Contouring and Highlighting The Why And The How

As a newbie to contouring, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and how to do it. Let’s break it down and make it simple!


First of all, why do people contour their faces? Generally speaking, they want to enhance their best features by highlighting them, and take attention away from their less desirable features (mine is my father’s nose!!) by contouring.

In makeup artistry the oval shaped face (we’ll talk more about face shapes shortly) is considered to be the most balanced, so people will often apply contour to create the illusion of an oval face. However, I prefer to work with what you already have rather than trying to make the face look like something that it's not!

Let’s take it a step further and break down what those terms mean.

Contouring: the use of colours darker than your skin tone to create the illusion of shadows, which will diminish the appearance of these areas.

Highlighting: the use of colours lighter than your skin tone and/or shimmer to draw attention to an area and enhance it.

Using the two in conjunction with each other will intensify the effect due to the increased contrast of light and shadow.


There are a number of different face shapes which are defined by varying lengths, widths and features. It is for this reason that there isn't a "one-size-fits-all" approach to contouring, because you are working with different shapes and features. So, what works for your favourite YouTuber may not work for you if you don't have the same face shape and features.

I'm no expert on face shapes, so here is an infographic showing the basic face shapes (credit Kendra Powell <-- this great article has a more detailed way to find your face shape)


Remember: Add a darker shade in places you want to add depth, and a highlighter shade in areas you want to illuminate.

Step 1: Cleanse, moisturise, and apply your foundation.

Step 2: Apply dark contour just below cheekbones and jawline:

Place the handle of a brush flat against your cheekbone and roll it downwards. Place the contour shade at the point of your cheekbone where the brush begins to roll inwards towards the hollow. You will most likely need to place it higher than you think you should. Apply dark contour below jawline.

Step 3: Apply dark contour to forehead, nose, and chin if required.

Line the crown of your forehead in a downturned half-moon. Also, apply to your temples and blend inward towards your forehead. Next is an upward half-moon line along the bottom of your chin. Draw up along the side of your chin for more dimension.

The nose can be a bit tricky, but the basics are to draw lines along the sides of your nose. Like the chin technique, draw a small upward half-moon underneath the ball of your nose and bring the shade up to create an incomplete circle.

Step 4: Blend.

Using a contour brush, blend by patting the deep shade and push inwards towards the centre of your face.

Step 5: Apply highlight to under eye and forehead.

Apply a few dashes in the centre of the forehead and draw a few diagonal lines from the inner corner of the eye towards the outer edge of your eye. You can also extend this further down to the lower edge of your nose and past the outer corner of your eyes.

Step 6: Apply highlight to nose, cheekbones, and chin.

Draw a single line down the nose. Then, following the direction of the dark contour, draw smaller dashes on your cheekbones and one dash on your chin.

Step 7: Blend

Using a softer round brush, dab the highlight cream to press into the skin.

Step 8: Final touches

Finish your usual makeup look with blush, eyeshadow, mascara etc!

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