Accentuate the Good, Contour the Rest

A handful of women were blessed with a genetic goody bag full of wonderful treats like high cheekbones, a defined nose, and a chiseled jaw – the rest of us…well, we got a contouring brush.

Let’s get to know our faces. Accentuate the good (contour the rest), and find comfort in knowing that every woman on the cover of a magazine had the same thing done to her.

What is “Contouring”?

Contouring is the act of using dark or light colors to make features recede or become prominent, respectively. Contouring adds definition, structure, and dimension. Contouring can be used on the face, decollate, abdomen, or any part of the body that needs definition.

What You Will Need?

There are several ways to contour. Your tools will depend on the method you choose.

Contouring with liquids or creams

  • Concealer or liquid highlighter (2 – 3 shades lighter than skin tone)
  • A Synthetic brush
  • A smaller synthetic brush
  • To set foundation

Contouring with Powders

  • Matte bronzer or powder 2-3 shades darker than skin tone
  • Highlighting powder
  • A makeup sponge
  • A contouring brush (looks like a slanted blush brush) or small blush brush

We’re using Kim Kardashian as an example here. Her strong, exaggerated features provide the perfect canvas for showcasing the dramatic effects of contouring.”

Feel the contours of your face. Apply the contour color directly underneath your cheekbone, extending from the center of your ear in a slightly downward motion. You will want to keep the contour application concise. If your brush feels too fluffy or large, pinch the bristles when you apply, this will give you more control.

Use a small eyeshadow brush to softly line both sides of the nose. If your nose is long, you may want to apply a little under the tip of your nose. Again, keep the applications concise.

Feel your jaw. You will apply your contour color below your jawbone, making sure not to apply any color to the actual bone. The point is to create a shadow below your jaw. If your jaw is large, you may bring the contour color up on either side of the chin. This will make your jaw appear less bold.

Blend your contour color into your hairline. Doing this helps make your face appear slimmer. Make sure to blend well into the hairline.

Although your colors may be dramatic, there should be no severe lines. Blend edges well.


Using your makeup sponge, apply a generous amount of highlighter under your eyes, extending to the tops of your cheekbones and along the sides of your nose.

Highlight your chin, the upper-most part of your jaw (directly below the ear), your brow bone, and the center of your forehead. You may also highlight your cupid’s bow (as seen above) for a more full, defined mouth.

Contour Overview

This is an exaggeration of the contoured face. Both highlights and contours should be blended at the edges to create a seamless look.

Completed Look

Your completed look should be well blended and seamless. Your highlights and contours should play together to create depth and dimension.

I find that a good powder bronzer and highlighter do the job on a day-to-day basis. For a more dramatic camera-ready look, I like to layer the contours – cream/liquid foundation contours, setting powder, then bronzer and highlighter contours.

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  • Karen Will

    love the learning

  • leila

    this article is amazing. thank you so much.

  • Eliza

    Photoshop helps, too…

    • Carport Sharon

      I *love* it Eliza!!

  • Anna

    I was going to say the same thing as Eliza…I’m sure photoshop makes just as much of a difference as contouring…

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  • Courtney

    Thanks for showing the different areas for contouring. Love if you shared any future tips with us over at – under Trends!

  • Laurette

    If I ever wore this much makeup, my head would fall over! Too theatrical!

  • The Untrendy Girl

    I’ll be the first to tell you — PHOTOSHOP HELPS! You’d be hard pressed to find an image that’s either printed or posted online that hasn’t been retouched.

  • Pingback: Pin-tested: Kardashian-like contour & highlight » The Full Moxie:: Celebrity, Entertainment, DIY, Fashion & Beauty, Fitness & Health, Love & Family,Food,

  • Pingback: Pin-tested: Kardashian-like contour & highlight » The Full Moxie:: Celebrity, Entertainment, DIY, Fashion & Beauty, Fitness & Health, Love & Family,Food,

  • Janie

    I wouldn’t want to do all that if it will come out looking anything similar to Kim Kardashian’s make up. She always has a caked on look and that is just ugh

    • Melissa Charlebois

      They all cake it on! Kris’ looks the worst of all! The only one who looks even a bit natural is the middle sister. Chloe I believe? Not sure of the spelling.

  • Bianca

    Thanks so much for sharing your tips! I definetly learned alot. You also look stunning so must work!!! x

  • Rautahanska

    But the picture is beautiful.

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  • Natalie

    I also think its wise to note that the before photo is actually before she had plastic surgery

  • marina

    Great great tip. I was looking for something like this and really coudn’t find it till now. Very good. Thanks.

  • AmySue

    Sadly, as I am a make-up artist, it is definitely how she does her makeup. Make up artists also teach their clients how to work the facial features with different makeup tips so they are looking amazing. Photoshop and plastic surgery doesn’t even need to be included to just make their face that amazing. I do highlighting and contouring on myself and it makes a huge difference with your facial shapes than just using foundation and not doing any highlighting and contouring. Without highlighting and contouring, your face looks flat, most use too much makeup to pop our their features, etc. when you can use concealer and foundation to highlight and contour and use less makeup to show your beauty and facial features. So to those who are commenting and saying something about Photoshop and plastic surgery, go take a look at yourself in the mirror and mess with the makeup and figure out your own facial features because you will be surprised by how much of a difference your face will look if you at LEAST do highlighting and contouring. Just saying. 🙂

    • tammyh

      would luv to hear any tips u might have for helping me contour and highlight my face..have never wore a lot of make-up and not real fimilar with apply it.. 😉

    • The Untrendy Girl

      Very True Amy. I am unrecognizable without makeup, even though in person, my makeup is very natural. It’s about putting the right colors (and finishes) in the right areas. Thanks for your comment!

  • Susan

    It all works but I am confused as to when the foundation goes on. Even with blending it seems like I missing something? Also hard to find concealer that light. What kind do you suggest?

    Thx Susan

  • Lauren

    I do this, to an extent. Not nearly as heavy as hers. I do the light highlight first then go over with a bronzer with a blush brush. I have actually been doing my nose opposite with a shine of my bronzer on the bridge but I’ll try this. My nose is long and narrow like hers.

  • Vicki Morgenstern

    As a professional makeup artist, this is an excellent article to teach advanced highlighting and contouring. Vicki M.

  • Rosy

    I’m confused about the contouring on the jaw… the article says to contour below the jawbone and not on the bone… so is that under you chin? The picture makes it look like it is on her jawbone… Any make-up artists want to help clarify this? Thanks!

    • The Untrendy Girl

      If you have a heavier jaw, you can soften it by shading the jawbone itself. If you’re working on creating a sharper jawline due to a bit of sagging, under the jawbone.

  • Maggs

    So after you do all of the highlighting and contouring, then you brush on your base powder and blush over everything??

    • The Untrendy Girl

      Yes – think of contouring as part of your foundation process. If you apply blush after contouring, restrict it to just the apples of your cheeks so it doesn’t look too heavy.

  • reba dias

    Who cares whether there’s PhotoShop or plastic surgery done on this pic. That’s not what the article is about and I’m assuming that’s not why you clicked on the photo in the first place! Stop being so negative and take the helpful advice for what it is!

  • maureen

    Personally I think this is a bit high-maintenance for every day – you’d have to go touch up your makeup every couple hours and re-contour, highlight, etc, and it could easily end up looking like dark and light patches on the skin. Plus pouring chemicals all over your skin is the worst possible thing for it.

    Kim Kardashian relies on her looks for fame/money so it’s a different story for her of course!

  • Melissa Charlebois

    Who has an hour to do make up??? Personally if someone is that vain as to require THAT much make up, they need some self esteem help. But as usual, it’s real easy to look completely stunning every minute of every day when you have millions to spend on plastic surgery, liposuction, professional make up artists and a closet full of clothing and shoes that puts even royalty to shame. I would love to see things for the “real” woman.

  • Sarah

    What brands of make-up would be best for this contouring tutorial?

    • The Untrendy Girl

      The contouring part is easy. Everyone loves Nars’ “Laguna” bronzer. It’s a matte bronzer that looks like real shadows. I wouldn’t use a shimmery bronzer to contour and definitely nothing with an orange hue. You can also use a darker foundation if you’re used to working with liquids. I personally like to contour with powders after the foundation is done.

      For highlights, I love to use NYX’s chubby white pencil. I’ll glide it over wet foundation on the areas I was to highlight, then I use my finger to warm and blend it into skin. On dry skin types, I add a bit of reflective shadow. Benefit’s “High Beam” and “Moon Beam” do a good job if you like the glowy look and prefer to use liquids.

      Smashbox makes a beauty pale-gold tone highlighter that works great on olive skin tones.

      When I’m in a pinch, I’ll use “Shroom” (eyeshadow by MAC) on lighter skin, “Ricepaper” (eyeshadow by MAC) on olive skin, etc. You basically want to go with a shadow that looks a couple of shades lighter than your skin, with a touch of iridescence, NOT SHINE.

      Hope that helps!

  • Megan

    I always buy the lightest shade of foundation and concealer. Sometimes I am lucky enough to buy one shade darker than the lightest but that’s it. What do you suggest if concealer and foundation need to be 2-3 shades lighter? I don’t mean to be a “I’m so special” case but I really have been trying to figure this out and I can’t. Bronzer/contour is easy enough.

    • The Untrendy Girl

      You may be surprised to hear my answer to your “contouring while light” question.

      If you have oily skin, I would use a chubby, creamy white pencil (NYX makes a good one – ULTA). Apply your foundation, and while it’s still drying, run the white pencil in a line over your nose, under the brow bone, inner corners of your eyes, and outer cheekbones. Use your finger to gently blend, but not wipe off, the white pencil. The white pencil with blend with the foundation and the warmth of your finger to create lighter areas.

      If you have dry skin, use the light-reflecting qualities of a shimmery eyeshadow to create your highlights. Use a pale shadow like “Shroom” or “Ricepaper” (MAC). Use a small eyeshadow brush and strategically sweep over the areas you want to highlight. Make sure you use a dense eyeshadow brush so you can control where the shadow deposits, otherwise your whole face will be shiny. Don’t forget, your highlights will be more visible when the light hits it, so don’t go overboard.

  • Melissa R

    Thanks for posting this. It really does make my make-up work FOR me!!!

  • Pingback: A great guide to facial contouring….. | What A Girl Wants

  • Rachel

    I agree with susan, when do actually apply the main foundation (make up that u use everyday) -before or after???

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  • Jennifer

    I’m confused. I use concealer and it says that is what you will use to contour the face. However, I am not sure what the highlighter is. Is that going to be my regular base that I use or is that still more concealer? And, as the other girls have questioned — when do you put on your actual makeup (base foundation)?

    • The Untrendy Girl

      Good question. The reason why contouring perplexes so many is because every artist does it a different way.

      I like to apply foundation to the full face, then I’ll use a lighter concealer or white cream to highlight the areas I want to stand out (i.e. bridge of nose, brow bone, inner corner of eyes, cheek bone).

      Then I will move on to contour with a matte powder bronzer in a darker shade.

      Highlights = lighter, sometimes reflective powders, creams or liquids
      Contour = darker, matte powders, creams or liquids.

      Some artists like to highlight/contour with foundation. In that case, they’ll apply lighter foundation just to the areas they want to highlight, and darker shades in the areas they want to contour, and then they’ll blend the edges and set with translucent powder.

      It’s important to grasp the idea behind contouring; bring some features forward with lighter colors, make others recede with darker colors.

      Contouring shouldn’t be as dramatic for dailywear as you see celebs like Kim Kardashian wearing in photo shoots.

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  • Esther

    Not so easy to do when you have fine lines around the eyes (or anywhere else for that matter). Any make up I apply under the eyes just ends up sitting in and accentuating these fine lines.

    • The Untrendy Girl

      I feel your pain. Starting to see fine lines around the eyes myself, I have definitely cut back on piling on the makeup.

      Although I do find that powders and even liquids tend to settle in fine lines, you can minimize their appearance by using a primer such as Smashbox’s PhotoFinish primer prior to using makeup.

      Using the minimum amount of product necessary is key. That means, a tiny dab of primer, applying concealer only to shadows, not the entire undereye and setting makeup with the most finely-milled translucent powder available. I’ve heard great things about Laura Mercier’s translucent powder. I’ll be purchasing it after using up my current favorite; CoverFx translucent powder.

      Highlighting can be as simple as blending in a tiny bit of reflective eyeshadow/cream shadow to the inner corner of the eye, brow bone and the highest point of your cheekbone. These spots will reflect light in the right settings, making your skin glow without looking heavily made up.

      Again: Use the LEAST amount of product possible, prime, make sure it’s any powders are finely-milled and blend edges well.

      I hope this helps!

  • Munchkin

    Great site with nice tutorials, really liked the brow tutorials, though when I came across this one I must comment, not to sound negative or anything like that, I just think as an untrendy girl, whatever this woman, celebrity, whateva, does doesn’t impress me much, think there are more down to earth, closer to everyday examples to chose from that’s all 😀

    • The Untrendy Girl

      Hi there! Thanks for your compliment and your comments. I agree with you about not idolizing negative role models for the sake of their “celebrity”. In this particular case, I chose to use Kim Kardashian because I have long admired her beautiful makeup — always perfectly contoured and blended so well.

      Having said that, there are certainly celebrities whom I would never highlight due to their negative impact on society. As a woman who appears to promote self-acceptance and female empowerment, Kim Kardashian does not fall into that category of celebrities for me.

  • Ignorant Awareness

    I did this once with an overly shimmery powder, & then deliberately didn’t blend (I wanted to see whether this highlighting/ contouring business really DOES make a difference, or whether it’s just photoshop like other people have been claiming).

    Well lol, let’s just say my partner said I looked like a dead zombie (because of how pronounced my cheekbones look). For someone with incredibly low cheekbones, that’s quite the (backhanded) compliment- especially from a guy haha! 😉

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  • Kristen

    So I have a question I wear foundation cause I have dark marks from acne so do you put your foundation and powder on before contoring and highlighting or do u put foundation on then do all of it and then put your powder on over to blend it all??

    • fatimah

      Whenever you are looking to cover dark marks, The best regime I have found was to wash with your cleanser in warm water, rinse out cold. Next you will apply a bb cream or moisturizer that has sunscreen at least spf15. Next you will apply your primer. At that point, blend in well and apply concealer to dark spots. Once you have covered the problem areas, use a sponge or light brush to dab the area you want to add additional foundation, if necessary. Do not blend in yet! Now apply the contouring under eyes, outline eyebrows, down the nose etc. Once complete take your blending brush to blend and soften the lines and creams. Once complete, buff in a bit of bronzer above the cheek bones, lip, forehead, and a little under the chin. Add blush on apples of cheeks lightly and set with a great mineral powder and setting spray.

  • Lauren

    I have a receding chin! How do you contour what isn’t there??

    • Kayleigh

      Lauren, if I were you I would still shade under the jawline as this creates the illusion of a shadow, which would therefore create the illusion that your chin projects out further than it actually does. Also making sure not to skip highlight on the chin itself and perhaps for you also along the jawline but above it, so that it brings that area forward visually. Play with it a bit when you don’t have anywhere to go so you get the hang of it! 🙂

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  • Athena

    Is that even Kim in the before pic?

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  • riahna

    great traning of step by step thanks

  • Vicki Morgenstern

    After reading this tutorial, I felt more prepared to use contouring and highlighting on talent in my production industry work. But, I was stumped about the best contour. Recently, I have discovered the NARS contour creme in Cap Vert. It has a slight yellow base so it will match the majority of the population’s undertones. The texture of this creme stick is perfect and can be blended to look like a shadow and not a dusty face. Suddenly, my three chins appear to be done to one, and without an invasive I highly recommend this product as a creme contour. Let me know how it works out.

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  • Bellashoot Bellas

    Fantastic contouring article!

  • Mrs J

    AMAZING article and Q&A! Thank you SO much for the article AND for the wonderful Q&A! Your wonderful and clear instructions/responses taught me so much and cleared up so much that I had been confused about/been struggling with for quite awhile! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!! This is my first visit to your website and I look forward to browsing and gaining more knowledge from you! And to other women criticizing the choice of Kim Kardashian – she has a contoured look that is a good example to be able to teach the “FULL-contoured” look from. And honestly, she also has a look the ALOT of women try to emulate! I think she was a beautiful choice, and we obviously all clicked on this article/picture… Another thing is highlighting/contouring CAN take an hour, if you want to go “all out” -OR- you can take the part/s you want from this article and customize/tailor it to your style! Meaning you can spend very little time to contour a part of your features. We are all beautiful, completely bare, “no make-up needed”! But I think we all also have features that we personally would like to minimize/maximize. Doing so helps you to feel the best possible “you”, in your own “skin”… And isn’t that what we all wear makeup for? To enhance our beauty? Contouring can be personalized for your own features, and can be as “natural” looking as you want it. Or it can be as “theatrical” or as “runway/model/high-fashion” as you want that day…

  • Jamie

    Thanks for the wonderful article. I’m totally going to use it!!!

  • Jessica Kitchen

    control on your face shape just try face thin tool make your sharp and smaller