How To Contour For Every Skin Tone

Contouring can seem intimidating to any makeup newbie (sometimes even to a seasoned makeup lover), but enhancing your cheekbones or jawline doesn't have to be scary — or require the skill of a professional makeup artist. It's all about having the proper product arsenal to get a natural-looking sculpt.

With the abundance of contour kits and palettes on the market, choosing the right product can be just as nerve-racking as adding contouring to your makeup routine. In order to help make sense of it all — because we've all wondered what the difference between bronzer and contour is — we decided to get some insight from our favorite makeup artists. We wanted to know what they love and use most, and here we've broken down the tools and products into easy-to-understand categories. This roundup also includes the best options for different skin tones and skill sets, so that even the aspiring Kardashian will find something to fall in love with.

Ahead, the best of contouring products, tips, and tricks, whether you're new to the contour game or a chisel & bake pro.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

Photo: Via Bobbi Brown.
For First-Timers

“The easiest way to contour is by using two shades of foundation — one that’s matched for the center of the face, the neck, and the high bones, and a second that’s slightly darker to use on the outer perimeter and underneath the cheekbones,” says Pati Dubroff, a makeup artist who works with Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman.

“Cream products are easier to manipulate and erase if you make mistakes,” adds Beau Nelson, whose clients include Kristen Stewart and Nicole Richie. “I’m a big fan of the Bobbi Brown Stick Foundations.”
Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick, $46.00 Buy
Take the guessing game out of contouring. This trio comes with all that you need (concealer, contour, and highlighter), and the cream-to-powder formula is easy to blend.
Fenty Beauty By Rihanna Match Stix Trio, $54.00 Buy
This is the perfect tool for those who have resisted the contouring trend until now. The single chubby wields cream contour and highlighter, is easily blended with fingers, and is an affordable way to see if contouring is right for you.
Maybelline Facestudio Master Contour V-Shape Duo Stick, $9.49 Buy
This contouring and highlighting duo has a handy face chart that details exactly where to dust each powder. Plus, the contouring shade is sheer and buildable, meaning it's nearly impossible to go overboard.
L'Oreal Paris Infallible Pro Contour Palette, $11.97 $5.52, Buy
The easiest — and we mean easiest — take on contouring can be found in the two shades offered side-by-side in this chic, minimalist palette. On the left, you get a rich, creamy contour that blends beautifully into most complexions thanks to its neutral tone; on the right, a lush, shimmery, almost caramel-colored highlighter that brightens up all the high points of the face and adds definition without looking unnatural or obvious.
Kosas Tropic Equinox, $34.00 Buy
Smashbox's contour kit is easy to follow for beginners, and comes in two versions: one for fair complexions (seen here) and another for darker ones. Dust the cooler shade under your jawline and cheekbones, then use the warmer shade along your hairline.
Smashbox Step-By-Step Contour Kit, $45.00 $35.00, Buy
Many brands also provide contour sticks in sets of three to make the whole process that much easier. These normally contain a contour shade, a bronzer shade, and a highlight shade. Always use the dark contour shade first along your cheekbone, and add the bronzer hue right above it for dimension. Then, add the highlight to the bridge of your nose, top of the chin, and corners of the eyes — just remember to blend everything well!

Smashbox Step-by-Step Contour Stick Trio, $45, available at Sephora.
Smashbox Step-By-Step Contour Stick Trio, $45.00 Buy
For YouTube Dabblers

If you already know the basic principles of contouring and want to take your game to the next level, investing in a palette is a wise choice. “This kit has great shades to both contour and highlight," says Mario Dedivanovic, makeup artist to stars like Kim Kardashian. "You can experiment with the lighter shades at first, and then build to the deeper shades once you’re comfortable.”
Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit, $40.00 Buy
Bloggers and vloggers love this stick, which comes in 30 shades ranging from Alabaster to Earth for contouring any skin tone.
Anastasia Beverly Hills Stick Foundation, $25.00 Buy
This four-pan contouring palette contains three sculpting shades and a gorgeous highlighting powder. Plus, it comes with a super-soft angled brush and smells like chocolate. What's not to love?
Too Faced Cocoa Contour, $42.00 Buy
Since you’re already comfortable with the basics, try a palette that can really help bring out your cheekbones. Kevyn Aucoin’s The Creamy Glow Sculpting Powder helps to define the face by balancing dark powder with a creamy highlighter.
Kevyn Aucoin The Creamy Glow Duo, $28.00 Buy
Sure, this palette may look like a simple shading and illuminating duo, but it packs a secret punch: the DHA-laced formula actually tans skin while you’re wearing it.
James Read Tantour Sculpting Duo, £35.00 Buy
If you're trying to find your shade (and wanting to save a few bucks), test out one of these 10 tones.
BH Cosmetics Studio Pro Shade & Define Contour Palette, $11.00 $6.00, Buy
Photo: Via Tom Ford Beauty.
For Aspiring Makeup Artists

There’s only one luxury contour product that the pros swear by, but it’s almost too intimidating for at-home use. “You can work this into a foundation application, or apply it underneath so it looks subtle," says beauty guru Nick Barose. "It takes more blending, but once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s totally worth it.”

There are two different shade levels available for purchase, so this works on almost all skin tones. The “illuminate” portion is a pearly highlight that delivers camera-ready levels of glow. Do consider it for special events or photo opps — but have a backup option for daily use.
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate, $85.00 Buy
Makeup minimalists will love Make Up For Ever's sleek Artist Face Colors palette. Read: You pick the colors, then pop 'em into the palette to create one, easy-to-tote compact.
Make Up For Ever Artist Face Color Highlight, Sculpt and Blush Powder, $23.00 Buy
For Fair Skin Tones

"Surratt’s blush in Grisaille is a great contour that has no orange tones," says Dubroff. "If you’re fair, and you use something with any warmth at all, it’s like the kiss of contour death. This is perfect because it’s a nice, soft tone."
Surratt Artistique Blush, $32.00 Buy
This contour stick blends easily and adds just a small hint of color for those with even the fairest of complexions.
Benefit Cosmetics Hoola Cream-to-Powder Quickie Contour Stick, $28.00 Buy
For Medium Skin Tones

“Apply Aucoin’s sculpting powder with a small, dome-shaped blush brush under the cheekbones and jawline, and on the temples and bridge of the nose,” says Nelson. This shade is the “just right” of dark-but-not-too-dark for those of us who fall in the middle of the skin spectrum. If you prefer creams, Dubroff recommends Chanel Soleil Tan de Chanel Bronzing Makeup Base.
Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder, $44.00 Buy
"This bronzer has a finish that looks like skin, and it adds soft speckles of highlight that allows the skin to glisten," says celebrity makeup artist Camara Aunique. "The shades work well on women of color from your darkest to lightest shade of brown."
COVERGIRL COVERGIRL Queen Natural Hue Mineral Bronzer, $6.64 Buy
Photo: Via NARS.
For Deep Skin Tones

“I love this particular product for darker skins because it comes with a highlight shade, as well,” says celebrity makeup artist Kirin Bhatty. She also recommends following up with a great liquid luminizer in golden or copper shades, like NARS Hot Sand, to really finish the skin.
NARS Contour Blush in Gienah, $42.00 Buy
The Deeper Than Deep shade of this stick goes on super dark — and is the perfect addition to vibrant lipstick and a hit of highlighter.
Tyra Beauty SCULPT IN A STICK, $25.00 Buy
Photo: Via Giorgio Armani Beauty.
“If you’re quite dark, like Lupita Nyong’o, for example, you don’t need to contour. It can look a little too harsh,” says Barose. “Instead, add this bronzey highlight to bring out your features more.”
Giorgio Armani Beauty Fluid Sheer Skin Illuminator, £38.00 Buy
For Applying

If you want to go after that sharper (yet still fine) edge that Dubroff suggests, try Tarte’s Sculpt & Slim Contour Brush, which is made just for that. You can use the fluffy fan brush to contour, highlight, and sculpt cheekbones, and the double-ended brush helps when you’re contouring areas like your nose or browbone.
Tarte tarteist limited-edition sculpt slim contour brush, $32.00 Buy
Photo: Via Make Up For Ever.
“A clean foundation brush, like this one, is helpful for blending without depositing too much product,” says Dubroff.
Make Up For Ever 108 Large Foundation Brush, $36.00 Buy
“If I’m using powders, I prefer to use a fan brush because it creates light layers," says Dubroff. "Plus, since it’s not thick, you can get a sharper (but still very fine) edge under the bones.”
Japonesque Kumadori Fan Brush, £17.00 Buy
For Blending

“Especially if you’re using cream contours, I recommend blending with a damp BeautyBlender sponge to diffuse any lines into the skin,” says Dedivanovic. This can also help you soften the intensity of products by buffing them out for a more clean, even finish.
Beautyblender Pro Black, £17.00 Buy
This uniquely shaped brush hugs the contours of your face so that you can blend smoothly. Make sure to tap off excess product before applying to the skin so that you spend less time blending.
Laura Mercier Glow Powder Brush, $38.00 Buy
Sure, you can use a regular rounded, dense brush to sweep your contour shade through the hallows of your cheeks. But if you're a total beginner and need some guidance, this double-wedged kabuki brush makes every step foolproof.
Sigma Beauty 3DHD Kabuki Brush, $24.00 Buy
Photo: Via Charlotte Tilbury.
For Balancing

It’s not just enough to carve out bone structure using taupes and bronzes. “A pop of color on the apples of the cheeks is important for making the contour look happy, and not just angular,” says Dubroff. This product has the slightest sheen and a sheer color payoff that actually makes blush look believable.
Charlotte Tilbury Cheek to Chic Blush in Ecstasy, $40.00 Buy
Consider this your blush, bronzer, and highlighter all in one. You can sweep through all three powders for the ultimate all-over warmth and glow on your cheeks, or use the powders individually to contour as you please.
It Cosmetics Confidence In Your Glow, $32.00 Buy
Photo: Via Benefit Cosmetics.
For Universal Highlighting

After you’ve contoured and added your color, it’s time to play with highlights. “Apply a liquid highlighter to the high points of the face, and then blend them out with a damp sponge,” Bhatty says. She loves the varied options from Benefit “depending on your skin tone,” but High Beam is a universal best bet.
Benefit Benefit High Beam Highlighter, £22.00 Buy
For Correcting

We all make mistakes, particularly ones that involve getting a little heavy-handed with the contour. Spritzing the face — or your blending sponge — with a hydrating facial spray is one of Dubroff’s go-to tricks for sheering out an overzealous application. The added moisture from the mist makes it easier to soften harsh lines when you go back in.
Too Cool for School Coconut Milky Mist, $14.00 Buy
For Traveling Light

The creamy consistency of Nyx's double-ended bullets means you can draw directly onto your makeup brush before applying, or right onto your skin if you're more advanced. Then, simply blend and buff to get a seamless finish. There are four hues to choose from, making this a great travel-friendly option for any skin tone and skill level.
NYX Professional Makeup Wonder Stick, £11.50 Buy
This double-sided stick from BlackUp makes it easy to contour and highlight on the run. The formula is creamy, long-lasting, and easy to blend with your fingers or a brush.
Black Up Contouring Stick, £31.00 £26.35, Buy
If packing the essentials when on the go means everything but the kitchen sink for you, simply reach for this set of mini contouring sticks instead. Each are the size of a lipstick bullet and cover your shade, highlight, and blush needs.
Trestique trèbebe Contour Kit, $24.00 Buy
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