Thursday, August 27, 2015

Updated Basic Contouring Guide

I don't have chiseled cheeks, but what nature doesn't give you, you can often get with makeup. Within reason. I don't think you should walk around looking like you have 2 brown stripes on your face. So you need to use a very light hand. 

For me to achieve that look above on camera, under bright lights, requires about 20-50% more makeup/pigmentation than you do in real life. So bear that in mind and don't be surprised if your natural looking contouring doesn't show up on camera. I need to do that so you can see where I apply pigments.

I mentioned it before on dayre, but if you want a basic, 5-minute, daily-contour routine, you only need a taupe-toned matte brown or a bronzer that isn't too warm (orange/red/gold). Honestly, who has time to apply 2-3 sculpting colors onto your cheeks each day?

Still I'll show you contouring steps in different degrees of intensity, from:
  1. a simple "tear-drop" contour (which is done more in Asia to achieve a smaller, more oval face with a small jaw)
  2. Western-style chiseled cheeks using the same single taupe shade
  3. Youtube/stage-style reverse contouring using a pale powder to add contrast against the darker contour color
  4. Lower cheek contouring for a more sunken "couture" cheek look
  5. Shimmery highlighter to make the peaks of your cheeks pop to the max


I'm using Sephora's Contour 101 kit, because it pretty much has all the matte sculpting tones you need, from deep contour shades to pale and banana-colored highlight powders. In my opinion, only the right and bottom shades are good as contour colors because they are "cool" enough. One for medium skintones, one for tan skins. The one on the left works more as a bronzer because it's too warm/rosy. 

If you are pale, mix one of the contour shades with the pale highlight colors to soften them out before applying to your cheeks.


Not every brush works the same. What you don't want is to use a typical big soft fluffy powder or blush brush. Those are better for bronzing. Contouring is about precision; applying "shadows" to specific areas, then blending the color out properly so it looks like the shadow is real.

So your brush needs to be quite compact in shape.

One good shape to try is this sort of small tapered pointy brush, like Sigma's F35. You can use the tips to apply contour precisely along the hollows of your cheeks, then angle the brush slightly to its side to buff and blend out the color. But you do need to invest in brush guards, those plastic nets that you use to hold your brush bristles tightly together while your brush dries after a wash. Otherwise, your tapered brush will start splaying and working more like a normal puffy brush.

You can also use a more typical shape, as long the size of the brush head is quite compact and not too large. Like this bent Japonesque brush. This angled handle just makes it easy for you to sweep color down along your cheek hollows as well.

As for highlighting colors, I usually just flip my contour brush around and use the cleaner side to apply pale colors. Honestly, it should be clean enough that you don't need to get a separate brush.

Now if you are quite inexperienced, or tend to be very heavy-handed, you might want to try an ultra-soft brush instead. These are harder to find because most soft brushes have very wide heads. Hakuhodo's G5538 has a narrow metal ferrule and long brush bristles, which means it combines medium precision (your contour powder will not go all over your cheeks) with a very light touch. The bristles are too loose and soft to hold and apply too much pigment.

It pretty much forces you to slowly build up color. (Which a lot of newbies need.)

A special mention of a brush which works for shimmer highlighter application AND nasal contouring: Hakuhodo's small flattened pointed S116 brush. This is ULTRA soft so it doesn't pick up too much product. At the same time, it is small and doesn't splay all over the place, so you can be quite precise and neat when trying to apply shimmer just along the peaks of your cheekbones, or matte contour down the sides of your nose.

A note on nasal contouring:
I don't do nasal contouring. I don't think everyone needs it, and I'd personally look weird if I did it. So I'm not an expert on it by any means and I'm not going to draw a chart here for you. I think it can look quite unnatural in real life on pale to medium-fair girls because unlike your cheekbones, your nose is vertical, which means when you turn and the angle of the light changes, there shouldn't always be a shadow down both sides.
Unless you're an absolute pro at it, keep it restricted to when you're going to be on camera. 
Typically it works better on women of color because they naturally have more variation of skin-tones on their face. If you are relatively fair-skinned and MUST do nasal contouring, look for a very VERY soft small brush, and use a contour color that is only slightly deeper than your skintone. 

 Remember I'm doing it with powders because these are usually easier to work with, but the same shapes apply with cream contouring products.

1. Basic subtle "narrowing".
Just drag your brush from around the outer perimeters of your face down towards the chin. But stop under your chin unless you are trying to shorten or recede a long chin. If you get contouring powder on the tip of your chin, it will make your face look shorter.
You can go up around the edges of your forehead along the border of the hairline as well, if you want to make your forehead look less wide.

This type of shape is more common in East Asia, where most women actually do not do any contouring, and even when they do, only do it so they can get a narrower face.

2. Basic cheek sculpting.
A lot of people just do one stripe along the hollow of their cheeks and think that's all they need.
Actually that can look a bit too fake. 
Try to do an  "E" and bring your contour inwards at the outer corners of your eyes, under your cheekbones, and along your jaws. This ties everything together and looks more like real shadows will look. The shading at the temples and cheek hollows "sandwiches" your cheekbones and brings out the shape better too.

This shape is pretty common in the West, and also among girls who follow Western fashion, bloggers/vloggers and makeup artists in general. There's a preference for the chiseled, hollowed "supermodel" face. The point is to look skinny. Whereas Eastern contouring focuses more on looking child-like and delicate. Pronounced cheekbones and gaunt hollowed cheeks actually make you look older, so if you want to try steps 2 - 4 here, remember you WILL look more mature. AND slightly more masculine actually.
That's the trade-off for looking skinnier.

3. Reverse contouring
An optional step that I would say is more important if you are going to be on camera, is the reverse contour. You do it AFTER regular contouring, by taking a light, often yellow-toned shade, and drawing V's under your eyes to lift that area. People also stroke just under their cheek contouring for maximum contrast against the deep brown.

Girls who want very heavy, exaggerated contrast actually apply a very pale concealer in a V under the eyes and down the cheeks, THEN set with a pale yellow powder. I don't love the look for real life - it's too obvious and fake -  but for the camera, it can look good.

If you are trying to make your nose look higher, you will run a pale powder down the bridge of your nose as well.

4. Jaw/Jowl and lower-cheek contouring.
Sometimes women have slightly more puffy lower cheeks. Also, some women because of aging, excess weight or genetics, will have jowls (the slightly sagging pads of flesh hanging down by the sides of your chin). It can affect even very skinny women.
In those cases you may want to avoid reverse contouring around your jaw. It can exaggerate the look of jowls.  You want to instead take your contouring down lightly from the center of your cheeks down past the sides of your mouth.

If you are extremely thin and gaunt or have an overly-long face, do NOT do this. At some point, you have to exercise good sense.
But if you have pouchy lower cheeks, this can REALLY help reduce the look. Just use a light hand if you don't want to look muddy or (for you ladies in the East) too tan.

IMPORTANT: the contouring there should always be softer than the contouring under your cheekbones. It can look like your face is dirty otherwise. Usually, whatever is left on your brush after contouring your face should be enough to contour beside your mouth.

Step 5: Shimmer.
This is optional and it can be done even if you don't contour. I like to do this every day just to throw a little texture on the skin. This adds a little dewiness along dry areas of the face, and helps your contours to catch the light more. But if you have lines or blemishes/scars around those areas, avoid this.

Tip: For shimmer on the nose, you can still do it if you are not extremely oily. Just make sure you get the CENTER of your nose bridge. Not the tip or too high up, because that can look like grease in real life. 

And voila! Before and after.
Now you're ready to move on to blush.
I always apply blush AFTER contouring. Because applying blush helps soften and blend in the contour a bit more, and you're also less likely to muddy up the color of your blush.

Sorry for the lighting/tone difference in both pics. I tried my best to get the saturation and color balance closer. The camera auto-color correction drives me nuts sometimes. Your ultimate goal is to subtly look like you lost weight, or you have prominent contours. Be brutal with yourself and ask your friends or family if your contouring looks too obvious. Better to find out early so you can correct it.

Artificial light also tends to be more forgiving so you can do a bit more contouring for a dinner party, than in the daytime. Also, remember that by the time your contouring looks good in selfies, it probably is too heavy for real life. #justsayin

Now, one final product mention for light skinned girls who can't do without nose contouring.
Estee Lauder's New Dimension range launches September in Singapore. And in the Shape + Sculpt Eye Kit is a tan shade which is actually pretty darned good for lightly contouring the sides of your nose. This is meant for eye socket contouring, but it works just as well for the nose.
If you can find a single shadow that matches this color, you can use that too, but shadows tend to be too pigmented. This one is quite subtle.

Last 3 Tips for newbies to contouring: 

1. Check your face in natural light or at least white light.Yellow light lies.

2. There's a tendency to keep going and going and not realize when we should stop. If you don't want to do that, apply contouring only on one side of your face/nose, then stop and compare it to the un-contoured side. As the color builds up slowly, we might actually not realize how much we've applied already. Only by comparing it with the "clean" side will you realize when you should stop.

 3. If you've gone overboard, you can actually quite easily go back with a clean brush and some beige powder that matches your skin or is 1 shade lighter. Buff into the brown, and the colors will slowly blend together and lighten slightly. If you've REALLY over-applied, grab a clean buffing brush and just buff and buff over the contoured area. That's less uneven than trying to wipe with tissue or a cotton pad. But honestly if you've gone past the point of no return, it might be faster to just wipe your cheeks down with a wet wipe and start over.


  1. Hi Candice, thanks for the lovely tutorial! May I ask what lipstick you're wearing? The color is lovely!

    1. Hi P, that's Estee Lauder's Pure Color Envy Liquid Lipstick in 210 Not So Innocent!

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