If you know anything about the Kardashian legacy in the fashion and beauty world, it's probably how they made contouring the hottest trend in makeup. As a shameless fan of this famous reality TV family, I couldn't help but ask myself a simple question: Does Kardashian contouring work?
If you're unaware of what contouring actually is (though if you really haven't heard of the Kardashians at this point, I can't help you), it's a technique used in makeup artistry that is designed to give more structure and definition to one's face. "Contouring is giving shape to an area of the face and enhancing the facial structure through makeup," celebrity makeup artist Beau Nelson told Teen Vogue. Through contouring, you're essentially using optical illusion to shape your bone structure and facial features. Want a thinner nose? You can do that by contouring! Want to make your chin look more chiseled? Contouring can help you do that, too! Do you want to look like you have a "summer glow?" Contouring your forehead can do just that.
Of course, I'd never suggest that contouring is essential, or that we should all be aiming for chiseled cheeks. But I do think contouring (like all amazing makeup work) can be an art form, though the way you should contour for the best results is going to depend on your skin tone and face shape. So while I can't give you a rundown of how exactly you can personally contour and look fab, I can advise you to stick with shades that work for you and to blend, blend, blend! If you're skeptical as to how much contouring can really work, I decided to spare you the trouble of experimenting and do it myself.
In order to really learn about contouring, I decided to consult the experts. One of those usually annoying postcards fell out of my copy of Marie Claire, which was good for a free contouring makeover at Sephora. I decided to take advantage of this free education and headed to the retailer.
When I walked in, I was greeted by one of their employees/makeup gurus, to whom I explained that I wanted to redeem my free contour makeover. His face lit up and he soon had me settled into a makeup chair.
He then examined my face, to get a good idea of my face shape and complexion. "How you contour really depends on your face shape, with oval being the ideal. Basically, no matter what face shape you have, we're going to make you look more ovular."
If you've ever tried and failed to figure out what face shape you have, this is actually a really common experience, as he explained to me that hardly anyone is born with the prototypes they show in magazines. "Many people have a face shape that is slightly ambiguous — it's really rare for your face to look as perfectly symmetrical as a drawing."
After looking me over, he told me that I have a face shape that is a combination of round and oval shapes. "Your face is long like an oval, but it also has some roundness, especially in your cheeks." This made a lot of sense to me and I was so happy to finally have solved my face-shape dilemma — I'd been trying to figure out its shape for years!
He then got out a blank contouring diagram that he would use to give me an illustration I could take home with me, to replicate his work. In order to fill in the proper shading, though, he had to get products to use on me. He also had an extremely fair complexion, and really understood how to work with my skin tone. "You don't want to be using anything orange or bronze. It will make you look totally unnatural." He fetched a light, shimmery pink powdered highlighter from Sephora's own makeup collection, a taupe-y lavender Makeup Forever eyeshadow for my "bronzer," and a soft, coral NARS blush to use as well.
"I actually do drag and I was once at a show with some other fair-skinned performers whose contouring looked amazing. I asked them what they used and they told me light purple and taupe eye shadows — they do wonders for fair skin." I would have never even have thought to use something like that to contour, but I was excited to see how it would look. Anything in the brown category certainly wasn't doing me any favors.
He then filled in the diagram with the colors and showed me what he was going to do. Basically, he would be doing exactly what you'd think of with a contour — chiseling my nose, defining my chin, and making my cheekbones appear higher and more defined.
Then, he went to work. "The key to creating a good contour beyond having the right colors is placement and blending. You shouldn't be able to actually see the product's application once we're done, since the idea is to make it look like your face is naturally shaped this way."
He started with the highlight, which was placed directly on my brow bone (the part underneath your eyes) and on the bridge of my nose. "You want to make sure you're not using this too generously, otherwise you'll appear shiny." This step was pretty quick and painless.
Then, we moved on to the dark, what would be bronzer, purple and taupe eyeshadow. He took an angled blush brush and started to apply the product in the hollow of my cheek. "You want to work your way in and make small brush strokes towards your jaw, but extending more upwards," he explained. Of course, everyone wants to avoid the dreaded visible line on their face, so he then used a blending brush to blend it all in. "You also want to make sure you start this underneath the highlight, not too low on your cheek, or else your face will look droopy."
After doing the other side, he moved on to the last step: blush. I always thought blush should be applied to the apples of the cheeks (the part that puffs up when you smile), but he informed me that for contouring, you want to use your blush directly above your dark contour, to create the most dimension. Otherwise, your face can end up looking overdone.
He applied the blush using the angled blush brush again, this time going in a sweeping motion. "Since blush can disperse very easily, keep it light and make your strokes clean," he advised. Then he invited me to look in the mirror and I was very happy with my results!
You can see from the before picture how my face looks longer and more chiseled after the contouring. I also love how the colors he used gave me this subtle glow, although I think the highlight on my nose is actually not doing me any favors. When I replicate the contour, I'm going to leave out that step.
Now, it's time to see how what I learned can be applied in my own makeup mirror. I know how easy it can seem to watch someone else do something and then be a total failure in your attempt to do the same. So, I was very hopeful that my contouring skills would hold up once I got home.
Here's a sprawl of the products I'm using: A Forever 21 brand of highlighting powder (it looks exactly the same as the one my makeup consultant used), an E.L.F. brand of blush that's on its last legs (but again, looks the same as the one he used — I do know something about my coloring!), and the exact Makeup Forever eyeshadow, since I had nothing similar in a sizable enough quantity.
I am also using an angled blush brush and a blending and shading brush, in order to create the chiseled look and avoid having that dreaded line going across my face! The large kabuki powder brush is what I'm going to use to apply powder after, to keep everything in place. I then went to work!
I applied all of my other makeup before contouring, to ensure that the contouring wouldn't get bogged down underneath any other layers of cosmetics. I found that the application was pretty easy, especially when I just had to follow the steps the Sephora makeup consultant had given me and could reference the diagram whenever I so chose.
I think my face looks amazing! I am so happy with how it turned out! You can see the clear before and after effects, as my cheeks are a lot more chiseled and my chin more defined. I was really happy with the job I did and was surprised, honestly, at how well I was able to replicate what the makeup artist did.
This sideview really shows you exactly what I did. You can see how my blush is shaped in such a way that makes my entire face appear more angled. It blended nicely with the contour eyeshadow color, though, which is a perfect fit for my skin tone! I really think this contouring thing is a winner.
So does the Kardashian contour hold up in normal society? It would appear so. You can clearly see how much of a difference the look makes for my face. This also passed the replication test, as I was able to do almost exactly what the professional makeup artist did at Sephora. Anyone can hire a glam squad, which in my eyes doesn't count in passing the legitimacy test — you have to be able to do it on your own! Otherwise how much good can it really do for you day to day?
If you want to learn how to contour, I would definitely suggest going to Sephora and asking about their free contouring mini-makeovers. Then you can get information about application and products that will work specifically for your skin tone.
Images: Author's Own; Giphy