This is a question that I get ALL the time. First things first, let me start off by saying that I love contouring and I believe that it makes such a huge difference to the overall look of a finished makeup BUT it has seriously gotten out of control! Unless you have a lighting crew that is going to follow you around, your contouring does not need to be visible from three blocks away. You also don't have to contour everything you can get your hands on. By utilizing contouring techniques to enhance your face, rather than recreating it, you can make sure the spotlight is on you.
When I first started doing makeup, I learned a lot from Kevyn Aucoin's book, Making Faces. Even if you aren't looking to become a makeup artist, Kevyn shares multiple step-by-step tutorials that you will find insightful. In this book, Kevyn uses contouring and highlighting to transform celebrities into other icons. One of my favorites was when he turned Susan Sarandon into Bette Davis. The manipulation of light and shadows on the face can make magic happen when used appropriately.
There are three things that are very important when contouring and highlighting.
Contouring is designed to mimic shadows on the face. Shadows are best created using cool tones. Look for brown tones that you would describe as "ashy" or "gray" to utilize when contouring.
On the contrary, highlighting brings more light to your skin and is typically done using warm tones. Warm tones are the shades which look "golden" or "peachy", not "pink".
For daily contouring, I recommend a shade that is 1-2 shades darker than your foundation. For something more dramatic, try 2-3 shades darker.
For highlighting, look for shades that are 2-3 shades lighter than your foundation. Also look for products which have a satin-like finish. Satin. Not sequins.
Here's my pro tip for contouring and highlighting placement.
Stand looking straight into your mirror. Tilt your head down to a 45-degree angle. This will intensify the natural contours of your face. Apply your contour products to the areas where the natural contours appear.
For highlighting, tilt your head up to a 45-degree angle and look for the natural highlight to appear. As Mufasa would say, "Everything the light touches is your kingdom." What he meant to add was "But you don't have to explore the entire kingdom today."
I hope you enjoyed reading some of my thoughts on contouring and highlighting and I hope you found my tips helpful. Please take the time to leave a comment or question below.
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Until next time!