Mastering Contouring and Highlighting Techniques in Your Makeup Artist Practice



Fake it till you make it… or just keep getting better at faking it.

This mantra certainly holds true when it comes to makeup. Today’s highlighting and contouring techniques allow you to slim the nose, enhance the cheekbones, lift the eyes, and sculpt the face with a stroke (or two) of the brush.

Makeup artists are part artist, part miracle worker, enhancing the bone structure of their clients and creating an airbrushed look through contouring and highlighting.

Contouring and highlighting the face flatters and disguises, complements and camouflages, emphasizing our best facial features while downplaying our less-than-favorite ones. And it’s done with little more than foundation, concealer or contouring cream, powder, and, of course the discerning eye of a skilled makeup artist.

Makeup Artist Tips and Hints for Highlighting and Contouring

Highlighting and contouring is all about subtlety, skillfully using light to your benefit. It certainly isn’t about creating an overdone face of makeup. Today’s contouring seeks to be invisible. It’s all about tricking the eye, not drawing the eye by carving a sharp, noticeable line below the cheekbones.

With that said, there are a number of tips and hints for ensuring you achieve a soft contour and not a face caked with makeup:

Choose the right products – If you want to create a very soft contouring effect, skip the foundation and concealer in lieu of a powder. Contouring cream is also convenient, and it’s easy to blend with your fingers.

Stick to cream or powder products – The best blending occurs when you use either cream or powder products—not both. In other words, don’t highlight the cheekbones with powder and then contour the nose with foundation. You won’t get the seamless blending effect you’re after.

Skin tone is everything – Every product chosen when contouring and highlighting should have skin tone in mind. Choosing shades that are distinctly lighter or darker than the natural skin tone will look obvious. Remember: the key is subtlety.

The right tools are a must – Cream-based products are best applied using your fingers (Your fingers warm it slightly, allowing it to blend easier.), while a natural bristle powder brush will allow you to control the amount of powder you apply.

Contouring isn’t universal – Your technique for contouring a square face will be slightly different than for an oval face. Pay attention to the angles of the face and contour accordingly. For example, contouring the cheekbones of a long face may make it look too long, but for a round face, contouring cheekbones is ideal.

Six Steps to Flawless Contouring and Highlighting

Although there are a bevy of contouring and highlighting methods you’ll learn to master and make part of the suite of services you offer clients for special occasions and daily wear, most will follow the same comprehensive six-step process:

Step 1. Assemble your supplies.

Start with the following cosmetics:

  • Liquid foundation that matches the skin tone
  • Liquid foundation, contouring cream, or concealer that is one to two shades lighter than the natural skin tone
  • Liquid foundation, contouring cream, or concealer that is one to two shades darker than the natural skin tone
  • Setting powder
  • A soft bronzer or blush
  • A foundation brush or sponge
  • A kabuki powder brush
  • A concealer brush

Step 2. Prep the skin.

Apply the foundation that best matches the skin tone all over a clean, moisturized face. Blend the foundation about midway down the neck.

Step 3. Highlight.

Mix the lighter concealer or foundation with the regular foundation on the back of your hand. Using the concealer brush, apply the lighter foundation color to the T-zone, under the eye area, and above the cheekbones.

Then apply a small line of the same foundation color along the jawline.

Step 4. Blend.

Using a brush or makeup sponge, blend the lighter foundation until there are no signs of demarcation between the lighter and darker foundation.

Step 5. Contour.

Using the darker foundation, apply it to the sides of the nose, under the cheekbones, and around the hairline. Blend until there are no signs of demarcation.

Step 6. Set and finish the look.

Lightly brush the finishing powder over the face to set the makeup and eliminate excess shine. Apply the blush or bronzer to the apples of the cheeks and brush upward, toward the temples.

Advanced Training and Kits for Contouring and Highlighting Makeup

There are so many cool contouring and highlighting methods that you will find no shortage of workshops and advanced makeup artistry courses focused solely on helping professionals develop and refine these techniques. Consider taking advantage of one of these courses to sharpen your skills and develop new ones.

You can also up your game by purchasing a professional contouring and highlighting kit. Contouring and highlighting palettes are super handy, coming complete with all the highlighting and contouring powders and creams you’ll need.

Here’s some of our favorites:

Kevyn Aucoin, The Contour Book: The Art of Sculpting and Defining: This kit by Kevyn Aucoin (arguably the king of contour) comes with a full contouring makeup set, as well as a step-by-step book with detailed instructions.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Cream Kit: This palette comes with six shades for the most flattering contouring results.

Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette: This professional contouring kit comes with three highlighters and three contouring powders, as well as a huge mirror to ensure you’re shading techniques are on-point.

NYX Highlight & Contour Pro Palette: This huge kit comes with eight powder highlighting and contouring shades, all of which are quite pigmented, so a little goes a long way.

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