Beauty Lesson: Highlighting and Contouring

  Reading time 8 minutes

In the quest for a sculpted, radiant look, mastering the art of highlighting and contouring is a game-changer. This beauty technique, when done right, can accentuate your best features, create the illusion of a more defined face shape, and give your complexion a healthy, luminous finish. Through strategic application and blending, highlighting emphasizes the high points of your face where light naturally hits, while contouring creates shadows to define and sculpt. This article will delve into the nuances of these transformative makeup skills, breaking down the process into simple steps that you can replicate for a polished result.

Understanding Highlighting and Contouring

Before you dive into the brush strokes and blending, it’s important to understand the concepts behind highlighting and contouring. Highlighting is all about bringing forward and illuminating areas of your face like the tops of your cheekbones, bridge of the nose, and brow bones. Contouring, on the other hand, is the technique of using a shade darker than your skin tone to create the illusion of shadow and depth—ideal for defining the jawline, slimming down the nose, and chiseling the cheekbones. In order to successfully execute these techniques, you’ll need to identify your face shape as different structures may require alternative contouring strategies to achieve balance and symmetry.

Choosing the Right Products

Selecting the right products for highlighting and contouring is pivotal for achieving a natural, seamless look. For highlighting, you will want a product that is one to two shades lighter than your skin tone. These can be in the form of powders, creams, or liquids, each offering varying degrees of shimmer and coverage. Contour products should be matte and one to two shades darker than your complexion to mimic a natural shadow. Here’s a simple guideline for product selection:

  1. Skin Type: For oily skin, powder-based products can help control shine. Dry or mature skin may benefit from cream or liquid products for a more hydrating, dewy finish.
  2. Intensity: Start with a light hand and build up product as needed. It’s easier to add more than to take away excess.
  3. Undertones: Pick products with the correct undertone to complement your skin. Cooler tones for contouring work well to create realistic shadows, whereas warm or neutral toned highlights blend seamlessly into the skin.

Step-by-Step Guide to Contouring

To contour like a pro, follow these thorough steps:

  1. Prepare Your Skin: Start with a clean, moisturized face. Apply foundation and concealer as you normally would to create an even base.
  2. Map Out Your Contour: Using either a contour stick or the edge of your contour product and brush, draw lines in the areas you want to define – beneath your cheekbones, along the sides of your nose, on your temples, and along your jawline.
  3. Blend: Use a contour brush or a damp beauty sponge to blend the product into your skin with upward motions for the cheeks, and downward strokes along the temples and jawline. The key is to make sure there are no harsh lines visible and that it looks like natural shadow.
  4. Intensity: If you desire a more dramatic look, you can layer more product, but ensure to blend thoroughly for a smooth, realistic finish.
  5. Set with Powder: If you used a cream or liquid contour product, lightly dust a translucent setting powder over the top to lock the contour in place and avoid any shifting throughout the day.

Step-by-Step Guide to Highlighting

Highlighting brings parts of your face forward and adds a glow. Here’s how to do it right:

  1. Precision Application: Using a highlighting brush or your fingertips, apply the highlighter to the areas you want to illuminate. This includes your cheekbones, brow bones, the center of your forehead, down the bridge of your nose, and on your cupid’s bow.
  2. Blend: Softly blend the highlighter into your base, taking care not to disturb the underlying makeup. The goal is to create a seamless transition between the highlight and your skin.
  3. Layer for Intensity: For a more intense highlight, apply additional layers. This can be particularly effective for evenings or when you’ll be photographed.
  4. Choose the Finish: Some prefer a subtle sheen, while others might opt for a blinding glow. Adjust the finish according to your preference and the occasion.
  5. Set Your Highlight: For longer wear, especially when using cream or liquid highlighters, gently pat a translucent powder over the highlighted areas to set the makeup.
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Common Mistakes to Avoid

While highlighting and contouring can accentuate your features beautifully, a few missteps can lead to a less desirable outcome. Be wary of these common pitfalls:

  • Using the wrong shade for your skin tone can make your makeup look muddy or overly dramatic.
  • Forgetting to blend thoroughly, resulting in visible lines and an unnatural appearance.
  • Applying too much product initially; remember, it’s easier to add than to subtract.
  • Overlooking your face shape and contouring incorrectly can distort your natural appearance rather than enhancing it.
  • Ignoring the impact of lighting and going too heavy with highlighter, which can appear excessively shiny.

Finding Your Balance

Highlighting and contouring can be adapted for daily wear or special occasions, depending on the intensity of application. The key is to find a balance that works for your unique face shape, skin type, and overall desired look. With practice, these techniques will become second nature and you’ll be able to confidently sculpt and illuminate your face like the beauty pros.


Highlighting and contouring are not just makeup trends; they’re essential techniques that enhance the natural structure of the face. Whether you’re aiming for a subtle definition or a dramatic transformation, the key lies in product selection, precise application, and thorough blending. Remember to consider your skin tone, face shape, and the look you’re going for. With patience and practice, your makeup routine will elevate your beauty game to new heights.


  1. Do I need special brushes for highlighting and contouring? Yes, using the right tools will make a significant difference. Contour brushes are usually angled or have a flat, dense shape for precise application, while highlighter brushes tend to be fluffier for a soft glow.
  2. Can I use bronzer to contour? Bronzer can be used for a soft contour, but since bronzers often have shimmer or a warm undertone, they might not create as realistic of a shadow as a dedicated contour product.
  3. Is highlighting and contouring necessary for every makeup look? Not at all. It’s a technique to enhance certain features and not a requirement for every makeup application. It’s all about personal preference.
  4. How do I find my face shape for contouring? To determine your face shape, pull your hair back and analyze the widest part of your face, the shape of your jaw, and the length of your face.
  5. Can I contour with foundation? Absolutely, you can use a foundation stick or liquid foundation that’s a shade or two darker than your skin tone to contour your face.

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