Whether you're a makeup aficionado or a beginner looking to get started, everyone wants that sleek look with strong cheekbones and a jawline that looks like it could cut glass. While some people may naturally be born with those features (lucky them), the rest of us will have to settle for it another way: contouring.
Contouring is a makeup technique that adds dimension to your face. It works when you apply a product a few shades darker than your normal foundation at points on the face to help define your natural features.
"I always say that foundation takes away a lot of the dimensions in the skin. With contour, you're basically bringing those dimensions back to where you want them to be," said Rhode Island-based makeup artist Erica Wright of Glam Done Wright.
Celebrity makeup artist Nydia Figueroa admitted to recently discovering how great contour sticks are.
"I've actually been using contour sticks a lot lately on myself and my clients. Actually, more on myself which I'm really surprised because I always thought contour sticks were a little more work than I wanted to [do]. Then I realized it's actually such a quick and easy way to add sculpting and shadows to my face," she said.
We asked Wright, Figueroa and celebrity and bridal makeup artist Cara Lovello for their best tips on contouring and which products they recommend.
How to choose the right contour stick
Before you actually start contouring, you'll need to pick the right shade for your skin tone. Figueroa and Lovello recommend staying between two and three shades darker than your actual skin tone.
"I always say [go] two shades darker because you can always build color," Figueroa told Shop TODAY. Lovello's rule of thumb is to generally go three shades darker than the normal shade, but added that she feels like most go "quite a bit more than three shades darker."
For everyday wear, Lovello, Figueroa and Wright recommend opting for cooler tones and matte creams.
"You would want to find a cooler tone to mimic shadows because highlighting and contouring is kind of like manipulating shadows," Lovello explained. "So if you find one that's too warm or has too much orange in it, it's not going to mimic a shadow the same way that something with a cooler undertone would."
If you want more of that sun-kissed glow, Wright suggested that you can use a deeper, bronzer shade to contour.
How to contour your face
Once you've chosen your color, it's time to get to work. Each makeup artist shared their best tips for applying contour, even if you're a beginner! While their strategies for application are similar, there is one thing they explicitly had in common: Apply contour in areas that will lift the face, not pull it down.
"As we age, we never want to bring our faces down so as you're contouring, just keep that in mind: that we want to lift and we want to pop," Figueroa said.
"We used to do the fishy face and wanted to go in the hollows of the cheek when you're contouring your cheeks, but you actually want to go right above that hollow so you can lift the face a little bit more," Wright explained. "You want to start from the top of the ear and work your way down to the ends of the mouth, but not all the way down. You just want to go right to your cheekbone almost."
She recommends thinking of a "3" formation when contouring your face. "With contouring, you should go around the hairline of your face, down from the top of the ear to the mouth and then back around the chin."
Similarly, Lovello applies contour directly on the cheekbone.
"I find a lot of people apply it under their cheekbone and by the time they blend it out...you're diffusing it out in that area and it could possibly bring your cheekbone even lower. Since the goal that we strive for is high lifted cheekbones, I apply it right on the cheekbone. That way, by the time I blend it out, I'm lifting the face," she said.
Don't know where to begin contouring on your face? Figueroa has an easy trick to help you figure it out.
"Turn off all of the lights and go by a window. You can see where naturally the shading is hitting your face. I think that's the best way to find your contour and highlight high points," she said.
Her other tip is to learn your face shape to help guide your contouring technique.
"There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all contour," she told us. "I think really understanding and doing the research of your face shape would be the best way to do it."
How to contour your nose
Aside from contouring the outer edges of your face like your forehead, cheek and jawline, Lovello also shared tips for contouring your nose.
"The trick with contouring your nose is to get the two dark lines as close together as possible without touching because you want the lighter color in between. Wherever you put those lines is the new width that you're creating for your nose," she said.
If you're aiming for a slender nose look, she recommends putting concealer on the sides of your nose to counteract the shadow your nose casts on your face. Be careful to put the contour lines on the top of your nose and not the sides, because putting it on the sides will give it a wider look, which may not be what you're going for.
"If you want it to be snatched, you want to get those two lines as close together as possible with leaving just enough room in between for a highlight color," she said.
Best contour sticks, according to makeup artists
"This stick is super blendable and it's buildable. It also has a really great applicator — you just tap it onto the skin and blend it out with a brush, making it super easy. It's very lightweight [and] it's good for all skin types and all ages, as well, so it's not going to dry down the skin,” Wright previously said about Charlotte Tilbury’s popular Hollywood Contour Wand.
While it’s currently sold out, we also love the brand’s top-rated highlighting wand that’ll give you a similarly natural glow.
Wright loves this mocha contour stick.
"The color is very cool-toned, so it doesn't give you that ashy or that super tan look," she said.
She called out its creamy, blendable formula and says it dries down quickly, which makes it easier to apply.
Figueroa likes this contour stick for several reasons, but especially because it's not very messy. Twisting the bottom of the stick will cause the contour cream to come out of the top through the brush tip end, which she describes as "almost like a mini beauty blender." She also likes this product because the brush is fine-tipped enough that it can be used on the nose.
"I've been using that [brush] and using my fingers to blend it in. I've been doing that a lot lately with cream contour because the warmth of your fingers really helps melt the product into your face," she shared. As the lead beauty director of the Miss New Jersey Earth pageant, she said she uses this contour stick on contestants because it looks good in person and photographs well on stage.
Wright called this contour stick "excellent" after she tried it herself. This dual-ended stick has one side with the actual contouring cream and the other with a brush to easily blend out your look. No wonder this bestseller always sells out, thanks to its dual bronzer and contour function.
Lovello has a different approach to contouring. Instead of buying straightforward contour sticks, she actually recommends using foundation sticks.
"If you buy a foundation stick in a contour shade, it's a lot easier to blend out than a contour stick. The foundation sticks are just creamier," she explained.
She recommends this foundation stick from Hourglass and describes it as having "almost like a velvet-y finish."
This is another dual-ended option from Wright who says this makes it super easy to contour. It's available in 10 different shades ranging from rosy bronze to cool deep eggplant. The long-wearing formula will provide a natural look to your face and will leave you with a "natural" sun-kissed finish.
Lovello's other recommendation comes in the form of this foundation stick from Bobbi Brown. She uses it in the almond shade but notes that, of course, the shade you need will vary based on your skin tone.
"The contour sticks...stay where you put them and you really have to work at the skin to move it. I don't want to apply that much pressure because I'm putting the contour on top of a foundation, so now if I'm applying all of that pressure to blend out that contour, the foundation is moving," she said.
She regards foundation sticks as a little more gentle than a liquid foundation, but not as hard to blend out as a regular contour stick. The application is the same as any other contour stick, directly on the high points of the face.
Figueroa also loves this matte cream bronzer stick from Milk Makeup for a more sun-kissed glow.
"It's a clean contour, but it gives more of a bronze-y vibe," she told us. "Very J.Lo, very sexy, very 'I just got back from Cabo' kind of vibe, which I love."
Customers also love this stick for its natural finish.
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