re using cream products,” says Scibelli. On the other hand, a brush can help give you a sharper and more defined look.
Your fingers may not be the most obvious tool for contouring. But Egan tells TZR they are just as good, if not better, than typical methods. “The heat from your hands will help melt the product and blend it into your skin,” she says. For this approach, she highlights that small, gentle movements will deliver the best results. However you choose to blend, both Scibelli and Egan stress the importance of bringing the product down to the neck. Like your foundation, you want a seamless finish.
Every face shape is different, and contouring isn’t a one-size-fits-all technique. Learning the elements that make your face unique will be the key to getting the best look. Remember, you can go as light-handed or dramatic as you'd like. So it’s really about finding a look that suits you.