Contouring: that technique that has been around for ages and isn’t going anywhere soon. This is by no means a definitive guide, but a few thoughts and tips which I hope you’ll find useful.
Disclaimer: Of course, makeup application should always at your own discretion, and these tips are only for natural looking contour. Some people wish their contour to be noticeable -a main feature of their makeup- but it’s not for me.
Contour is not bronzer
Bronzer and contour are two completely different things. Yes, they are both brown powders, but bronzer is meant to simulate a suntan, and contour is designed to sculpt your face. Bronzer should be applied to the high points of your face – where the sun would naturally hit it. The most fabulous bronzer tutorial I’ve ever seen is by Samantha Chapman, in which she uses it to give herself a very convincing tan. Bronzer also likely contains red pigment, as it aims to simulate the pinkness (damage) the sun effects on your skin (which Sam mentions). Which brings me onto my next point…
Contour should not contain red pigment
Contouring products are designed to simulate shadow on your face. If you want to convincingly sculpt some cheekbones, then your contour needs to be a greyish, cool-toned brown. Using too red toned a product can cause your face to look muddy, although sometimes it can be hard to tell what is too much red. To see what I mean, just try looking in a mirror under a bright light. Do the shadows cast on your skin look red? They shouldn’t – try matching your contour colour to what you see.
Contour should not contain any reflective pigment (shimmer, glitter, etc.)
A contour product should recede the area of the face its applied to. By using a product that reflects light, you are immediately bringing the area forward. That’s what highlighter is for. Why are you highlighting your contour? That’s stupid. Always contour using a matte product.
Contour should be limited to the sides of your face
I often see people suck in their cheeks and scrub contour into that hollow all the way down to their mouth, which results in a stark and unsightly line of brown, and looks dirty.
Consider the ‘front’ of your face bounded by vertical lines marked by the outer ends of your eyebrows. (See above photo.) Do not apply contour within this area. Apply it on the sides of your face only, from inline with your ears to inline with the outer ends of your eyebrows, and blend it well. The ‘line’ of contour should really only be an inch or so long. (This tip makes all the difference. To see it in action, check out Mary Greenwell‘s demo.)
(I’m aware that the contour powder I’ve used in this demo is too warm – I’m on the hunt for an affordable cool toned one, but Kevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder is the dream. I’ve also gone a little heavy with it so it shows up.)
Apply contour under your cheekbone
This may seem obvious, but rather than sucking your cheeks in, try applying some pressure with your fingertips to manually find where your cheekbone is, and simply apply the contouring product just underneath. I often see people whose contour dips towards their jaw, i.e. completely missing their actual hollow, creating an unnatural look (like the above example).
Please let me know in the comments below if you have anything to add! New tips are always appreciated.