Contouring, bronzing, & highlighting are staples of the beauty world but I know lots of people are still afraid to give these techniques a go because they think they require expert knowledge to pull off.
I also know there are lots of tutorials out there already, but I find a lot of them assume at least some prior knowledge, so today I wanted to go back to basics with a 101 post & provide some foolproof tips on contouring, bronzing & highlighting.
At their most basic level, all these techniques are illusions. I don’t mean that in a negative sense, I purely want to emphasise that the aim is to give the impression that your face has certain qualities – which you may or may not have naturally – & this can help guide you, both in your product choices & your technique.
I also want to emphasise that these techniques will not ~*improve*~ your face – your face is already fantastic. They will, when done a certain way, make your face appear closer to euro-centric beauty standards, but you are under no obligation to do this – if you’d rather use these techniques to emphasise your cute round nose, your chubby cheeks & your double chin then go for it!
So, what’s the point in using these techniques?
The aim of contouring is to give the illusion of shape & structure. This is done by mimicking shadows which trick the eye into thinking that certain features – for example, cheekbones or your jawline – are more prominent.
Bronzing is intended to give the illusion of a sun-kissed glow, like you’ve spent the week running around the English countryside, eating strawberries & wearing not-quite-enough SPF. It can also help warm up your complexion if you’re natural quite pale but don’t want to deal with tanning (whether naturally or out of a bottle).
And finally, highlighting is intended to give the illusion of a ~*healthy*~ inner glow (whatever that means). Basically, a lot of foundations – particularly full-coverage ones are more matte than our skin is naturally, so highlighting helps bring everything back to life, & stops your face from looking super 2D.
|L-R: Contour, Bronzer & Highlighter
Buying products to contour, bronze & highlight with can be a bit of a minefield, especially as lots of brands will use terms like contour & bronzer interchangeable. However, there are some basic guidelines which can help you pick out the best products for you.
Contour shades should generally be a couple of shades darker than your natural skin tone, cool-toned & matte. This is because you’re trying to mimic your face’s natural shadows, which are generally not super warm. Some beauty bloggers & vloggers will use a bronzer to “contour” with, but strictly speaking this is just a more precise application of bronzing. My personal favourite contour shade is Illamasqua’s Powder Eyeshadow in the shade Heroine.
Bronzers should again be slightly darker than your natural skin tone, but this time warm-toned. Avoid anything too warm as it can look orange on your skin & instead aim for something close to your natural tanned skin. A lot of high-street bronzers are super shimmery which can look nice when combined with a tan, but a matte shade is more natural looking. I’m a big fan of the Too Faced Milk Chocolate Soleil Bronzer.
Highlighters should be significantly paler than your skin tone, but match your natural undertone. For example, if you have a warmer skin tone then a warm or yellow-toned highlighter is more likely to suit you, while cooler skin tones are more likely to suit pink-toned shades. The level of shimmer in your highlighter is up to you, but I particularly like Becca’s Shimmering Skin Perfector (Pressed) in Moonstone because the glow is more metallic than glitter-based.
1 // Prep your base – Because these techniques are an illusion, a clear base will help them stand out & prevent them from looking muddy. If you’re contouring on top of a light coverage foundation, or without a base then I’d suggest using a lighter touch than if you’re wearing a full coverage foundation.
2 // Contour – The classic places to contour are: just under the cheekbone, along the jawline & down the sides of the nose. When chiselling out your cheekbones it can help to suck in your cheeks & then “draw” a line, starting at your ear to around two thirds of the way to your mouth. You can then blend this line out to make it look less stark, but I’d recommend blending upwards only to avoid it looking muddy – you want the “shadow” to still look sharp. With both your jawline (just under your jawbone & down your neck) & your nose (either side of the bridge), less is definitely more – a natural contour should be subtle enough to enhance your features without drawing attention to itself.
3 // Bronzer – The general rule is to bronze anywhere you would naturally tan. In practice this means your temples (either side of your forehead), your cheeks (just above where you’ve contoured) & the bridge of your nose. You can also bronze along your jawline, which creates a classic 3 shape on the side of your face – easy to remember & difficult to mess up.
4 // Highlighter – As with contouring, the aim of highlighting is to enhance your natural features, so most people choose to highlight the areas where light naturally hits the face: the cheekbones (between your bronzer & your under-eye), the bridge of the nose, & the Cupid’s bow (just above the lips). You can also highlight above & below your brow arch, & your chin, but as someone with naturally oily skin I tend to avoid going all-out because it can quickly veer from inner glow into super sweaty territory.
As you can see above, on a blank face contouring, bronzing & highlighting can all end up looking pretty extreme but when elements like brows, eyeliner, blush & lipstick are added it all comes together.
Hopefully this run-down has helped clarify a few things about these techniques, but if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to let me know on Twitter or in the comments below.