Contour makeup and highlighter makeup are all the rage. Adding a darker touch under the cheekbones, around the temples, and under the jawline can do wonders for framing your face and enhancing your angles. And brushing highlight on your cheeks, chin, nose, and brow can effortlessly add layers of light to your look.
Highlighting and contouring is more than just a trend. It’s nothing new to the world of makeup; using shadows and light to change the shape of your face has been around forever, though those techniques have been used most consistently by drag queens, stage actors, and performers of all types, way before it was picked up in some of the best makeup tutorials, by makeup artists like Teri Panosian and Rose Kimberly.
But if your color match isn’t quite right, or your line is too low, or you’re not using the best contouring makeup, or you’re following a makeup tutorial that’s not made for you, there’s always the risk of it looking a little off. The same goes for a highlight — unblended or misplaced, even the softest highlight can stick out like a sore thumb. No matter how much you blend, it’s easy for highlighting and contouring to end up looking dramatic. And while we all know that there’s a difference between day looks and night looks, sometimes you want to stay on the subtle side.
But it’s not that hard to integrate a little light and shadow into your makeup routine, as a way to subtly shape your face to draw attention to your favorite features. Achieving the perfect no-makeup makeup look with highlight and contour is often a matter of carefully matching your foundation, keeping your brush strokes light, and keeping your brushes clean throughout the whole process.
Before you even think about shades, powders, and painting, your brushes are the key to highlighting and contouring for no makeup makeup. Light, long, gentle brushstrokes will distribute powder softly on the skin surface, where heavier application might leave high-contrast spots that aren’t easily blended out.
Aim to apply your highlight and contour with angled brushes that have closer, softer hairs, so you can maximize control and comfort while applying your makeup. Clean your brushes well before you start painting your face — it’s easy for darker pigments to get caught in the brush, turning your subtle lines into deeper shadows.
The first thing to remember when highlighting and contouring for a daytime no-makeup look is to go only a shade or two lighter and darker than your foundation. You won’t always need a full contour makeup kit, but some variety is always good. When picking out your perfect shades, look for something matte as well as something shimmery — you’ll want to have options available to you, depending on the glossiness of your skin and foundation.
If you want a reasonably-priced selection of powders that go on softly, blend easily, and sit comfortably on sensitive skin, then the Chocolate Bar palette from Too Faced is the best way to add some shimmer into your life. This palette is technically for eyeshadow, but their collection of golds, pinks, bronzes, and browns, can also double as beautiful bronzers, blushes, and illuminators. It’s a great palette for all your makeup needs, for a variety of skin tones, and it literally smells like chocolate.
For rosier skin tones, NARS offers four luxurious-looking pinky powders from the Sarah Moon palette. For darker skin tones, IMAN cosmetics has a luminous tricolor palette with low, high, and mid-tone powders. For both, Covergirl’s Nudes TruNaked eyeshadow palette works wonders as a highlight and contour kit.
Remember, there’s a world of difference between Instagram makeup and everyday, office looks. While a dollop of illuminator might make your skin shimmer and sparkle in a selfie, it doesn’t exactly translate well to face-to-face close contact. In this case, less really is more. And because you’ll be using less of it and blending it more, this is one of those special occasions where you can justify splurging on high-quality makeup.
Once your highlights and lowlights are applied to accentuate areas that get more or less light, it’s time to blend. Use a round brush with short hairs in little, gentle circular motions, blending from the center of the face outwards. It’s important to blend evenly and thoroughly, even if you think that you’re blending your makeup away. When it comes to a no makeup makeup look, subtlety is the name of the game. Your face is already gorgeous — you’re just putting your favorite features into the light!