The magic of contouring: history and techniques

Hello beauties! In this article I’d love to talk a little bit about contouring, which has been quite popular for some years already in make up. Even if it may seem quite of a recent trend in make up, surprisingly it has a long and interesting history.

A bit of history of contouring

In 16th century, contouring started with stage actors. In Elizabethan England, stage actors would apply chalk and soot to their faces to help audience members read their facial expressions.[3]

In the late 1800s, when electricity was invented and lights were widely use, soot was no longer an option. Instead of soot, actors would use greasepaint to help audience members decipher their emotions. In 1800-1900, Queen Victoria deemed makeup as vulgar: only stage actors and prostitutes wore makeup. Make up could only be purchased in costume stores.[3]

In the 1920-30, contouring could be seen in the world movies: The German actress Marlene Dietrich, for example, would contour her face for her films. She would accentuate the natural lines of her face with shading and sculpting.[3] 

In 1950, a time of old Hollywood glamour, features were subtly contoured and shaded. Actresses like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor.[3]

In the 1990s, make up artist Kevyn Aucoin was responsible for the sculpted, chiseled look of Gwyneth Paltrow, Cindy Crawford, and Janet Jackson.[3]






In 1934, makeup artist Max Factor was famous for applying make up for stage actors. He added shading to the face so that it wouldn't appear flat on film. In 1945, he released the first tutorial on how to contour the face, for different face shapes.[3]

In 1944, Ben Nye, a famous makeup artist, did the make up for characters in Gone with the Wind (film) and Planet of the Apes (1968 film). He then created his own make up line, which is still popular today.[3





Basically, contouring is a make up technique that uses cosmetics to define, enhance and sculpt the structure of the face[1] or other body parts, such as breasts.[2]
To be able to use this technique on you it’s important to understand your face shape.

An oval face shape is considered as the ideal face shape, simply because its proportions and balance allow it to pull off practically any haircut, hairstyle and make up look with ease.

Contouring is usually produced by placing a warm or cool toned colour (depending on your skin tone) that is one or two shades darker than the skin colour in areas such as in the hollows of the cheeks, on the side of the nose and on the temples to give a shadow and slimming  effect.
It can be complemented with a highlighter that is one or two shades lighter than the skin colour on areas of the face that is more prominent such as on the apples on the cheeks and the tip of the nose or the t-zone. If we don’t have an oval face, contouring techniques will help us to correct our face shape.

How to do a good contouring

To do contouring you may use two techniques:

  1.  With creamy products (liquid foundations, sticks, concealers)
  2.  With powders (contouring and highlighting powders)

In my opinion, the first technique is really nice when the colours are well chosen, flawlessly blended with a beauty blender or a brush, but to do it right you may need more practice, I think it’s more suitable when you have more time to do it and for a special occasion/evening look.

While the second technique is quicker and easier, the only important thing is to choose right colours. You may do it after your foundation is set with a setting translucent powder.


 How to do contouring with foundation.

What You need

  1.  Foundation blending tool of choice (buffing brush, sponge blender)
  2.  Two concealer brushes, one brush for each shade
  3.  Liquid or cream foundation in your skin tone
  4.  Light liquid or cream foundation (1-2 shades lighter than skintone)
  5.  Dark liquid or cream foundation (1-2 shades darker than skintone)
  6.  Setting powder

Contouring step-by-step

1. Using your foundation blending tool, apply your foundation formula (liquid or cream) to your entire face,        starting from the center working outwards.

2. Continue blending the foundation well into the outer perimeter of the face, including ears, jawline, neck, and  hairline.

3. Using a clean concealer brush, apply the light shade of foundation (one shade lighter for a more subtle effect,  two shades lighter for a more noticeable one) in the following areas:

  • Your T-zone (the area right above your eyebrows and the spot between them)
  • Under the eyes
  • Along the top of the cheekbones
  • Down the bridge of the nose
  • On the cupid’s bow
  • On the chin
  • Right above the jawline

4. Using the other clean concealer brush, apply the darker shade of foundation (one shade darker for a more  natural effect, two shades darker for a more defined one) to the following areas:

  • Around your hairline toward your temples
  • Beneath the cheekbones
  • Sides of the nose
  • Along the jawline

5. Going back with your foundation blending tool, blend the light areas into the dark. You will need to blend more  if you chose to use two shades lighter and darker than your skintone. Aim for a seamless finish.

6. Set everything with powder.

7. Use a make up fixator (like FIX+ by MAC) to fix and refresh everything.

Contouring is a really nice make up technique but remember not to exaggerate, as in everyday life we don’t need to much. Remember to do it in front of a big window, with a good natural light if possible, so you may blend all products perfectly.

By the way this summer the latest trends in make up is fresh natural and glowy sking that breathes, so contouring made with powders can be a better solution!


  1. Picardi, Phillip (2014-01-24). "So: What Is Contouring and Why Should You Care?". Teen Vogue. Retrieved 2016-01-18. Contouring is giving shape to an area of the face and enhancing the facial structure through makeup
  2. Schwedel, Heather (24 February 2017). "On the Oscars Red Carpet, Keep an Eye Out for Boob Contouring". Slate. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  3. "From 1500 to 2015: The Fascinating History of Contouring". Byrdie. Retrieved 2016-03-19.