Contouring has been around for ages, but if you've just started dabbling in it then you have probably quickly realized there's a major learning curve involved. Chiseling your face out is hard, but it doesn't take long to master. There might be a couple of things you're doing wrong while contouring, but knowing those missteps helps you tackle them all the faster. I've asked three makeup artists to do just that, and help people reach a Kardashian-level of blended perfection.
As a novice myself, I've had plenty of moments in my bathroom where I thought the buffing routine just wasn't for me. I'd stand in front of the mirror with harsh streaks of brown across my cheeks, making me look like I just took a tumble face first into a patch of dirt. After watching countless videos I still didn't get how to blend that brown into the hallows of my cheeks, or how to delicately refine the lines of my nose without just turning it into a brown blob. Nine out of 10 times I just ended up looking like an extra out of Oliver Twist and had to hose myself down and start over.
If all these woes sound familiar to you, you've come to the right place. We're about to fix these frustrating errors, and with expert help. Here are eight things you might be doing wrong while contouring according to makeup artists, and how to fix them!
1You Use The Wrong Makeup Formulas
If you're not sure if contouring will be a staple technique in your beauty routine, it might seem counter intuitive to go out and buy a bunch of products that you'll only end up throwing out. But if you want to do it correctly (and give yourself the chance to love the results,) it's not enough to just grab a brown eyeshadow from your stock and experiment with blending your chin. You need the correct formulas to make sure it buffs out correctly.
"One of the most common mistakes I see is drawing actual lines on your face with makeup that you will struggle to blend out later. If you softly apply and blend as you go, you can avoid this," Jordan Morris, hair stylist at milk + honey in Austin, TX with 6 years experience, shares in an email interview with Bustle. She suggests avoiding liquids and creams and sticking to powder instead.
2You Use The Wrong Colors For Your Skin Tone
Want to achieve the level of perfection that is Manny Gutierrez's contour? Then you need to keep an eye on the makeup shades you use.
Like with foundation and concealer, not one contour color palette fits all. Depending on your skin color and undertones, you need to choose the correct shades so the lines don't look too harsh or ashy on your face.
"If you are super fair, stay clear of the yellow banana powder to highlight, or warm browns to contour. On the flip side, too light of a highlight or too cool of a contour can make deeper skin tones appear ashen," Morris points out. So what colors are best for your skin tone?
According to Morris, if you're fair you should use the lightest of highlight colors that also have hints of pink. Your contour colors should have cooler undertones. Meanwhile, if you have golden or yellow undertones or have dark sin, you should focus on banana powder highlight colors like Kim Kardashian does.
3You Use The Wrong Undertone
As we mentioned, coloring matters. But as it turns out, when picking out which palette to use you not only have to keep your skin tone in mind — you also have to make sure you're choosing shades with cool undertones.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is using a shade with the wrong undertone. For contouring, you are trying to create a shadow effect, so you want to use a shade with a cool undertone," Janet Debris, a makeup stylist and special-effect artist, shares in an email to Bustle. "The most common error I see is using a bronzer to contour. A bronzer usually has a warmer undertone, so it will just add a warmer color to your skin and won't really give you a 'shadow' effect."
So instead of buying a bronzer, Debris recommends getting a sculpting powder like the MAC's "Shadester." That will help you get that chiseled appearance.
4You Apply Too Much Product
If you feel like your lines are too harsh or noticeable on your face, then add a little less product to remedy that.
"The real trick is to keep it soft. A light contour can define your face and looks good on just about everyone. These days people will go for the Instagram contour which can look so great in a photo, but in person or in the wrong lighting can look overdone," Morris explains. "Less is more when it comes to contour."
If you're following a YouTube video and feel uncomfortable with the level of product on your face, try easing up a bit. Use less than the beauty vlogger suggests and see if that makes the difference.
5You Skip The Blush
Makeup Revolution One Blush Stick, $4.50, Ulta
Sometimes it's not so much the contour that's over done — sometimes you're just shocked at the difference the shading has brought. If you're not used to wearing a lot of makeup, the sharp lines and darkening and highlighting effects can throw you off.
To remedy that, try bringing some warmth back into your face to soften things up. "I love a contour paired with a light sweep of pink or peachy blush on the high parts of the cheekbones. It brings life back into the face and can counteract the harshness of an overdone contour," Morris explains.
Sweep some blush onto the apples of your cheeks and it'll ease the bluntness of the look.
6Your Cheek Angle Was Too Intense
Depending where you put your contour lines, your face will take a different dimension. If you feel startled with how intense your lines look, try taking a softer approach. "By teaching someone where they're going to put their make up and why helps to eliminate a lot of the mistakes," Andrea Whittle, a makeup artist at KARMA Salon with 20 years experience, shares in an email to Bustle. In order to have a subtler looking contour, she suggests following your actual bone structure.
"Roll your brush up into the cheek bone so you can actually feel the resistance the bone is creating. You can almost trace that line, making it a no-brainer where the brush should go." Literally follow the outline of your cheekbone and you'll have a perfect angle each time.
7You Don't Layer Your Shadow
Rather than trying to apply all your contour shadow in one sweep, try layering it on slowly so you can have solid control over how deep the contrast becomes. "If you have a heavy hand and tend to apply your product very intensely use a softer brush (like the MAC 168) with less product on it, and buff away starting from the hairline toward the apple of the cheek," Whittle suggests. "In natural lighting assess your work and if you need to add a little more contour do so by layering your powder little by little."
After all, it's so much easier to add more rather than take away.
8You Don't Use More Than One Brush
I've you've been doing your contour with only one brush, that might be the reason for any shoddy results. You need to use both soft and firm brushes in the process. Specifically, use a firm brush like the MAC 109 to apply your contour shade, and the softer 168 to buff the color out.
"The MAC 109 brush has a more tightly packed and stiffer flower that doesn't yield to pressure like the 168 brush does. The stiffer the brush, the more precise the application and more control you have," Whittle explains.
"The firmer 109 brush is nice to push up against the cheekbone for less user error while the 168 is softer and can be used to buff out and blend for that seamless, airbrushed look," she suggests.
As for your nose? Use tapered eyeshadow brushes like MAC's 227 brush will do the trick.
If you follow these easy tricks, the next time your try contouring it all might go so much more smoothly. Just remember: No matter how tricky it is, keep practicing! You'll eventually become a pro at it.