How to Subtly Contour Your Face in 7 Easy Steps

For a snatched, but not over-the-top face.

Woman applying makeup with a long brush
Photo: Getty Images

Contouring is an art form, and anybody who says differently is probably doing it wrong. Thanks to YouTubers and Instagram, the makeup technique of defining and sculpting the face became one of the biggest makeup trends and inspired the shift towards heavily contoured looks.

While heavy and dark contour lines may no longer be trending, contouring is still an incredibly useful tool to help accentuate your facial features. We're not talking about dramatically changing the shape of your face. Your goal, says makeup artist Wendy Rowe, is to "delicately enhance your features" by deepening natural shadows and adding highlighter where the sun would hit.

According to Jenny Patinkin, celebrity makeup artist and founder of her own skincare brand, the easiest most efficient way to contour is to "highlight in contrast."

"I prefer to apply the contour first since it requires the most blending," notes Patinkin. "Apply foundation, then contour, then blush, then highlighter."

To refresh your memory on how to contour, we've listed all the tips and tricks you need to know when sculpting your face without going over the top. So read on to brush up on your skills.

Video: Beauty School: I Over-contoured My Face

1. Contour Your Cheeks

When defining your cheeks, Patinkin recommends following the "plane" or hollow that meets the middle of your ear and runs diagonally to the corner of your mouth.

2. Cast Shadows With Contour

Another great way to find the hollow in your cheeks is by sucking them in. Then you can create shadows by sketching soft stripes. Don't forget to shade along the hairline, above the outer corners of brows.

When shopping for contour makeup, Patinkin highly suggests investing in a matte bronzer versus something with shimmer or sparkle, as shadows don't sparkle. She also recommends looking for a contour with a gray undertone instead of a warm orange.

3. Use Highlighter and Contour to Enhance Your Lips

Place a touch of highlighter — or even a concealer that's two or three shades lighter than your skin — on top of the cupid's bow and on the center of the chin. Blend well with a brush.

4. Sculpt Your Jaw With Contour

"Place the contour just on the edge of the face, above where the bone curves under," says Patinkin. "Then for definition, trace a stripe of highlighter from your chin to your earlobe with a line of your contouring shade just below it. Blend with a brush or slightly damp sponge."

5. Use Contour to Shape Your Eyes

To make your eyes look wide awake, Patinkin says to trace the orbital bone, on your eye instead of the fleshy crease, because the orbital bone is slightly higher, it will make your eyes to look bigger.

6. Shine a "Strobe" Light With Highlighter

This step (sometimes referred to as "strobing") is about using highlighter to make a reflection along the length of your nose, brow bones, and upper cheek bones. Bonus points for highlighting between your brows.

7. Blend, Blend, Blend that Contour!

In order to erase any streaks, it's crucially important to blend in shaded areas with a brush or sponge. Start at the center and diffuse outward. Patinkin recommends using a soft tool so you have optimal control to diffuse the product out evenly. If you're more of a sponge user, Patinkin recommends her brand's Pure Luxury Green Tea Makeup Sponges. If you prefer a soft brush, her favorite is the Luxury Vegan Complexion Brush.

Updated by
Tessa Petak
Tessa Petak is a Brooklyn-based writer who helps to cultivate InStyle's illustrious news coverage across a wide range of topics including celebrity, fashion, and entertainment. She also produces and composes celebrity profiles and features for the site and InStyle's digital issues.
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