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4 Jul 2012

Products I use for Contouring

Kevin Aucoin's take on contouring
I am not blessed with naturally sucked-in cheeks or high cheekbones.  I have an oval shaped face but rounded cheeks (not the cutesy-pie variety of rounded cheeks either unfortunately, the high-colouring slightly-rosacea-inclined ones that have been, down through the years, called unflattering names like "ruddy" and "outdoorsy"). So I correct and conceal the arse out of my redness, and fake a slimmer face and higher cheekbones with contour.

"Contouring" is a technique used to give the face a particular shape.  In days of yore, it was considered a way to "correct" it, although I don't like that term, as this suggests that there's something wrong with one's face shape (the old school of makeup said that the "perfect" face structure is oval.  I think that notion has dated somewhat, especially as models' faces have tended to be more square shaped for the last 10+ years.  Now the consensus is to just work with whatever face type you have).

Essentially, "contouring" is used to add depth (shadow) and brightness (highlight) to your face to make your cheekbones higher, or to change the appearance of your nose, or to create an impression of a slimmer face, or to camouflage a double chin, or to shorter a long forehead, or sharpen a weak chin line, or even make your cheeks look slightly rounder... Not everyone wants, or needs, to contour.  But if you're curious about the products I use, read on!

All of these contouring tricks* follows the principles of chiaroscuro**;  dark colours/shadows recede (or "push back") and bright colours/highlights advance (or "pull forward") facial features.

A discussion of contouring really isn't complete without considering both of these - shadows and highlights, but for the sake of this post I'm just going to discuss what (in makeup terms) are considered "contour products", ie products that create the illusion of shadows on the face (I am obsessed with highlighters... if I started in on the list of my preferred highlighters, I'd be here all day just listing them!)

* The Italian for makeup, Il Trucco, means "The Trick", which I must admit I find incredibly apt!
** Another Italian word, meaning light (chiaro) and dark (scuro)

Some of my favourite contouring products
Products used to contour are usually more ashy, or cooler, in tone, but not always.  The reason for that is because shadows, which we are trying to create, are greyer-toned.  However, for darker skins, ashy tones can look unnatural, so for those skin tones I often use a slightly warmer product.

Cream contour products I love

Some of the cream contour products that I love
Kett Fix Crème foundation - available in cool (ruby), neutral or warm (olive) tones (for some more information on cool/warm tones, look here), in palette or compact form.  One of the most stunning foundations known to man.  Waterproof, long lasting, hydrating, droolsome.  I love it.  When I want to do a quick foundation on my face, I use a flat foundation brush and three or four of these foundations and apply to my face, somewhat similarly to the opening picture, and then using a buffing brush, buff these out with a sheer foundation in my own skin shade/tone.  This gives me instant shape to my face and incorporates foundation, corrector, contour, highlighter all in one go.

L->R: MAC Cream Colour Base in Root,
Maybelline Colour Tattoo #35 US /#40 Europe
Illamasqua Cream Pigment in Hollow
Illamasqua Cream Pigment in Hollow - this is a gorgeous cream product which is nicely neutral-to-slightly cool-toned and makes for an excellent contour product for the face or body.  It's highly pigmented and sets nicely, but you have to work with it reasonably quickly.  With cream products I find that fingers are usually best, but you can also use a sponge or brush (see here for a link to brush recommendations for contouring).

MAC Cream Colour Base in Root - I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a Pro product, or discontinued.  I used to think it was a great contouring shade for darker skin tones as it has some plum undertones, but as it is a frosted finish, it's not a good idea.  If you've got it, and you're stuck... maybe.  But I don't necessarily recommend it (because of the frost; shadows don't sparkle!)

Maybelline 24 Hour Colour Tattoo in #40 Permanent Taupe (also known as #35 Tough as Taupe in US) - this is a fantastic product, if you can get your hands on it.  It dries extremely quickly, so work quickly with it (fingers and a dense/stiff buffing brush work best).  It is a highly pigmented, inexpensive, grey-toned brown that can be sheared-out or built-up as needed.  The only reason I favour the Illamasqua one is that it's easier to get hold of.


Powder contour products I love

MAC Contour powders L->R:
Harmony, Blunt, Taupe
Shadowy, Prism, Strada
MAC Contour powders L->R:
Blunt, Shadowy, Prism, Harmony, Strada, Taupe
This is a palette of MAC powder blushes that I've put together myself; all are matte and all are usable as contours.
  • Blunt - Muted golden brown (discontinued)
  • Shadowy - Cool, dark taupe brown (pro product)
  • Prism - Muted pink-ish brown
  • Harmony - Muted rose-beige brown
  • Strada - Soft pink-ish beige (pro product; discontinued from permanent line, LE with Gareth Pugh collection)
  • Taupe - Beige brown (pro product; quite similar to MAC Emote (discontinued))
Of these, Shadowy, Strada and Taupe are my favourites for darker (Shadowy), medium (Taupe) and lighter (Strada) skins.  Harmony is available on-counter and is not a bad all-round contour, but it is slightly warmer than I like to use.
L->R: MAC Accentuate/Sculpt, Kevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder,
Avon Blush in Earthen Rose, Make Up For Ever Bronzing Powder #2
L-RKevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder in Medium, Make Up For
Ever Bronzer #2, Avon Earthen Rose, MAC Accentuate/Sculpt   
  • Kevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder (medium) is my all-round favourite contouring product (of the moment, at least).  It is photographing a little warmer here than it appears in real life, but I also have it swatched quite heavily.  It is a fantastic, albeit expensive product.  Read more here.
  • Make Up For Ever Bronzing Powder (#2) is not a bad contour and quite pigmented, but slightly warm - it's similar to a slightly warmer MAC Harmony
  • Avon True Colour Powder Blush in Earthen Rose is similar to the Make Up For Ever's offering but slightly less pigmented.  But if you're medium shade skin and want a cheap contour, you could do worse than this. 
  • MAC Accentuate/Sculpt (the "Sculpt" part is the contour/darker half) is now discontinued but for a long time was my go-to travel contour kit.  Now it mostly sits in the class kit box!

My favourites?

CREAMIllamasqua Cream Pigment in Hollow
POWDERKevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder in Medium


How to contour (your cheekbones)
Your flexible friend!
(Your best friend for creating a really sharp line)

I won't go into a discussion of how to contour or "correct" everything here.  What most people want to do is create sharper or higher cheekbones, so this is how you do it.

There are a few simple ways to contour your cheekbones, but remember the old rule: you can always add, but taking back is harder!  So build-up gently.  You need to be careful with contour to create the illusion of a shadow, not a thick obvious line.

For the simplest way, first off, walk your fingers down along underneath your cheekbone, so you get a feel for what you're contouring.  This is where you want to create a (or exaggerate an existing) shadow.  Suck-in your cheeks and contour into the hollows, take your contour product and apply from the outside part of your face, close to your ear, just under your cheekbone, into the hollow you've created, roughly in-line with one-third of the way in from your eye.  Blend, blend, blend.

If you want a really sharp contour, apply the product using the edge of a credit card or a ruler to give you a sharp line, then blend the hard edge away, but it's unlikely you're really going to want to do this unless you're attending an 80's fancy dress or doing some editorial work.  To further the illusion, add some highlighter along the tops of your cheekbones, this will bounce light from this area and give the illusion of sharper cheekbones.

There's all sorts of tricks you can do - like contouring sharply downwards (from the point where you stopped) to give the appearance of a very thin face; or contouring softly upwards in a slight curve (again, from the point where you stopped) and adding blusher and highlighter in an oval shape, this gives the illusion of more rounded cheeks...

I recommend the Make-up Designory's excellent book "Beauty Make-up" if you want more detailed information on contouring.

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