Contouring can, as we’ve shown before, look scary. But, enhancing your cheekbones or jawline doesn’t have to be frightening — or require the skill of a makeup artist. You just need the proper product arsenal to get that subtle, natural-looking sculpt.
There’s been an onslaught of contour kits and palettes on the market. To make sense of it all, we decided to poll our favorite makeup artists to see what they love and use most — and then, we divided the tools and cosmetics into easy-to-understand categories. There are winning options here for different skin tones and skill sets: Even the aspiring Kardashian will find something to fall in love with.
Scroll through to see which ones are right for you, and then leave any questions in the comments below.
“The easiest way to contour is by using two shades of foundation — one that’s matched for the center of the face, the neck, and the high bones, and a second that’s slightly darker to use on the outer perimeter and underneath the cheekbones,” says Pati Dubroff, a makeup artist who works with Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman.
“Cream products are easier to manipulate and erase if you make mistakes,” adds Beau Nelson, whose clients include Kristen Stewart and Nicole Richie. “I’m a big fan of the Bobbi Brown Stick Foundations.”
Start by creating an even base all over with the lighter shade, and then build the intensity very slightly at the temples, underneath the jawline, and on the cheekbones with your darker shade.
Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick, $44, available at Bobbi Brown.
A contouring kit — one full of cream products — can also be an easy way to go when you’re starting out. Look for one that includes both a highlight shade and a contour shade in order to provide dimension and balance.
Dr Jart+ BB Mate Contouring 1.2.3. Kit, $45, available at Birchbox.
Thanks to this three-in-one kit, you can create the cheekbones of your dreams in record time without a handful of individual palettes. Or, when you aren’t feeling the full look but still want definition, try the bronzing, highlighting, and blush shades solo. It’s an easy addition to your arsenal either way.
Maybelline FaceStudio Master Contour, $12.99, available at .
Many brands also provide contour sticks in sets of three to make the whole process that much easier. These normally contain a contour shade, a bronzer shade, and a highlight shade. Always use the dark contour shade first along your cheekbone, and add the bronzer hue right above it for dimension. Then, add the highlight to the bridge of your nose, top of the chin, and corners of the eyes — just remember to blend everything well!
Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour Stick Trio, $45, available at Sephora.
For YouTube Dabblers:
If you already know the basic principles of contouring and want to take your game to the next level, investing in a palette is a wise choice. “This kit has great shades to both contour and highlight,” says Mario Dedivanovic, makeup artist to stars like Kim Kardashian. “You can experiment with the lighter shades at first, and then build to the deeper shades once you’re comfortable.”
Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit, $40, available at Sephora.
Since you’re already comfortable with the basics, try a palette that can really help bring out your cheekbones. Kevyn Aucoin’s The Creamy Glow Sculpting Powder helps to define the face by balancing dark powder with a creamy highlighter.
Kevyn Aucoin The Creamy Glow Duo in Candelight/Sculpting, $28, available atSephora.
For The Aspiring Makeup Artist
There’s only one luxury contour product that the pros swear by, but it’s almost too intimidating for at-home use. “You can work this into a foundation application, or apply it underneath so it looks subtle,” says beauty guru Nick Barose. “It takes more blending, but once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s totally worth it.”
There are two different shade levels available for purchase, so this works on almost all skin tones. The “illuminate” portion is a pearly highlight that delivers camera-ready levels of glow. Do consider it for special events or photo opps — but have a backup option for daily use.
Tom Ford Beauty Shade & Illuminate, $77, available at Saks Fifth Avenue.
If you’re an aspiring pro, play around with sculpting shades on a palette. BH Cosmetics’ versatile shades work well for all skin tones, and provide a matte finish for both highlight and contour.
BH Cosmetics Contour & Blush Palette, $12, available at BH Cosmetics.
For Fair Skin Tones
“Surratt’s blush in Grisaille is a great contour that has no orange tones,” says Dubroff. “If you’re fair, and you use something with any warmth at all, it’s like the kiss of contour death. This is perfect because it’s a nice, soft tone.”
Surratt Artistique Blush in Grisaille, $32, available at Barneys New York.
For Medium Skin Tones
“Apply Aucoin’s sculpting powder with a small, dome-shaped blush brush under the cheekbones and jawline, and on the temples and bridge of the nose,” says Nelson. This shade is the “just right” of dark-but-not-too-dark for those of us who fall in the middle of the skin spectrum. If you prefer creams, Dubroff recommends Chanel Soleil Tan de Chanel Bronzing Makeup Base.
Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder in Medium, $44, available at Barneys New York
For Darker Skin Tones
“I love this particular product for darker skins because it comes with a highlight shade, as well,” says celebrity makeup artist Kirin Bhatty. She also recommends following up with a great liquid luminizer in golden or copper shades, like NARS Hot Sand, to really finish the skin.
NARS Contour Blush in Gienah, $42, available at NARS.
For Dark Skin Tones:
“If you’re quite dark, like Lupita Nyong’o, for example, you don’t need to contour. It can look a little too harsh,” says Barose. “Instead, add this bronzey highlight to bring out your features more.”
Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer, $62, available atNordstrom
“A clean foundation brush, like this one, is helpful for blending without depositing too much product,” says Dubroff. “If I’m using powders, I prefer to use a fan brush because it creates light layers. Plus, since it’s not thick, you can get a sharper (but still very fine) edge under the bones.”
Make Up For Ever Large Foundation Brush, $36, available at Sephora.
“Especially if you’re using cream contours, I recommend blending with a damp BeautyBlender sponge to diffuse any lines into the skin,” says Dedivanovic. This can also help you soften the intensity of products by buffing them out for a more clean, even finish.
Beautyblender The Original, $19.95, available at Sephora.
It’s not just enough to carve out bone structure using taupes and bronzes. “A pop of color on the apples of the cheeks is important for making the contour look happy, and not just angular,” says Dubroff. This product has the slightest sheen and a sheer color payoff that actually makes blush look believable.
Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic Blush in Ecstasy, $40, available at Charlotte Tilbury.
For Universal Highlighting
After you’ve contoured and added your color, it’s time to play with highlights. “Apply a liquid highlighter to the high points of the face, and then blend them out with a damp sponge,” Bhatty says. She loves the varied options from Benefit “depending on your skin tone,” but High Beam is a universal best bet.
Benefit High Beam Highlighter, $26, available at Sephora.
Spritzing the face — or your sponge — with a floral spray is one of Dubroff’s go-to tricks for sheering out an application. If you work quickly, you can hopefully erase harsh lines by wetting and correcting them.
Beautycounter Rosewater Uplifting Spray, $35, available at Beautycounter.
For Traveling Light
The creamy consistency of Nyx’s double-ended bullets means you can draw directly onto your makeup brush before applying, or right onto your skin if you’re more advanced. Then, simply blend and buff to get a seamless finish. There are four hues to choose from, making this a great travel-friendly option for any skin tone and skill level.
Nyx Wonder Stick in Light/Medium, $12, available at Nyx Cosmetics.