When it comes to contouring, subtlety is the key, as make-up is only supposed to highlight your best assets, not hide your face. After months of reasearching and trial-and-error, I've narrowed down the steps to natural-looking contouring.
Important things to consider before you decide which products and techniques to use:
*Cream formulas work best to achieve a natural look, since they leave a dewy and glowy texture, are easier to control, and more precise to apply than powder formulas. Of course, if you have oily skin, you might want to consider using powder, but in this case, my skin is very dry.
*Don't combine different product textures. All your contouring/highlighting/foundation products should all come in one single texture: either cream or powder, never both, since it will be easier to blend them all together. But if you use, for instance, a creamy bronzer and a powder illuminator, you run the risk of the cakey look.
*Many people opt for contouring and shading first and then highlighting and illuminating. I opted for the opposite, since it's what works best for me and according to Sephora, it's best for creamy formulas, but of course, you can do it the other way around.
You will need:
1. Bronzer - Ilia 'Sway' Illuminator/Bronzer Cream Stick (buy it here).
2. Illuminator - Ilia 'Polka Dots & Sunbeams Illuminator Cream Stick (buy it here)
3. Cream Blush - Kjaer Weis 'Desired Glow' Cream Blush (buy it here)
4. Contour Brush - Zoeva 'Face Shape' Contour Brush (buy it here)
STEP 1: Apply Moisturizer and Foundation
If you are going for a natural look, then first things first: Your skin needs to be completely smooth and dewy from within. For that, you need to prepare it by cleansing it thoroughly and exfoliate it if possible, since if small particles are on the surface, it will show through your make-up. Next, apply your favorite moisturizer within 30 seconds after you wash your face. Finally, apply your foundation.
The aim of the base is to make your face a blank canvas devoid of its natural angles and shadows, so that later you know where to place your contour products.
STEP 2: Map your Face & Highlight. The goal is to create depth and dimension to enhance your bone structure and slim areas of your face. The center part of your face must be the one highlighted, whereas the outer edges are the ones that need contouring/bronzing and it is where you create shadows.
Use the lightest shade of the Ilia Illuminators to highlight the parts of your face where the light naturally hits. I used Ilia's 'Polka Dots & Sunbeams' Illuminator for this purpose, which is, pretty much, like all products I am using, cruelty-free and 100% organic (my skin is hyper-sensitive and I am allergic to basically everything, so this works wonders for my skin). It suits all skin tones and leaves your skin glowing and dewy besides adding light where it's needed and making your cheekbones higher without looking like make-up, but more natural and subtle.
To apply the illuminator you can either use a small brush, the stick, or simply dab it with your fingers.
a. Start by applying the illuminator down the centre of your nose.
b. Continue on top of your cheekbones all the way to your brow bone in a 'C' Shape.
c. Finally (and optional) apply on your cupid's bow, on the inner corners of your eyes, and in the middle of your bottom lip to make it appear fuller(you can do the latter once you've applied your lipstick, which comes at the end).
STEP 3: Contour. For this I used the darker shade of the Ilia Illuminator cream sticks, i.e. the Ilia 'Sway' Illuminator, a beautiful bronze tone which is perfect for natural-looking contouring (your contouring formula should be neither too warm nor too greyish, but more a taupe or neutral brown or bronze). Apply by:
a. Drawing a line underneath your cheekbones. Feel the hollows of your cheekbones or simply suck in your cheeks to see the line where the bronzer needs to be drawn. You can also tilt your face forward a little so as to get a better idea of the angles of your cheekbones. Don't extend this line too far, limit it until the centre of the eye.
b. Draw along your jawline. You can also brush the bronzer from forehead to jaw in a '3' that goes along your hairline and dips in under your cheekbones just outside the highlighting 'C' line you previously created. This is highly recommended, but I skipped it as I have a relatively small forehead, so there's no need for it.
c. Drawing a line at each side of your nose following its natural edges. This will make your nose appear thinner and will help bring out the highlights in the center of your face.
STEP 4: Blend. Blend with a contour brush in circular motion until there are no hard lines or edges, but don't overdo it since you don't want to brush away completely the contour lines you created. I used the Zoeva 'Face Shape' Brush which is perfect to blend creamy textures, due to its flat head with densely packed bristles.
STEP 5: Apply Cream Blush. Dab the product using your finger on the apples of your cheeks to add warmth and use it as the transitional color between the dark and hard contour lines and the highlighting areas. The Kjael Weis 'Desired Glow' cream blush I used does the trick and it gives my cheeks an extra dose of dewiness and glow. What I love the most about it is that it's very subtly pigmented when applied (the color is not at all as intense as the product looks on the picture), which means it's buildable in the intensity you wish (it shouldn't be too much, but simply add a barely-there tint and warmth to the look).
STEP 6: Put On Some Lipstick. I used a creamy and moisturizing formula by Ilia in a coral nude, Ilia 'Funnel of Love' Lipstick, which matches my cream blush. The best about it: it lasts all day long and even if you drink from a glass or bottle it stays put. Peachy and coral tones go well with olive/medium skin and help complete that overall sunkissed glow.
As my lips are very thin, I implemented a couple of tricks to fake a bigger pout:
a. Prepare them before placing lipstick by first applying a lip balm. I used Absolution's Le Baume Chevron Balsam to moisturize them, which is very much needed during the winter. You don't want to place lipstick over cracked lips and this one does a pretty awesome job at moisturizing them deeply. Extra points for being also made to apply on your cheeks and nose and being made up of natural oils.
b. Cover your lips completely with concealer.
c. Apply lipliner on the outer part of the natural edge of your lips.
STEP 7: Set with Powder and Ready!
Products I used (Click on each image to shop them):
*Disclamer: Keep in mind that all this is subjective and this technique might work well for some people, but not for others. We all have different bone structures and features, so at the end of the day another technique might work best for you. For instance, if you don't want your nose to look thinner, skip the contouring on the sides, if you have oily skin, then use powder, and so on.
*Remember that I am, by no means, an expert and that I am still learning. The aim of this post is to share with you what I've learned from reading countless articles during the past months. I strongly recommend the following articles (which also inspired this post): 1, 2, 3
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