It’s hard to imagine that contouring wasn’t always part of every basic makeup look. Nowadays makeup just doesn’t look finished without a subtle cheek contour at the very least. People credit everyone from Kim Kardashian to Rupaul’s Drag Race for making contouring so gosh darn important.
That being said, I truly believe that contouring is more than just a trend, and not just because it has endured for so long. By learning to contour one also gains very important theoretical knowledge about how light and shadow impact the face.
Once you understand the principles of how contouring works you can choose to play around with it, and maybe get inspired by brilliant artists like Promise Tamang
and Dain Yoon. So are you ready to get shady?
This article, however, will not teach you how to create optical illusions – I’ll give you the basics, so you can get anything from a gorgeous soft contour to an extreme Instagram makeup look, and once you’ve had some practice you can see where you want to go from there.
I’ll give tips for contouring makeup – how to contour different face shapes, how to choose the right shades and product types for you, and I’ll give you a nice and long list of the best contouring kits and makeup products out on the market.
Contouring Makeup Guide: Contents
11 Best Contouring Kits & Makeup Products
Before we proceed with this ultimate contouring makeup guide, here you have 11 best contouring kits and makeup products to practice and make perfect!
1. Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit
Beginners and pros alike will find that they cannot go wrong with this refillable powder contour kit. With one version for lighter skin and another for darker skin, and with 6 different shades in each palette… it covers all the bases. Each palette contains three contour shades and three highlighter shades so you can really get creative. You can pick it up from Sephora.
2. Kat Von D Shade + Light Face Contour Refillable Palette
This is another great option for powder contouring and highlighting for those who like variety. This kit contains three shades of matte contour and three luminous shades for highlighting. Each pan is refillable for when you run out of that one shade you just can’t get enough of. It is up for sale at Sephora.
3. Smashbox Step-By-Step Contour Kit
With two shades for contour and one for highlighting, in buttery powder texture, it’s hard to go wrong with this simple contour kit. There are options for both light and dark skin tones, and even a mini size of the lighter option! Pick it up from Sephora.
4. Too Faced Cocoa Contour Chiseled to Perfection
A contour kit with all the perfect shades that also smells like delicious chocolate? Fill me up. This pressed powder set contains two contour shades and two highlight shades, and it even comes with a brush. Reviewers love how blendable they are, so if you’re into a subtle contour, look no further. If you’d like to buy this set, you can find it at Sephora.
5. Lorac Pro Contour Palette with Contour Brush
You can really tell that this powder contour and highlight palette was created by professionals and for professionals. The three contour shades are perfectly neutral, with an option for every skin tone, while the two matte highlights can immediately be transformed with the help of the third shimmer shade. This contouring kit also comes with a brush, which is a big bonus. It is available for sale at Ulta.
6. Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Match Stix Matte Skinstick
I could rave forever about Rihanna’s new line, and I think the Matchstix really exemplifies what’s so great about it. Here we have matte cream sticks, and it’s up to the user to use them however they see fit. There are shades for contouring, concealing, and even highlighting, with Amber, Mocha, Latte, and Truffle standing out as great choices for contour shades.
Since they come in stick form, they are super easy to apply perfectly for that chiseled look. There are 20 Match Stix shades available at Sephora.
7. Urban Decay Naked Skin Shapeshifter
This contouring palette features five cream pans and four powder pans for a very complete highlight and contour look. It’s a great choice for people who really love building and layering their makeup for a high definition effect, with creamy shades that can also work for concealing or blush. You can pick up this palette at Sephora.
8. NYX Professional Makeup Highlight & Contour Pro Palette
This powder highlight and contour palette contains different shades, so you can really play around and go wild! This palette has blendable contour and highlight shades that work on all skin tones, and its price will not break the bank. You can find it at Ulta.
9. Smashbox Cali Contour Palette
This contour makeup set is fun and wild, with a cheery peach blush complementing the warm toned highlights and bronzers. There is a cool contour shade in the mix, so it’s a great choice for anyone with medium skin tones with just about any undertone. You can purchase this palette at Sephora.
10. NARS NARSissist Cheek Studio Palette
This contouring palette gives you everything you need for beautiful and sculpted cheeks, as it contains two contour shades, two highlighters, and three blushes, in a powdery formula and a mixture of mattes and shimmers. It’s a buildable formula that’s great for beginners, as it covers all the bases but doesn’t deposit too much color on in first swipe. If it sounds right for you, then grab it at Ulta.
11. Tarte Hamptons Weekender Contour Palette
This fun and simple contouring set has a peachy blush, golden highlighter, and a medium matte contour shade. It’s a great choice for those with fair and medium skin who don’t need a ton of shades – just the basics for a complete look. The small size of this palette makes it optimal for contouring on the go. It is available for sale at Sephora.
What Is Contouring and How Is It Different from Highlighting and Bronzing?
Contouring is all about playing with shadows to sculpt bone structure. The job of contouring makeup products is to darken the skin in a way that looks like a shadow, to create the illusion that various parts of the face are a little bit more distant from the eye than is actually true. This, in turn, makes the non-shaded parts stand out a little more.
The area of the face most frequently contoured is just below the cheekbones, although people also contour below the jawline, along the sides of the nose, and along the perimeter of the forehead. Eyeshadow technique, despite also including color, is actually also all about contouring and highlighting.
Speaking of, highlighting is the exact opposite of contouring – naturally, the two are indispensable in a completely makeup look. A highlight attracts light to the face, making the features seem closer to the person looking, as well as overall larger.
The top of the cheekbones is the part of the face most frequently highlighted, followed by the bridge of the nose, the center of the forehead, the inner corner of the eye, and the area just above the cupid’s bow. People have also taken to highlighting just below the contour to make it stand out more, as well as along the jawline to make it look sharper.
Lastly there’s bronzing, which has fallen out of style to a certain extent. The purpose of a bronzer is to make the skin appear sun-kissed and more tanned, so it is applied to the high points of the face where it is now more popular to highlight instead.
Whereas contour makeup products are usually matte with a neutral or cool undertone that passes for shadow, bronzers are usually a little warmer with a hint of orange or red, and they often have a bit of a shimmer.
Powder Contour Vs. Cream Contour
When it comes to contour makeup products, there are two main types. The easier and therefore more popular choice is a powder contour.
Contour powders usually come pressed either in a palette or as a single, and they are applied to the skin on top of foundation and powder. Applying and blending them is a quick process, and they usually give a diffused contoured look.
The cream contouring technique was first developed by drag queens and SPFX makeup artists, but it was popularized by the likes of Kim Kardashian. Cream contouring is a little bit more difficult to do, since it requires working with a more finicky product and blending very carefully.
Cream contour makeup products give a more cut and defined contour, although that doesn’t mean that it’s a heavier contour – quite the opposite, it tends to look a little lighter. For a very sculpted makeup look, people will first contour with a cream product, and then layer powder contour on top.
How to Choose the Right Contouring Kit for You?
You should be guided by both your skin tone and type when buying a contouring makeup product or kit, since you want to have a flawless look complementing your natural features.
By Skin Tone
It’s easy to look in the mirror and tell if your skin is lighter or darker. However, finding the right shade of contouring makeup for a day-to-day look relies on a little more than just the old adage, “choose a color a few shades darker than your skin tone.”
Since your contour is supposed to look like a shadow, the contour colour you choose has to appear neutral on your skin, the way a shadow would be. This is why bronzers don’t usually work well for contouring – they lean towards too orange to actually look like shadows on most people’s skin, which doesn’t work for anyone.
That’s why, before you choose a contour color, it’s important you figure out what your skin’s undertones are, and chose a contour shade with similar undertones. Our skin’s undertones will normally be…