Contouring is a technique that sculpts the face, creating an optical illusion of shadows which can slim, widen, enhance, or diminish features on the face. It is most popular in the film industry, and used on actors and celebrities on the red carpet to enhance their features and give them a more sculpted look. Its one of those things that people go crazy for, and is often described something that is like ‘plastic surgery without the surgery’ - but its important to keep in mind that it is only an optical illusion (as all makeup techniques are) and you can only work with what you’ve got.
Contouring can only enhance or shape what is already there, and even though it can give you cheekbones you never thought you could have and slim your nose into a more appealing shape, its not permanent and takes a lot of practice and the proper technique for it to be effective.
Another thing to keep in mind is that contouring looks fabulous in photos, but does not always come across so pretty in real life. Contouring is most effective when done with completely matte products with cool undertones and that look grey (like a shadow). However, walking around with huge grey stripes down the sides of your face is not always very flattering. I prefer to use products with more neutral undertones as they still look nice in real life, and aren’t as harsh.
Contouring palettes are something that have become hugely popular, and before purchasing one its important to really think about if the colors will suit your skin tone. One palette may work perfectly for one person, but not show up at all or be too dark for someone else. A lot of companies offer customizable palettes, which are a much better option as you’ll be able to choose colors that suit you as well as ones which you will actually use.
A really helpful blog post I found was one written by one of my favorite makeup artists on Instagram, SoniaxFyza, which explains how to choose the right tones to contour with for your skin tone. Have a read of it and if you are stuck on which palette or colors to purchase, this can be really helpful. Listed below are some of my favorite products to contour with. If you have any other questions please feel free to ask!
Kat Von D Shade & Light Palette
This is one of those things I don’t know how I used to do my makeup without! I heard the hype around it and was skeptical as almost all contour palettes are raved about at one point and then become irrelevant as something new and better comes out, but I continually heard good reviews and decided to try it myself. I purchased mine from Sephora with a few other bits and I’m so glad I finally got it. (Sephora now ships to the UK and P&P is roughly £20, so saving up and buying multiple things or making a group order with friends is the best way of doing it and making it worth the money).
The colors are absolutely beautiful, are so creamy, and blend out like a dream. This palette offers a range of colors which can be used for people who are quite fair (NC15/NW15) up to people who are more tan (NC42/NW35). The three contour shades are gorgeous, and offer a more warm color for bronzing, a more neutral color for contouring, and a deeper cooler color for a more intense contour. I use a mixture of the warm color to bronze and the medium cool color to define my contour. I haven’t yet used the deepest color as I’m saving it for a night out when I’m super self tanned and want a more intense look, but I’ve tested it out as an eyeshadow and its equally as nice as the others! These powders will last through an apocalypse, at the end of the night when everything else has melted off my face - my contour and highlight are just as strong as when I first applied them.
FINAL RATING - 10/10
Anastasia Beverly Hills Customizable Powder Contour Kit
This could possibly be one of the most hyped up makeup products to ever exist. Originally the first palette that was released was the one pictured above, however I knew I didn’t like a lot of the colors in it and waited for the customizable version to be released. You can purchase it on the Anastasia Beverly Hills website, thats where I got mine from.
When I ordered in the past, postage was reasonable and it arrived very quickly. However I recently made an order where I purchased a few of the new Liquid Lipsticks and the Cream Contour Palette, and have had an absolute nightmare with it. It took over 2 months to arrive to the UK, and when it finally did I was sent a note saying I owed over £20 in customs charges. I was so annoyed as I had already paid shipping costs, and decided I would let it be sent back to the US and get a refund when they receive it. I still want the Cream Contour Kit but I’m not paying over £40 for P&P! Just be careful when you order from the US site as its quite hit or miss. I would recommend purchasing from Cult Beauty, which is a UK stockiest that also carries all of her other products. This site will also stock the Cream Contour Kit soon, so when they do and I order mine I’ll do another review of that.
The consistency of these powders are slightly dryer than I expected, but they do still blend nicely. Depending on what colors you choose, you can really create something that works perfectly for your skin tone. The contour shades are gorgeous, and I chose colors which I knew I would get a lot of use out of. I chose colors similar to the ones already in the KVD Palette, one shade to bronze, one to contour, and a darker color to contour for when I’m more tan. The Banana powder was the one I was most excited about, but I actually don’t like it as much as I thought I would as its not as pigmented or creamy as I would like.
FINAL RATING - 7/10
Bobbi Brown Bronzing Powder in Light Medium 1
I purchased this product after hearing such great reviews by YouTubers, and I’m very glad I did get it as its quickly become one of my everyday necessities. The color is absolutely perfect - its not too dark or too warm, and works equally as well as a bronzer as it does as a contour powder. I think what makes it so versatile is the particular shade of the powder, as it does come in a few other colors. Its very neutral and doesn’t have any shimmer or glitter, and the texture is incredibly buttery and easy to blend. I find sometimes when I wear a more dewy full coverage foundation, that I have to set the areas I’m going to be contouring with a powder (which defeats the purpose of the dewy foundation) because powders typically don’t blend very easily on top of a wet foundation. This however works great on any of the foundations I use, no matter how dewy or thick it is. It never looks muddy or too obvious, and is a great every day product.
FINAL RATING - 10/10
NARS Bronzing Powder in Laguna
I am not ashamed to say I bought this purely because of the packaging. I am obsessed with NARS products and have a special drawer on my vanity dedicated to all my NARS products (sad, I know) and needed this one to go with my other NARS bits. I definitely did not need another bronzer, but I’ve always heard such great things so decided to treat myself. It’s not as amazing as I was expecting it to be, and it does have some shimmer in it. Its not particularly warm, and comes across as quite a natural contour on the skin but I can see tiny bits of shimmer when its under natural light and I don’t really like that. I love shimmery products but when it comes to contouring I want a 110% matte color with no shine at all. I do really enjoy this for bronzing, and get quite a lot of use out of it.
FINAL RATING - 6/10
MAC Mineralize Skinfinish - Dark Tan & Dark Deep
I absolutely love to use MSF powders to bronze and contour, and use them every day on pretty much every single customer I get at work. They work so well because they have a very smooth texture as they’ve been baked for 24 hours, and don’t have too much pigmentation to them which makes very them very easy to blend. The colors I personally wear range from Dark Tan to Dark Deep, and by many peoples opinion may be far too warm to use as a contour color. I really like bronzer (as you can probably tell) and like to use a warmer shade to bronze as well as sometimes contour, depending on what look I’m going for. I use Dark Tan every day to bronze, and normally will go over it to deepen my contour with a more neutral shade. But if I’m in a rush or feeling lazy, I will just apply the bronzer all over and then go underneath my contour line on my cheek bones with a lighter powder to bring out my contour. I think these are great for beginners who aren’t scared to look tan and have some warmth to their skin, but its important to have someone try it on for you as a lot of people I try them on really don’t like how warm they can come off. Each to their own, I guess.
FINAL RATING - 10/10
MAC Pro Shaping Powder - Shadowy & Shadester
Shadester was one of the first contouring products I ever purchased, and mine is extremely well loved and on its last legs. You can purchase these online in the Pro section of the MAC website, and come in the pan form (meaning they don’t look like whats in the photo, they are literally just product in a metal pan so you will need something to put them in). I just used to keep mine on top of a MAC blush I owned, and took it out whenever I wanted to use the blush. At that time I didn’t have space for a huge palette and I carried all the makeup I wore in my makeup bag, so less packaging was easier for me. These are by far the best contouring powders you will ever use, and come in a variety of shades. Shadester is more warm (just how I like my contour colors) and Shadowy is more cool toned. They are very pigmented and so incredibly easy to blend. They do not cake up, go muddy, or ever look patchy. They also last until you take them off, and don’t melt with hot weather or sweating.
FINAL RATING - 10/10
Sleek Face Form Kit in Light
I bought this little guy years ago, and used to absolutely adore him. I don’t have the slightest idea where it is now, as it’s been lost in the abyss of my makeup collection. All three of the powders in this palette are incredible and are also very affordable. I got mine from Superdrug, and they come in 3 different shades. The contour powder is very neutral, so doesn’t look too warm on the skin and is pretty easy to blend. The highlighter is a dupe for MAC Soft & Gentle and the blush is an exact dupe for NARS Orgasm, so you really can’t go wrong with this one. The only thing is they don’t last very long on me, and I am not someone who has time to touch up my bronzer. A very soft brush works best with the contour color, as it can look muddy if not blended properly.
FINAL RATING - 8/10
theBalm Bahama Mama Bronzing Powder
I don’t really know what made me buy this, as I’ve not heard a lot of good things about it.. I guess I was curious as I had never owned any products by theBalm before and wanted to give it a go. This bronzer is SO dark, and is probably still way too dark for me even when I’ve tanned myself to the extreme. The constancy is ver smooth, but you need to be very careful as it is highly pigmented. This would probably suit someone darker than I am (NC42/NW35) and would work perfectly as a contour shade. It lasts through sweat and heat and does not fade. The packaging is really cute as well, so its something that will look very pretty in your makeup bag or on your vanity.
FINAL RATING - 7/10
Graftobian HD Foundation Palette - Warm
I purchased this for my freelance kit and am so glad that I did. I wanted something I could use for contouring as well as highlighting that I knew would stay put and not budge, and that also photographed well. This palette is exactly that, and works wonderfully! If you are a makeup artist I highly suggest trying this out, as I find use for it with every single client I have. The texture is unreal, they are so creamy and hydrating and blend out perfectly. They don’t leave an oily residue, which I find a lot of cream contouring palettes can sometimes do. The contour colors are a mixture of warm and cool, and range from light to dark. They can be used on their own for a more dewy look, or set with coordinating powders for a bulletproof and long lasting matte effect.
FINAL RATING - 10/10
MAC Matchmaster Concealer - 8.5
I got this for myself to use for cream contouring, and absolutely love it. The color is quite neutral, and these range from super light to super dark so are great for personal use for contouring as well as highlighting. The texture is very creamy and dries to a matte finish, so they look great on their own and you don’t necessarily need to set them. The tube they are in makes contouring very precise and easy to do, and you aren’t left with harsh lines or weird dark spots once you blend it out. This is my go to product for nights out and I get so much use out of it.
FINAL RATING - 9/10
MAC Cream Color Base - Mid Tone Sepia
I originally wanted the Coffee Walnut Pro Sculpting Cream, but the store I went to didn’t carry that product so I went for this instead. I’ve only used it a few times, but am really impressed. The color is spot on, not too dark or too warm and it blends out really easily. It performs just like the other Cream Color Bases MAC does, which I own in Hush and really like. These are better for more of a natural contour, as they aren’t too pigmented that they look unnatural or like a dark brown stain on your face. Pictured above is the CCB in Mid Toned Sepia (smaller one) next to the Prep&Prime BB Compact in Dark. I also really like those for a natural cream contour as they are extremely smooth, I use them on counter all the time for dry or mature skin as they give a really nice luminous finish.
FINAL RATING - 7/10
I hope this was helpful and answered any questions you might have about what I use to contour, as I get quite a lot of questions on it. My advice is to go into stores and swatch bronzers/contour palettes on your hand and try them on your face if you can. I have bought a lot of contouring products and palettes, and my advice is to stay away from any of the rubbish cheap ones you see on eBay or Amazon. I have purchased several and hated them all, they were way too waxy and had no color pay off. Save your money for something that is better quality and that will last longer!