How to Highlight & Contour for Your Face Shape

Highlighting and contouring is a makeup technique that fakes light and shadows to add depth and dimension to the face. Like any other makeup technique, highlighting and contouring tricks the eye into seeing what you want it to see. You can add attention to certain features, just as you can make other features less noticeable. Find out what highlighting and contouring can do for your face, and how to properly highlight and contour for your face shape.


What is highlighting?

Highlighting brings light to the face. You should highlight anything you want to stand out or appear more prominent. Usually people highlight their cheekbones to make their face look more structured. If you have a small nose or forehead, you can highlight it to make it look larger.

How to highlight:

Use a product that is two to three shades lighter than your foundation to highlight areas of the face. Understand that where you apply your product is going to depend on your face shape and your preference — avoid applying on areas you don’t want to bring attention to.

You can highlight using:

  • Concealer
  • Highlight powders
  • Foundation


Using concealer is probably the most popular way to add light to the face. Try NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer for a great coverage and creamy, blendable application. Choose a shade that is two to three shades lighter than your foundation and apply it under the eyes to cover dark circles and add brightness. Blend it out with a small foundation brush, like the MAC foundation brush or a Beauty Blender.


Typically, highlight powders have a shimmer to them, so they bring a ton of light and glow to the face. Consequently, if you have a lot of texture or large pores it will make them more noticeable, so you’re going to want to use it a little more sparingly and thoughtfully. Try BECCA x Jaclyn Hill Champagne Pop Highlighter — apply it to the high points of your cheek bones for light-catching radiance, and on the cupid’s bow to make your lips look extra full. 


If you want to highlight (and/or contour) your face but don’t want to use other products on top of your foundation, you can highlight and contour in one step using just foundations. Choose two different foundation shades — one that is 2 shades lighter than your face as a highlight, and one that is 2 shades darker than your face to contour. Apply the light foundation on the points of your face that you want to appear bright.


What is contouring?

Contouring brings depth and darkness to the face. Anything you want to appear further away or “disappear,” you should contour. You can contour the hollows of their cheeks to add structure to the face, or on the perimeter of the face to make it appear slimmer.

How to Contour:

Use a product that is two to three shades darker than your foundation to make certain areas appear receded. You can contour using creams, powders and foundations. Be sure to use colors that are more taupe than orange — it will look more natural.


Choose a cream contour that is easy to blend and looks natural — try Anastasia of Beverly Hills Cream Contour Kit. Apply to the hollows of your cheeks to make your cheek bones look more chiseled and structured. Add it on the perimeter of your face along your hairline and on your jawline to make your face look thinner. You can contour your nose by adding the cream along the sides of the nose to make it straight — if you want your nose to look thinner, apply the product close together; if you want your nose to look wider, apply it further down on the sides of your nose; if you want it to look shorter, apply some on the tip of your nose.


If you are going for a more natural look and don’t want to layer powder or cream over your foundation, you can do it all in one step using foundations. Choose two different foundation shades — one that is 2 shades lighter than your face as a highlight, and one that is 2 shades darker than your face to contour. Try the Make Up Forever HD Ultra Foundation Sticks — they are fast and give you an easy way to apply by just “drawing” the highlight and contour on your face. Apply the light foundation on the points of your face that you want to appear bright, and the darker shade on the parts of your face you want to recede. 

Highlighting and contouring for your face shape

Now that you know what highlighting and contouring is, you need to identify your face shape in order to know exactly where to apply your products. 

Oval Face: If you have a wider forehead, prominent cheekbones and your face gracefully tapers toward the chin, you have an oval face.

  • Contour: Sides of jaw and temples
  • Highlight: Chin, temples, above the cheekbones and outer eyebrows

Long Face: If your face gracefully tapers toward the chin, you have an elongated face from forehead to chin (and possibly a prominent chin), then you have a long face.

  • Contour: Forehead near the hairline, lower cheeks and chin
  • Highlight: Above the cheekbones and temples

Round Face: If your face width and length are almost the same, with the widest point being your cheeks, you have a round face.

  • Contour: Sides of jaw, temples and the neck area
  • Highlight: Center of the nose, cheeks, chin and forehead

Square Face: If your forehead, cheekbones and jawline are almost the same width and you have a prominent, square jawline you have a square face.

  • Contour: Sides of jaw and temples
  • Highlight: Center of the nose, cheeks and chin

Triangle/Heart Face: If you have a prominent forehead, a face that strongly tapers toward the chin (which tends to be more pointed), then you have a heart shaped face.

  • Contour: Temples and chin
  • Highlight: Lower cheeks on jawline

Highlighting and contouring is an easy way to give your makeup look a little something extra. You can do a light application for an everyday look, or go a little more dramatic for a night out or special event. Try different combinations of creams and powders to see what works for you — there’s no right or wrong way to wear your makeup!

If you’re looking for more makeup tips, check out our Beauty section.

Photo credits: Kristen LoveMake Up Forever




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