How To – Highlighting and Contouring

Highlighting and Contouring is an amazing makeup skill to have. Whilst it’s on the more advanced end of what most people do as part of their daily makeup routines, it can really transform the way you look.

In basic makeup terms, Contouring is applying a darker colour than your skintone to the areas of the face you wish to recede or appear smaller, whereas Highlighting products are lighter than the skintone and draw attention to areas you’d like to bring forward.  Check out this picture of Tyra Banks – if you look carefully you’ll see the makeup artist has contoured the sides of her forehead, making it appear smaller. They’ve contoured underneath her cheekbones to make them appear sharper and highlighted the top of her cheekbones and temples to make them look higher.  Her nose has been given shape and definition with a combination of highlighting and contouring also.

So, how can you use this technique at home? To start with, you’ll need to get to know your bone structure. Where do your cheek bones hollow out? Have a poke around and get to know where they are, from your ears down towards the bottom of your nose or mouth. Where is the top of your cheekbones? Could they stand out more with a bit of highlighting? Do you have a wide or square jawline you’d like to look less noticable? Are you like me and have a massive forehead that could do with looking a little smaller? Or is your nose flat and you’d like it to look more shapely or narrow?

Next is where to apply the product? Everyone’s bone structure is different so we’ll all contour and highlight differently. Here’s a picture of my face and a dodgy MS Paint job showing where I use highlighting and contouring on myself.  The pale yellow is where I highlight, the brown is my contouring area, and the pink is where I generally apply blush on myself.

The contoured areas are under my cheekbones (you’ll see the shape is kind of like a wedge shaped sponge), the sides of my forehead, the crease of my eye (not necessary if you are wearing eyeshadow, but as you know, a lot of eyeshadow techniques do this anyway), the sides of my nose and underneath my jaw (to make my jawline appear stronger).

The highlighted ares include my browbone (again, most eyeshadow techniques include this), the top of my cheekbones and temples, the inner corner of my eyes, the length of my nose, and the centre of my lips (as seen in this tutorial I did last year – to make my lips appear fuller).

Obviously if you don’t have a large forehead like me you can skip the contouring there, or if you have a broader jawline you can blend the contouring down from the hollow of the cheekbone instead of  bringing it back to the base of the ear. Likewise if  you have a nose you think is too prominent you may choose to skip the nose highlighting all together.

The key to this technique – and I cannot stress this enough – is subtlety. You don’t want it to look as though you’ve drawn shapes all over  your face with makeup, it should all blend and have soft lines, not stand out or be harsh. Apply a small amount at a time, step back and see if you need more but take it easy – less is definitely more.

Tools – I use a variety of brushes – large, small and really small. My favourites? For the face – MAC Brushes #168 (an angled blush brush), #165 (a tapered blush brush), #138 (a tapered powder brush), for eyes – MAC #217 (fluffy blending brush) and #219 (bullet shaped brush) and for nose MAC #227 (large domed brush).  Of course you don’t need all of these, but the shapes of these brushes are worth checking out for ease of application – find what works best for you.

Products – you can use liquids, creams or powders, the colours will depend on your skintone. Contouring products should be about 2 shades deeper than your skin, and highlighters about 2 shades lighter. I suggest people start with powders as they are easier to blend and apply, so there’s less chance of looking like a zebra at the end of it! Also worth noting, you can use a shimmery product as your highlighter if you like, but your contouring product should be matte. My commonly used products?


MAC Phloof or Shroom or Orb eyeshadow (powder, light skintones)
MAC Shape Powder in Accentuate or Empasize (light – med skintones)
MAC Irridescent Powder in Belightful (light – med skintones)
NARS Multiple in Copacabana (cream product, light – med skintones)
MAC Cream Colour Base in Improper Copper or Hush (cream product, med – dark skintones)
MAC Patina or All That Glitters Eyeshadows (powder, med – dark skintones)
MAC Moisturecover Concealer – 1 – 2 shades lighter than your skin tone


MAC Shaping Powder in Bone Beige or Sculpt (light – med skintones)
MAC Blush in Harmony (powder, light – med skintones)
MAC Charcoal Brown or Brown Down eyeshadows (powder, dark skintones)
MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural in Dark or Deep Dark (powder, med – dark skintones)
MAC Studio Stick Foundation – 2 shades darker than your foundation

Woah! Mammoth post! If you’ve made it this far – well done! I hope this has given you some idea of how to use this technique at home, and like everything you’ll get better with practice. Let me know if anything is unclear or you have further questions!

Gemma xxx


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