What Is Contouring And Highlighting?
You’ve probably heard the terms contouring and highlighting. But what do these makeup techniques really mean, and can anyone do them? You might be surprised to learn that these tricks of the trade aren’t as difficult as they seem..
Contouring and highlighting can help bring out your best features and elevate even the most natural or minimal makeup look. It may take a little practice and guesswork at first, especially when it comes to selecting the right shades and finishes. But, once you lock down your gear and perfect your technique, you may start wondering where these makeup hacks have been all your life.
Read on to learn what these makeup terms really mean, the best products to use for a seamless finish, and how to easily achieve the perfect contour and highlight.
What Is The Difference Between Strobing, Highlighting, And Contouring?
If you’re still trying to up your contour and highlight game, you’ll want to learn the basic terms first. Techniques like strobing (all the rage among Instagram beauty influencers) are easy to pick up once you’ve got contouring and highlighting down.
What is Contouring Makeup?
You might already be familiar with contouring thanks to the Kardashians. But contouring makeup actually came into prominence decades ago, with the drag community relying on it to transform their faces into various looks.1
By using matte contour shades, your goal is to create contrast and shadows to help make the planes of your face pop. This can help give the illusion of more prominent cheekbones, a sharper nose line, and a more pronounced jawline.2
A good rule of thumb is to select contouring shades that are 2-3 shades darker than your usual foundation or skin color. Confused if you should choose cream or powder makeup? It depends which formula you’re more comfortable working with. Cream-based products can be a little more noticeable and dramatic, while powder contour shades can offer a more natural finish.3
Have your contour kit at the ready? Now it’s time to learn more about highlighting.
What is Highlighting Makeup?
While contouring is about using shadows to create the illusion of angles and planes, highlighting is about mimicking a sunlit (or even moonlit) glow. Highlighting may help liven up your face and further accentuate your features. All you have to do is use skin-illuminating makeup shades wherever the sun would naturally kiss your skin.4
Both powder and liquid highlighter can be applied to these “high” areas of the face, where light would naturally reflect: your brow bone, nose bridge, tops of the cheekbones, and even your chin. By highlighting these areas, you instantly give the impression of a glowy, more rested, and youthful-looking face.5
Similar to contouring makeup, highlighting products come in either a cream-based formula for foolproof blending with fingers or a makeup brush, or in powder form for a lighter finish (more suited to the oilier skin type). Again, your choice really depends on your preference, and you may find yourself even mixing both formulas to create a more natural, all-over glow.6
More important is to focus on the shade of your highlighter. Stick to a subtle shimmer or an iridescent, glowy, light shade (nothing too glittery or obvious). For a lighter skin tone, go for a pink-hued or champagne highlighter; those with deep skin tones shine best with bronze or golden highlighting hues.7
What Is Strobing Makeup? Strobing Versus Highlighting
A relatively new and trendy take on highlighting, strobing also relies on shimmery products to bring that glow to your face. The major difference is this: Highlighting is often partnered with contouring, as each technique complements the other. Strobing doesn’t rely on any contouring steps or techniques — it stands alone, using a “high-voltage” highlighting technique to create dimension and accentuate the features.8
Highlighting and Contouring for Beginners
Don’t be scared off if you want to highlight and contour your face. You just need to spend a little time getting to know your basic facial structure and perfecting the art of blending for a natural finish.
Having the right makeup tools certainly helps. A fluffy powder brush, concealer brush, and angled contour brush are all handy to have for powder contour and highlighting makeup, and a damp makeup sponge works best on cream formulas. You can also, of course, use your fingers.
Here’s a step-by-step guide you can follow.
Know Your Face Shape
Contouring isn’t just about making a round face more angular, it’s also about accentuating your features depending on your face shape. Also, contouring isn’t exactly a one-size-fits-all technique: A round face will benefit from a little contour on the cheeks to bring out the cheekbones. But longer or narrower faces may need to focus contouring on the hairline or the forehead and on the chin to soften the angular features.9
Apply Base Foundation And Concealer Before Mapping Your Face
Prep your skin with a thin and even layer of your usual foundation and a cream or lighter concealer for covering up discolorations or blemishes. Liquid concealer works well here with a small foundation brush, set with a light dusting of translucent powder.
Then, using your dark shade for contouring, gently brush around your temples and hairline. Then, dab the same shade under the hollows of your cheeks and on either side of your chin. You may also brush a thin line down the side of your nose.10
Gently buff your highlighter on the tops of your cheekbones, the center of your forehead, and along your jawline. You’re essentially bringing into greater prominence the areas you’ve accentuated with your contour, by using light-catching shades to draw the eye.11
Blend away with your brush, sponge, or fingers (if you’re using liquid highlighter and/or cream contour). Buff away any harsh lines where your contour and highlighter meet. Take the time to get that seamless finish.
Finish Off With Blush
Polish your look with a tiny amount of natural or neutral blush to give you that healthy glow.12
Practice Makes Perfect
Contouring and highlighting may take some getting used to, but the results are very much worth your while. Luckily, you can now easily purchase palettes that have paired the right shades for you already. This can help remove some of the guesswork. With just a little time and patience, you’re sure to sport a more sculpted face at any (and every) occasion.
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