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Ask Belle: Contouring and Highlighting

Dear Belle,

I was wondering if you could do a blog post on beauty and contouring your face. I want to do contour makeup myself for my engagement pics, but I’m at a loss on what products I need and how to apply. Do you have some favorite brushes, foundations, powders etc. that you would recommend?

Sincerely, LF

Contrary to popular opinion, highlighting and contouring (H&C) is not just for special occasions.  There are actually two levels of H&C: pageant makeup and every day application.  Here’s how to achieve both.

Pageant makeup is something akin to face paint.  It takes practice to learn how to apply it without looking like Bozo the Clown’s prettier cousin. Well, practice and the right tools.  But the results can make all the difference when you’re having your photo taken or dressing up for a special event.


First, start with this tutorial from Once Wed (photo seen above).  It’s the best step-by-step guide to special occasion makeup that I’ve ever seen.  Then, compile your arsenal of products (drugstore brands work well for occasion makeup).

For the base, you’ll use your regular foundation or BB cream.  However, you’ll need to buy a “cream concealer 2-to-3 shades lighter than your skin tone” that you will use as a highlighter.  I like NYX Full Coverage Concealer.  You’ll also need a flat brush to apply it.  I use my Laura Mercier concealer brush.

For the contour, Once Wed recommends that you buy foundation “2-to-3 shades darker” than your skin.  I use a stick foundation because I can just draw it on and blend it in later, no brush required.  Iman makes a stick foundation in every shade imaginable, so whatever your skin tone, you should be able to find a complementary shade.

Once you’ve drawn on your highlighter and contour, you should be able to see the lines clearly or else you didn’t apply enough.  To turn this paint-by-numbers into a gorgeous work of art, you’re going to need to blend.  Once Wed suggests an egg-shaped sponge like a BeautyBlender or the cheaper version from Sephora.

Blending is the most important part of this exercise.  You must rub-a-dub-dub until the lines disappear completely.  Take extra care around the jaw and hairline, those are the areas women usually miss.

To complete the look, you need so set the makeup.  Most tutorials suggest setting with translucent powder, but I prefer to use Mally Poreless Face Defender to lock the makeup in place and avoid the over-powdered look.

Want to learn how to contour and highlight for every day?  Read the rest of the post after the jump.

Every Day highlighting & countouring is actually very simple.  Some bloggers will try to convince you that you need a lot of tools and a lengthy tutorial, but I can highlight and contour my face in five-minutes with what I already have in my makeup bag and so can you.

After you apply your foundation and concealer, your contouring begins with blush.  If you don’t already have a fluffy blush brush, get one.  It makes the application natural, light and flawless.  I splurged on the Bobbi Brown version, but this $10 brush from Ulta is just as good.

To contour with blush, apply the darker shade (I use Bobbi Brown Plum) to your cheekbones.  Then, using only the pigment left on the brush, lightly run the brush along the space between your eye and hairline.  Next, run it across your forehead, the tip of your nose and your chin.  Lastly, apply a brighter blush color to the apples of your cheeks for a flushed look (I useBobbi Brown pale pink).

If you don’t want to buy two blushes, you can also use a matte bronzer to accent the cheekbones, forehead, etc.  I like this bronzer from Too Faced.

To highlight, you’ll need a highlighter pencil (this one from Jane Iredale has a white and a pink tip) and a highlighting powder (I like the Lou-Manizers from theBalm).  You will also need a small, fluffy brush.  This $8 setting brush from Real Techniques has the right shape.

First, use the pencil to highlight your brow bone, the inside corner of your eye and the lower lash line–something akin to this tutorial.  Then, add a dot of highlighter to your philtrum (there’s an SAT word for you) and line the underside of your lower lip.  Make sure to blend the highlighter with your fingertips.

Next, lightly apply the powder highlighter under your eyes, above your blush.  (The area is clearly defined in this diagram found on Pinterest).  Also apply a bit of highlighter to the bridge of your nose and the middle of your chin.

Lastly, fill in your eyebrows with this YBF pencil to really shape up your face.

Highlighting and contouring can make a huge difference, even if you’re just applying a small amount of makeup.  So the next time you apply your makeup, give these steps a try.



  1. Meg says:

    The best tutorial on highlighting and contouring EVER is on a great beauty blog I’m a complete idiot when it comes to makeup, but was able to get it after one try with this tutorial:

    September 19, 2013/Reply
  2. M says:

    I was just thinking about this today! Any recommendations for very fair skin for a darker blush? I use Nars orgasm every day.

    September 19, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Orgasm has a coral undertone, so it might not be quite right for this. On fair skin, I would go with a rosy blush as the contrast and a pink blush on the apples.

      September 19, 2013/Reply
  3. Shaunta F says:

    Jaclyn Hill on YouTube has some great tutorials. Here is one for contouring:

    September 19, 2013/Reply