Learn how to sculpt & shade your way to the most beautiful make-up ever
From sleek balms to mattifying powders, a slick of contour is our go-to for making us feel good and look even better. Acting as the perfect way to add extra dimension to our complexions, long gone are the days of OTT contour looks, replaced now with subtle shading to sculpt and enhance our best features.
The world of contour, however, is still something of a beauty minefield. With such an array of products and an abundance of techniques, it’s often tricky to make an informed decision of what might work best for you. Luckily, we nabbed celebrity make-up artist Lauren Montgomery, who has worked on Gigi and Bella Hadid (no biggie), and asked her our burning beauty questions on all things contouring. So, whether you’re a novice seeking some beginners advice, or are a bit of a pro looking to take your skills to the next level, Lauren has all the know-how – and she’s ready to spill her sculpting secrets.
What’s the difference between bronzer & contour?
‘Many believe bronzer and contour have the same function, but this isn’t strictly true,’ says Lauren. ‘While there are definitely similarities, knowing the key difference is important when it comes to creating that desired sun-kissed or sculpted look. Bronzer works to warm the skin, providing a tanned radiance for an enhanced, more glowing version of your natural complexion. Contour, however, is designed to add cooler tones to sculpt the skin, creating the illusion of more defined facial features. When properly applied, it’s a magic transformation.’
Where do I apply contour?
‘A go-to phrase among make-up artists is “follow the hollow”, which basically means assessing where shadows naturally occur on the face,’ explains Lauren. ‘I then apply my chosen contouring product around the sides of the forehead, down to the temples, and over the jawline for that gorgeous, sculpted look. Depending on your face shape, you can change where you apply your contour. To complement your jawline you can concentrate contour there, or if you want to flatter your forehead you can apply extra product along your hairline.’
How do I apply contour?
‘Once you’ve assessed where you’d like to create shadows, I’d suggest working with a small powder brush for powder contours and an angled sculpting brush with densely packed bristles for cream contours. Next, take a small amount of product, being sure to tap or swipe away any excess before working it into the skin. Blending is key here,’ warns Lauren. ‘If your contour isn’t blended correctly, it won’t look natural at all. And don’t forget to wash your brushes regularly to prevent acne breakouts.’
Need some tips on what tools to use? Check out our edit of the best make-up brushes.
How do I use a contour stick?
‘I like to apply contour sticks directly onto the skin,’ says Lauren. ‘You can then blend out using the warmth of your fingertips, or alternatively a small fluffy brush. Either will work effectively.’
How do I choose the right shade?
‘In order to choose the right shade I always suggest using your natural undertone as a guide.’ says Lauren. A great way of doing this? ‘Look at the tones in the skin on your neck and jaw in natural light to see if they’re cool, warm or neutral.’ Why the neck and jaw? Your face gets the most sun exposure while your neck receives the least. By combining the neck and jaw, you’ll be able to better work out the ideal hue that will bring the whole look together.
Cool undertones – characterised by pink/red/blue hues
Warm undertones – characterised by peach/yellow/golden hues
Neutral undertones – characterised by a mix of cool and warm hues
‘Once you’ve worked out your undertone, select a contour shade that’s two or three times darker than this. Remember, all good contours will likely contain at least some grey pigments.’ Still unsure? ‘Knowledge of how your skin reacts to the sun is also useful here,’ explains Lauren. ‘If you have cool skin you’ll tend to go more pink than olive, so to achieve a natural look, choose contours with a subtle hint of pink. Warm undertones tan easily so they lend well to deep terracotta and chocolate hues, while those with neutral tones may burn then tan, making earthy toned, olive shades good for them.’ Feeling overwhelmed? ‘It’s all trial and error,’ reassures Lauren. ‘Be patient and play around with products until you find what works best for you.’
Is it best to contour with powder or cream?
‘I generally find that powder formulas are great for oilier skin types due to their longevity and mattifying properties,’ explains Laren. ‘For drier or more mature complexions, cream and gel contours are better for achieving a dewy, hydrated finish.’
Our pick of 10 of the best contour products at Boots
The best cream contour
Try: Huda Beauty Tantour Contour & Bronzer, £26
• Five shades
• Water and sweat resistant
This luxurious cream-to-powder contour product’s a deeply pigmented dream that’s easy to apply. Whether you’re after a subtle sun-kissed bronze, or want to layer and build to a full-on sculpted look, this wonder product from Huda combines a balance of shadow and warmth, for a luminous, matte glow that’s never dull. We’d expect nothing less from one of our favourite beauty gurus!
The best powder contour
Try: Iconic London Precision Duo Contour Pots, £26
• Four shades
Contouring novice? This could be the one for you. Introducing the Iconic Precision Duo Contour Pots, a fool-proof way to create a seamless contour. This two-texture innovation combines a feather-light cream base that’s locked in with an ultra-fine powder of dreams. Simply apply the cream, then sweep a layer of powder on top for a long-lasting, natural looking contour that oozes radiance. Consider us sold.
The best contour kit
Try: Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour Kit Light, £29.50
• Free contour brush
Whether it’s defined cheekbones or sculpted jawlines, this easy-to-follow palette from Smashbox demystifies how to add depth, blend in warmth and create an enviable glow. Use the base of the (free) specially designed contour brush to apply the darkest shade to the sides of nose, jawline and underneath cheekbones for a sculpted effect. The lightest shade can be added to the inner corners of the eye, above the cupid’s bow, and across the T-zone to add unrivalled luminosity. We like to apply this with a highlighter brush.
The best contour stick
Try: Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Contour, £21
• Size: 6g
While it may be a 90s throwback, the Clinique Chubby Stick has continued to reign supreme throughout the decades – and for good reason. This creamy contouring stick creates the illusion of depth, and helps to create a sleek, sharp make-up look. Long-wearing and oil-free, this handy stick is perfect for using on the go.
The best gel contour
Try: KVD Beauty ModCon Long-Wear Hydrating Liquid-Gel Contour, £24
• Size: 17 ml
• Eight shades
Crank up the contrast with this gorgeously lightweight, transfer-resistant liquid-gel contour. The high contrast acts like an actual shadow to add realistic depth for the most natural finish. We also adore the hydrating, long-wear formula that keeps skin looking fresh and smooth. Suited to those with even the oilest complexions, this beauty will be your make-up contouring BFF.
The best contour for fair skin
Try: Fenty Beauty Cheeks Out Freestyle Cream Bronzer in Amber, £29
• Size: 6.23g
• Seven shades
If you’re a pale-skinned babe who wants a subtle, softly-defined look, we’ve got you. Fenty’s contour in the shade ‘Amber’ blends seamlessly over make-up without feeling greasy or sticky. We like to use a clean make-up sponge to apply across our cheeks, temples and bridge of our nose. And if you fancy taking it up a notch, simply layer the pigment for a bolder finish. A little goes a long way.
The best contour for medium skin
Try: Wet n Wild MegaGlo Contouring Palette in Dulce De Leche, £5.49
• Size: 12.4g
Those with medium skin tones will be all over this gorgeous option from Wet n Wild. The perfectly complementary contouring duo works to deliver a flawlessly sculpted face with just a sweep. We like to use the deepest, earthiest colour to define, and the lighter colour to highlight our best features.
Want more beauty products that won't break the bank? Check out our edit of the best 17 make-up.
The best contour for dark skin
Try: UOMA Beauty Double Take Sculpt & Strobe Stick in Black Pear, £34.50
• Size: 11g
• Six shades
Dark complexions rejoice, because the double-ended Uoma strobe and contour stick is making all our beauty dreams come true. The sculpting side melts onto the skin with undetectable coverage, while the highlighting end hydrates and illuminates thanks to the infusion of moisturising lychee extract. That most luminous, snatched glow? You got it, gorge.
The best contour palette
Try: NYX Professional Makeup Highlight & Contour Pro Palette, £20
• Size: 208g
• Eight shades
A must in the kit of any make-up artist, this NYX pro palette features a whopping eight customisable highlighting and contouring shades, making it ideal for every skin tone and achieving that ethereal glow.