Contouring takes a lot of practice to get right. Experimenting with different shades, formulas and areas of your face can be enough to make you crazy—you will almost always make mistakes along the way. But, that’s where pros can help. Read on to see what top makeup artists say are the most common contouring mistakes women make and how you can avoid them to perfect your look once and for all.
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Using a shade that is too dark.
“One of the big mistakes women often make with contouring is that they use a shade that is too dark, which looks dirty on their skin rather than looking like shading or shaping of their face,” says Susan Posnick, makeup artist and founder of Susan Posnick Cosmetics. “Subtlety is the key.” If you’re a beginner, start with only a shade or two darker than your own skin tone and see how it works. You may work up to three shades darker than your skin, which is generally what makeup artists use.
Assuming their entire face needs to be contoured.
“Not every nose, forehead, chin and temple need a dose of contour,” says Mehron makeup artist Stephanie Klasse. “Most of what is represented as contouring examples will have the most impact and look their best ONLY in a photograph. In person, they DO NOT look the same. If a nose, or entire face for that matter, is improperly contoured, it will look very strange. Start with the basics and give your cheekbones a boost with a hint of contour before blush is applied. Try using a cool-toned powder foundation instead of a cream foundation and finish with a dab of cream blush on the apples of your cheeks.”
“Overdoing your contouring can age you,” says celebrity makeup artist Mary Wiles. “As we age, we naturally loose the plumpness in our cheeks. Look at your face and judge if and where you really need contouring—it’s not for everyone! If you have a long face, you can contour your forehead and temples; if you have a square face, you can contour along your jaw to soften; and if your face is more round, you can do it under your cheekbones and on your chin. I personally love Burberry Cream Contour Sticks for precision, and Lancôme blush palettes (pictured) have great shades if I prefer to use powder.”
Expert tip: Wiles says to apply gently. “It’s always easier to add than take away.”
Not knowing the “over/under foundation” rule.
Posnick says to contour your cheekbones, jawline, temples and sides of your nose, use a shade that is three shades deeper than your foundation shade and apply it UNDER your foundation. “The contouring will look the most natural and subtle that way,” she adds. “I suggest using the Susan Posnick ColorCorrect pencil in shade #3 for light to medium skin tones and shade #4 for darker skin tones. Both pencils provide two different shades that can be used alone or blended together. You can blend them in with your fingertips, but I prefer using a softly angled brush for more precise application.”
For natural-looking contour OVER your foundation, Posnick says to touch up with ColorCorrect or a powder shadow that is two shades deeper than your skin tone. “And when it comes to cheek contouring over foundation, I often like to use a deep mulberry or scarlet shade so that the color can be blended into the cheek with a softly angled brush to look more natural.”
Getting crazy with bronzer.
According to Klasse, bronzer works in a very limited capacity for contouring purposes. “I love bronzer as much as the next girl, but if it is shimmery or warm, keep it out of your contouring arsenal. A product used to contour has to be able to mimic a shadow that structural depth would create. Warm, glistening, terracotta bronzers aren’t going to achieve this trick; they will only leave you looking like you have a dirty face. If you choose to use bronzer to contour, make sure it is more neutral and totally matte (yes, they are out there). Use a slim, firm, angled or pointed blush/powder brush to lightly sweep the bronzer under your cheekbones starting a two to three inches off your hairline and then blend out and up and then down toward (but not all of the way to) the outer corner of your mouth, always following the natural structure of your cheekbones. Always remember to use a light hand.”
Ignoring the highlight.
Balance is very important when contouring. “The purpose of contouring on a professional level is to bring symmetry, dimension and balance to the face,” Klasse explains. “It is not meant to try and create an entirely new face. If you are only focusing on the contour and not balancing it out with a highlight, you are not finishing the process and you may end up looking unbalanced. Whether you are going full-on contour or a light and natural sculpt, make sure you are off-setting the depth created with a highlight at the top of your cheekbone and a little down the center of your nose. This can be achieved with a foundation a couple of shades lighter than your skin or at the very end of the makeup process with a dusting of a shimmery highlight powder.” This 12-shade Mehron Celebre Pro-HD Cream-Contour & Highlight Palette gives you everything you need to create a naturally contoured look.