The Easiest Way to Highlight & Contour (or how to get instant cheekbones)


I’ve been obsessed with highlighting and contouring ever since I was given Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces book for Christmas in 9th grade.  Highlighting and contouring (or “HAC” for you fellow beauty junkies) really just refers to playing up the shape and features of your face using light and dark colors. You’re essentially creating shadows with dark colors on places you want to “sink in,” or thin, and highlighting areas you want to stand out with lighter colors.  Spending a few extra minutes on HAC can make a HUGE difference. There are lots and LOTS of ways to use this technique and some are easier (and faster) than others.  After many, many hours of doing it myself, I’ve come up with the easiest, fastest way to highlight and contour your face.  (5 minutes!) *All steps are optional.  You can pick and choose how many of these steps you want to do . . . for example, if you want to just start by contouring your cheeks or adding a little shimmer highlighter, go for it!  I’ve outlined the whole look but you can choose to do one or all of the steps.  



1. Contour

Contouring is first.  One of the most important things to remember when highlighting and contouring is not to use a shimmery bronzer for contouring.  Instead, use a matte powder in a darker color than your skin tone.  (I use L’Oreal’s True Match Super Blendable Powder in “Cocoa” for my contour powder and Shana uses Tarte’s Park Avenue Princess Matte Bronzer.)  After you’ve applied foundation and concealer (more info on that here), contour your face (contour means apply the dark powder to certain areas) starting with the cheeks.

Contour the Cheeks: Contouring your cheeks will make your cheekbones pop and will help to define your face.  Using a brush made specifically for contouring makes it easier.  (This is a great set for contouring and this brush is the one I use in the video.)  You’ll want to find your cheekbone (feel it with your fingers) to know where to apply the powder.  Apply it directly under your cheekbone from the ear down to mid-cheek.


Contour the temples and forehead: You only need to do this if you want your face to appear thinner and/or shorter.  Otherwise, skip this step.  Contouring the sides of your face makes it appear thinner and contouring your forehead will make your face appear shorter.  If you have a longer forehead, make a thicker line across the top and if you have a wider face make the sides thicker.

HAC_2-01 Contour the nose: To make the nose appear thinner, draw two lines down either side of it using a flat, thin brush like this e.l.f. Studio Angled Contour Brush. The closer you draw the lines, the thinner your nose will appear.


Contour the jawbone: Apply the contour powder to the jawbone and blend down your neck.  This step is especially important for pictures.  If you wear powder on your face but not your neck, the flash with cause your face to look much lighter than your body.  (Contouring the jawline also creates a nice chiseled look and diminishes the look of a double chin).


Blend blush with contour powder: When applying your blush, put it directly above the dark contour powder and blend the two together.  This helps to soften the harsh line of the contour powder on your cheeks.



2. Highlight

Start with the nose.  Using a highlighter pen like Maybelline’s Dream Lumi in Radiant, draw a line down the very front of your nose.  (Yves St Laurent’s Touche Eclat pen is another option that is raved about but with a $50 price tag, Maybelline’s pen is a much more affordable option.)



Brows: Next, highlight underneath your brows using a highlighter pencil made to go under your brows like Anastasia Brow Duality or Benefit’s Highbrow.  (If you’ve read my post on How to Fake Amazing Brows, then you might be familiar with this step.)

HAC_7-01After you’re satisfied with the contour and highlights, you’ll want to blend everything using a finishing powder like Urban Decay’s Naked Skin Ultra Definition Pressed Finishing Powder.  This is my favorite powder . . . the key is to use a brush, like e.l.f.’s flat top Studio Powder Brush, instead of the pad it comes with to blend everything together for an airbrushed-like finish.

Shimmer Highlighter: This last step is my favorite and makes a huge difference.  Lightly brush a powder highlighter (I’ve used liquids, creams, sticks, but the powder is the easiest to use) like MAC’s Mineralize Skin Finish in Soft and Gentle or Becca’s Shimmering Skin Perfector in Opal in a “C” motion from the top of the cheekbones up to the temples.  A little goes a long way . . . it’s always easier to add more than to try to take off too much.


. . . and voila!  You’re done!  Instant cheekbones, thinner nose, shorter/thinner face, defined jaw . . . highlighting and contouring can make a world of difference and I’ve found this method is the easiest way to achieve that look.  Once you get the hang of it this can take you less than 5 minutes.  It’s fast enough to do every day (like me) and easy enough for makeup novices (like Shana*) to do for nights out or holiday photos.  Let me know how it works for you!




Recommended Products:


Contour Powder: L’Oreal True Match Powder

Contour Brush for Face: Sephora Collection Pro Angled Blush Brush 

Contour Brush for Nose: e.l.f. Studio Angled Contour Brush

Highlighter for Nose: Maybelline’s Dream Lumi Highlighter Pen

Blush: Tarte’s Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Blush

Powder: Urban Decay Naked Finishing Powder

Powder Brush: e.l.f. Powder Brush

Eyebrow Pencil: Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Duality

Eyebrow Brush: Nars Cream Blending Brush #12

Shimmer Highlighter: Becca’s Shimmering Skin Perfecter in Opal or MAC’s Skin Finish in Soft & Gentle

Highlighter Brush: Sephora Collection Pro Fan Brush #65

We’ve just updated our Makeup Shop to include the products mentioned in today’s post along with some other great highlighters (and some different formulations for those of you who want to venture into the liquid or cream versions) in the boutique! Also, feel free to check out our Beauty blog section for more makeup tips and tricks!




  1. Any advice for redheads? Especially eyebrows. My eyebrows are soooo light but I get scared to darken them for fear they will be too dark. Also, I have tried waxing my eyebrows twice (at two different professional salons) and have had a bad reaction both times. Is there anything you can recommend for super sensitive skin besides good old plucking?

    • Autumn – I have super sensitive skin, too! For eyebrow waxing, it’s really important that they use the type of wax that hardens…if I remember correctly, it’s blue. (It’s been a while since I waxed my brows.) But, to be honest, nothing will really work as well as good ol’ plucking, and mine seem to do best if I pluck when I just come out of the shower. (I’ll let Scotti answer your question on color.) xo!

    • I second the plucking! I’ve actually never had my eyebrows waxed and only pluck them . . . I’ve heard really good things about threading, though! That’s an option you could try! As far as colors go, companies are getting better and better at matching lighter hair. I’d recommend my favorite brow pencil, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz in “taupe” (for really light hair) or “caramel” (for lighter hair with a touch of warmth). Apply it using a light hand and use the spooly brush on the end to comb and blend it in! Hope this helps! 🙂

  2. I’ve never contoured before, but recently have been experimenting thanks to my dear Charlotte Tilbury – have you tried her Filmstar Bronze and Glo? It’s amazing!!! And Shana – I got a giggle out of the shout out on my last comment!

  3. Okay, I’m obsessed with makeup and even wrote a beauty book but have always shied away from contouring. This makes it look so simple that I might have to give it a try. Love those product picks, too! Goss does this amazing tutorial on how Kim Kardashian does her contouring, and it’s unbelievable to watch! Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. You are turning me into a makeup junkie :)! I have a question about the Becca powder. I have pretty light skin; I am usually the lightest or second to lightest foundation shade in any line. I noticed on Sephora that there is a Becca highlighting power that is lighter than the one you use in the tutorial. Would you recommend that shade or would the one you use work for fair skin as well. Thanks for all of these wonderful posts.

    • Thanks for your comment!! I definitely think “moonstone” (the lighter Becca shade) would look amazing on your lighter skin! The one I used would work (I used “Opal” and have light and dark highlighters that all work, just to different effects), but I think Moonstone would be your best bet!

  5. Scotti – If I saw a picture of me, could you tell me what shade of foundation to buy. I do not wear makeup, except lipstick…like ever. But you have inspired me and I’d like to have just a few items to use on special occasions this holiday. But I do not know what color to get…I’m pale but with yellow? golden? I don’t know. Help! Thanks! Carrie

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