Contouring is the biggest minefield of the make-up world, and is something that can go horrendously awry – we have all seen it or done it. I know I have, when I used to create a couple of mars bars on my cheeks with Chanel bronzer and not blend it ever nearly well enough! Thankfully after a lot of searching, I have found the perfect products and now deploy them regularly, but never daily. Life is too short for that!
The basic principle of contouring is that dark, matte shades recede anything prominent, while pale shades bring them to the fore so you can cheat this using light and dark products and make a wide face appear slimmer, your nose appear narrower or the jaw line and cheekbones more defined. It’s a trick born in old Hollywood and it certainly works exceptionally well, if you can spare the time, use a very light touch, have access to a great brown and matte (never sparkly!) powder or créme product, in the correct shade – around four shades darker than your natural one as a flexible rule of thumb.
So that’s quite a lot to remember, right?!
But thankfully the products below alleviate almost every concern. They’re cool enough (good contour has to mimic real shadow so must have grey under or overtones) to not seem fake, they’re blendable, last well and look lovely and natural.
I’m all about the natural look, but to achieve it you have to be pretty careful in the daytime not to look too obvious, but you can get away with a bit more at night time and in photography – which tends to knock down makeup intensity by at least 20 percent, this being the reason wedding makeup artists can be quite heavy-handed, in order to account for the loss of intensity stolen by the camera flash.
So, whether you want a créme, powder, gel or balm; whether your skin is dry, oily or combination; whether you’re skin tone is pale, medium, or dark, I have something for you below so keep reading. What’s more, I’ve attached a YouTube link featuring each one so you can see it being used by a pro on a real person.
Don’t say I’m not good to you!
The Best Contour Products in The World
Illamasqua Gel Sculpt in Shade Silhouette £22 (gel stick)
Alex Box (makeup artist extraordinaire and founder of Illamasqua) and the brand are renowned for adventurous, colourful, experimental makeup looks and extremely pigmented products. Soft and super-natural isn’t generally the aim of the Illamasqua game but with this (game-changing) product, they play it surprisingly well!
Yes, this is obviously a tinted translucent gel stick but it also looks prohibitively dark in the tube – almost like dark bitter chocolate or a tube of solidified Coca Cola – but that alarming shade thankfully doesn’t translate to the skin. It is actually a very delicate and subtle, shimmer free, sheer, coolish toned brown – although it’s slightly warmer than most good contouring products, there’s definitely a good enough dose of ever-important grey shade there (the one we need for great imperceivable contouring) and I absolutely LOVE it.
Alex Box advises that we apply the product straight from the bullet to the fleshy part of your palm just under the thumb, then place the opposite sides fleshy part under the thumb, on top and smoosh together before pushing the part of the hand onto cheeks – it actually nestles perfectly into the hollows of the cheek. Although this is an interesting little trick, and I’m not remotely qualified to argue with Alex Box… But I’m going to…
I suggest you don’t apply it that way. I think you should apply to the back of your hand then pick up with a contour brush from the hand or from the bullet and take to the cheek and then blend with a brush or a sponge or use a contour brush to pick up some product from the stick and apply to the desired area, under the cheek bone.
It’s brilliantly buildable so you can layer for a stronger look and there’s generous playtime so you don’t have to work too quickly.
It’s also weightless in texture so there’s no chance of heavy product build-up or a cakey finish. Once it sets, the finish isn’t shiny, creamy or matte, just a gorgeous skin-finish that looks like you’re having a great skin day! It’s also water-resistant once it sets, so your chiselled and defined set of cheekbones aren’t going anywhere!
I can’t think of any contouring product like her or any I would recommend more. This reasonably priced, natural-looking, intuitive little stick is my number one!
Illamasqua Gel Sculp Video:
This is amazing for daytime! My fave contour video. Not scary at all!
Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder in Medium £35 (powder)
This is an absolute must-have for any professional kit and is used by the best of the best. Makeup artistry queens Lisa Eldridge and Charlotte Tilbury love this powder contouring offering product from the man who probably invented contouring and whose technique remains unrivalled – the late, great, Kevyn Aucoin. This is a medium-dark taupe brown with very subtle warmth and a mostly matte finish, though I think there’s a slight satin there too.
It’s a very shadowy contour, so would never ever multitask as a bronzer, but it has no need to when it’s worth its weight in gold for the job it’s designed for, although it is pretty much the price of gold, when you compare the quantity of product and cost. In the last couple of years they changed the packaging (and colour and formula despite what they say!) ditching the rubbish and pointless brush and cutting the volume of product by half yet kept the price the same… which is more than a tad questionable!
Anyway, what little product remains is marvellous. It reads warmer in tone in the pan and swatched, but on the face it translates to the skin like a genuine shadow: cool-toned, and very much like an authentically sculpted face. It’s the perfect contouring shade for so many people.
The creamy-textured powder product is incredibly pigmented, and a little goes a long way but it’s not as pigmented as the old formula so if you found that a little difficult to work with (as I did), try the latest incarnation. It’s a beautiful, silky, buttery soft, smooth, and blendable powder that applies easily and sits well on the skin without patching or fading all day.
Five Gold (or at least a taupey, browny, greyish coloured) stars from me!
Kevyn Aucoin Sculpting Powder in Medium Video:
Benefit Hoola Bronzer £23.50 (powder)
Britain’s biggest selling bronzer and winner of an impressive number of sought-after beauty awards, this was also the bronzer of my teenage years. (Back when I used to cover my whole face in it like smeared dirt for wild nights out… at a tree in a muddy field in the middle of nowhere. For real)
I’ve only recently reacquainted myself (and altered my application approach to move with the times) with this reliable matte pressed powder contour housed in impractical signature cardboard box packaging, which although nostalgically lovely, is far from ideal. It does however come in handy for catching the inevitable and unwelcome fallout from this powder.
The included brush isn’t totally awful, unlike almost all free ones – it’s kind of like a teeny version of Nars Ita brush. But benefit have been putting it in their boxed collections for forever, so they got there first, Nars! Though I don’t think you guys have anything to fear, this brush won’t take-off any time soon – but I’d say it’s only for use in emergencies because it’s far mediocre at very best . And by emergency, I mean the most vulgar and vacuous of first world emergencies (forgetting your blender brush) obviously.
So far, so bad, right? Teenage fave, muddy looking, dodgy packaging, unreliable brush, nasty fall-out of brown talc-looking puffs of powder every time you dip a brush in the box…
It’s worth all of that because Its great on everyone from pale to dark. Tap off the brush and the fall out won’t cause any problems or streaking.
I like it for a contour rather than a bronzer so I don’t really multitask with it (I do prefer a tiny bit micro shimmer in bronzer – not glitter– for extra dimension and so as not to be so flat and matte looking) but you certainly could and millions, do.
It lasts forever and has ‘Holy Grail’ status among countless beauty bloggers and journalists.
Hoola makes me happy and £23.50 is a reason all price for such a stalwart.
If you’re one of the few who haven’t given her a go, please do. Or if you have tried her for bronzer and she made you look muddy or dirty, try her for contour and I think you’ll be delighted!
Benefit Hoola Bronzer Video:
This is quite OTT but will suit you if you’re looking to go dramatic or for a big night out 🙂
Make Up For Ever Pro Sculpting Face Palette £26 (cream)
Deliciously creamy and blendable cool toned taupey grey. Plenty of playtime and once it sets it has a lovely satin matte finish that can be worked on to create an undetectable layer of product. The ingredients include silicone-coated pigments and waxes to help blend smoothly and also to stick to the skin without migrating elsewhere throughout the day. It’s creamy but not greasy once on the skin and it blends seamlessly with anything else on your face.
It’s a pro line but the products work so brilliantly that they’re amazing for makeup newbies of all ages too. It even comes with instructions on how to contour all face shapes which is actually really handy because there isn’t a one-style-fits-all contour method like we are constantly told on YouTube and on magazines!
On a side note: this kit also comes with a matte highlight, a shimmer highlight and a blush créme colour too so everything you need to create a perfect flawless base is housed inside the no-fuss, slimline, clear plastic packaging. The packaging is designed for pros to be able to see inside with just a glance and transport easily but it’s good for all of us for the same reasons.
With a four fantastic quality products in one sleek and handy palette, four skin tones to choose from, and good instructions included, everyone has everything they need to up their sculpting and shaping game to a whole new level!
This is a winner!
Makeup For Ever Pro Sculpting Face Palette Video:
Kevyn Aucoin The Creamy Glow Duo £22.50 (cream)
There’s no getting away from the fact this is a staggeringly small quantity of contour. I’d much prefer if it was bigger as its a bit of a faff to get my brush in and I have to put the créme onto my hand and then pick up with a brush from there so the brush is loaded evenly with product and won’t be patchy. I don’t understand why the sections of contour and highlight aren’t the same size but that aside, this is a wonderful highlighting and contouring set of shades in a deliciously creamy and blendable formula.
I think this will be nice on medium and fairer skin tones, with it being very subtle on darker skin tones. The contouring shade will possibly be too subtle for many on a very deep skin tone, though the highlight should be delightful and it’s still worth a try if you’re in the market for a very natural contour and have dark skin.
This contour is gorgeously creamy and emollient and easy to blend but with deceiving longevity.
This is obviously the créme version of the magnificent Kevyn Aucoin contour powder, ‘The Sculpting Powder’ reviews above. For the ultimate long-lasting and more dramatic contour, use the powder over the top to set this and the staying powder will be stratospheric. I like to use it alone though.
The Sculpting Medium contour créme part is a medium-dark brown with some yellow undertones and a slightly gray overtone that once dry has an enviable satin-matte finish.
On a side note the highlighter in this is stunning too; a champagne gold with a luminous sheen and very expensive looking, subtle shimmer. This helps emulate a perfect natural dewy glow on the skin that works as well on bare skin as it does layered over foundation. You can even dab over the cheekbones (with your fingertips) that you’ve powdered with either setting powder or powder highlighter and it won’t break up the product beneath and texturise. It’s more golden than the candlelight powder and is similar to Becca powder highlighter in the shade ‘moonstone’.
Kevyn Aucoin The Creamy Glow Duo Video:
(Starts using at 11 mins 49 seconds)
Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow Palette (£49) (pressed powder)
This is the contouring equivalent of an Oscar winning movie star!
Arguably the most gloriously finely-milled lightweight, silky pressed powder on the market, this one is good at contour AND bronzing, which no matter what they tell you, is as rare as a unicorn!
It’s a great contour colour and although usually I like a matte contour, this has a smidgen of micropearl in it that gives it the most subtle sheen but it’s not sparkly at all! It’s just like perfectly polished satin. It’s so foolproof and a very forgiving colour and formula so you can’t really go wrong. It’s so smooth and gives good colour payoff but blends like a dream.
The powder comes in a beautiful rose gold Art Deco style compact that features both bronzer (for the purposes of this post, the contour) and a highlighter. I can see why this is one of the most raved about and popular products from the absurdly successful Charlotte Tilbury range and she is ideal if you want your contour, bronzer and highlight housed together – and accompanied by a great big mirror.
Substantial and is stunning and it’s so decadent you can whip it out on the tube with pride!
There’s also quite a bit of product in the compact, so it’s a better value than some of the other products in the range. They’re both nice products, and if you regularly bronze/contour and highlight, it may be convenient to have it a single palette together.
The highlight section houses a pretty pale champagne beige silky powder with the signature Charlotte luminous, sheeny, non-glittery, ‘divine, darling!’ finish! If you want megawatt highlight, you should go for something like MACs Mineralise Skinfinish in ‘Soft ‘n’ Gentle’ or one of the Becca powder highlighters. I like them a lot and sometimes you do want an OTT highlight but this is classier, film star quality highlight versus reality star highlight.
This one’s worth the hype. You ‘literally’ (in the words of Ms Tilbury) can’t go wrong with this and there’s not a girl or woman in the land who won’t adore this.
Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow Video:
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate £56 (balm)
The Rolls Royce of contours with (in makeup terms) a price-tag to match.
This luxurious balmy-creamy contour is used in the pro kits of (and raved about by) all of the best makeup artists in the world – Charlotte Tilbury, Lisa Eldridge, Mary Greenwell, Val Garland to name an impressive few. This is undoubtedly a professional favourite and for good reason. It’s such a gem in a bronze and gold Perspex container.
There are two shade options available in this product. I’m reviewing intensity one here but I own both versions. I advise that if you’re light, fair, medium; go for intensity one and if you’re skin tone is olive, dark medium or dark, go for intensity two.
The formulas of both the contour shades and of the highlighter are quite creamy, which means they blend in easily as you spread them across the areas you want to contour, such as under the cheekbone areas or on the sides of your nose and under the chin.
The darker shades are natural-looking enough that they mimic the appearance of shadows on the face, and the lighter highlighting shade has a pearlescent sheen that highlights without being sparkly.
If you don’t powder, the shades fade after just a couple of hours especially with oily skins, so your sculpting results are short-lived. Drier skins should be fine though.
This is extremely (to some, scarily) emollient and balmy, almost glossy and sticky in texture, which I love because I’m obsessed with dewy glossy, polished looking skin but it doesn’t have to have a sheeny glossy finish if that’s not your thing, as you can powder after application and change the finish completely and set it so it doesn’t migrate down the face or onto clothes.
You can also contour and then apply foundation (probably with a sponge so you don’t spread the contour around too much) which seems counter-intuitive but is a fantastic way of achieving an amazing natural contour and no product will be detected and the lines smoothed and punch of colour dampened down with foundation.
Quite a warm contour, some might worry she’s a touch orange on the fairest of skins but for some reasons this looks amazing on everyone.
The price is a little off putting but if makeup artists in the world are willing to pay for it for their kit (when they don’t need to pay for most of their favourites) and pay for it, they do (in their droves) then that tells you it’s pretty amazing. And if you won’t take their word, you’re probably not inclined to take mine… But for what it’s worth Mindfood Magpie considers this the most precious of (non-sparkly) gems! Buy it!
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate Video:
From left to right, Illamasqua Sculpting Gel in Silhouette, Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder in Medium, Benefit Hoola Bronzer, Make Up For Ever Contour palette in light, Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow, Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate intensity one
These are my most trusted products but if you have any more suggestions please get in touch as I am always in the market for something new and wonderful!
BUY ONE OF MY DREAM CONTOUR PRODUCTS HERE:
Illamasqua Sculpting Gel https://www.net-a-porter.com/gb/en/product/608601
Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder in Medium https://www.net-a-porter.com/gb/en/product/482697
Makeup For Ever Contour Palette in Light http://m.debenhams.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/prod_10701_10001_123435070199_-1
Benefit Hoola Bronzer http://m.debenhams.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/prod_10701_10001_123901926299_-1
Kevyn Aucoin Creamy Glow Duo https://www.net-a-porter.com/gb/en/product/462433
Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow https://www.net-a-porter.com/gb/en/product/418026
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate https://www.net-a-porter.com/gb/en/product/637815