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Learning to highlight and contour with makeup
makeup 4
Model Leah Davis and makeup artist Randi Scroggs - photo by Michelle Boaen Jameson

Highlighting and Contouring: The Basics

Step 1: Prepare face with moisturizer and primer

Step 2: Apply foundation with flat brush

Step 3: Highlight cheekbones and conceal under-eye circles with lighter shade of foundation by applying it under eyes, all the way down to the edge of the nostrils and then back up to above the ears, making a triangle

Step 4: Highlight nose with the same shade by applying it in another loose upside-down triangle on the forehead between eyebrows, then extend the tip down the center of the nose, into the cupid’s bow of the lips, under the lower lip and a bit on the brow bone to lift the eye

Step 5: Choose a shade darker than the normal foundation to begin contouring the cheekbones by applying the shade in the hollow between the cheekbone and jawbone

Step 6: Contour rest of the face by applying the dark shade along the hairline, temples and tip of nose up the sides into the crease of the eye, then add just a bit of shade under the lower lip to make it appear fuller

Step 7: Blend all of the harsh lines and shades with either a blending sponge or another foundation brush, creating seamless transitions between colors

Step 8: Set the look with a powder by pressing it onto the skin, not sweeping to avoid streaks. Normal to dry skin only need to set makeup under the eyes and in the T-zone. Those with oily skin, set the entire face

Step 7: Finish other makeup (blush, eye shadow, etc.) as desired


Most women have a morning routine of trying to hide areas they see as imperfections on their face with concealer, bronzer or other shades of makeup to help them feel their best.

However, a new makeup method popularized by Hollywood stars is the drastic "highlight and contour," which allows women to create the appearance of fuller lips, higher cheekbones, a thinner nose and more while diminishing the appearance of under-eye circles or blemishes.

"People used to think the only way to achieve high cheekbones and slimmer noses was with layers and layers of makeup," said Randi Scroggs, makeup artist and owner of Chromatic Cosmetics. "Now, we’ve learned it’s all about tricking the eye instead."

For everyday wear, basic highlight and contouring techniques can create a flawless-looking face with minimal effort, once a person knows the steps.

Scroggs admits each makeup artist and online tutorial does the process differently, but a few easy steps consistent across the board.

Each woman should begin by preparing the face for makeup with a moisturizer tailored to her skin, followed by a primer.

"For an everyday look, just use a basic primer," she said, noting gel primers are good for all skin types. "For redness, the best bet is to use a mint or green-tinted primer, and only on the areas that are red. Then, use the normal primer on the rest of the face."

Next, Scroggs applies foundation, noting she feels putting foundation on after the highlighting and contouring adds extra layers to the look.

"To color-match the foundation, test it right beside the neckline," Scroggs said. "Make sure it matches the neck since it’s a little bit lighter than your face."

She suggests using a flat foundation brush to apply the color, mentioning ones with synthetic fibers can be cleaned with simple dish soap.

"If you’re trying to cover areas like acne or dark spots, pressing the foundation into the skin helps it stay on."

Now, the real technique begins. To accurately highlight and contour, a woman will need either creams, concealers or even foundations one to two shades lighter and darker than her skin to design the illusion.

"Creams seem to melt with the heat of the skin and have a more natural feel," Scroggs said. "These work well on dry to normal skin. If you have oily skin, you should definitely use more powders."

Once the shades are determined, Scroggs begins the highlighting process. She starts by concealing under-eye circles, using a clean flat foundation brush.

"You never want to put highlighter or concealer in a moon shape under the eyes," she said. "It makes the dark circles worse in most cases. I start under the eyes, bringing it all the way down to the edge of the nostrils and then back up to above the ears, making a triangle."

After the upside-down triangle is highlighted, Scroggs focuses on the nose. She make a loose upside-down triangle on the forehead between the eyebrows and then extends the tip down the center of the nose, into the cupid’s bow of the lips, under the lower lip and a bit on the brow bone to lift the eye.

"If you have a small forehead, highlight more there," Scroggs said. "You have a large forehead, contour more. Contouring helps to hide something."

She then switches to the darker shade and contours the face, starting with cheekbones.

"Start at the tops of the ears and go at an angle towards the corner of the mouth and stop about an inch from the mouth," she said. "Finding the right spot to add the contour here is tricky."

As a marker, Scroggs advised her clients to make a "fishy face."

"The hollow area is where you add the darker shade," she said.

But adding too much contour will make the look very angular and sharp. Blending won’t be as seamless, Scroggs said.

Next, she works her way around the face, adding contour along the hairline, temples and sides of the nose up into the eyebrows.

"Go from the tip of the nose up the side into the crease of the eye," Scroggs said. "With this, if someone has a very wide nose or a very flat nose they can change the shape of it."

Using a smaller, flat brush works better when applying contour to the edges of the nose. Scroggs also adds just a bit of the darker shade under the bottom lip for a "pout" effect and a bit more very lightly along the jaw line.

When all of the shading is applied, the most important step begins: Blending.

"You never want any sharp lines when highlighting and contouring for an everyday look," Scroggs said. "Take a clean foundation brush or a beauty blender and start blending your colors."

If the contour is not dramatic enough, a woman can add bronzer to the areas after blending for effect.

"Always use an olive- or brown-based bronzer, never a red-based one," Scroggs said. "Tap it on to avoid smudging."

Finally, set the look with a powder. Scroggs suggests a stage-ready powder used in theater productions or photography because it is designed to sustain intense activity.

"For normal skin, press the powder under the eyes and in the T-zone," she said. "For oily skin, set the entire face with powder. Older women don’t want to use too much powder because it will seep into any wrinkles."

Once the face is blended and set, women are ready to continue their makeup with blush and eye makeup to complete the look. However, Scroggs noted she does eye makeup first to avoid any streaks on the face from loose powder falling on the cheeks, but many artists and women have different preferences.

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