Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

This morning, Khadine tweeted to me a write-up she did in response to a recent Temptalia post. I thought it was an excellent post that offered clarification, insight, and helped to educate everyone regarding the particular topic. She’s graciously allowing me to share her response and thoughts.

I also asked her for some of her personal recommendations, and she said, “As for products for darker skin tones, Ben Nye has a great range of colors in foundations and powders that even very deep skin tones can benefit from. Graftobian has great options as well. In terms of specific contour colors (I prefer to use creams), Black Opal Stick Foundations like Suede Mocha and Black Walnut come to mind. Another one is Graftobian HD Glamour Creme Foundation in Sienna. Also, check out their HD Glamour Creme Palette in Neutral #3. Of course, these are only examples so they won’t work for everyone, however, readers can feel free to check out the product websites for the full range of options.”

To Contour or Not to Contour for Darker Skin Tones

Recently, there was a guest post on Temptalia on the subject of “blushing and highlighting”, where the author advised, “If you’re of a darker skintone, like NC/W 45+, skip the contour and stick only with highlight. Contour colours unfortunately rarely run too dark, and you risk the color looking muddy on the face.” Some of Temptalia’s readers took offense and voiced their complaints in the comment section below the article, as well as via Twitter.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t as negatively moved by the statement. I certainly disagree with the author on the suggestion that dark skin cannot or should not be contoured, but I actually see the logic in what she’s saying (I’ll explain further). I am in the category she’s referring to (I wear NC 50 in MAC Select SPF 15 foundation), and I contour all the time. However, I wouldn’t totally write-off everything she said!

When she says, “skip the contour and stick only with highlight,” this does make sense in the case of women with very deep skin tones (Alek Wek is the only person that comes to mind immediately). What makes contouring (and its counterpart, highlighting) effective is contrast, however you can best achieve it. If you have a deep enough complexion to be able to use your skin tone as the contour color, then that’s okay! If you’re of a dark complexion and can find appropriate contour colors, there’s no need to limit yourself. I think Victoria had the right idea but happened to be a little off in the shade range (as I said, I’m an NC 50 and contouring isn’t an issue for me).

It’s the same thing on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you are really fair (think Nicole Kidman) and it makes more sense to only contour (and use your skin tone as a highlight), then so be it!

Her claim that “Contour colours unfortunately rarely run too dark,” is not a stretch at all! There are limited options out there for contouring darker complexions. The deeper your color, the harder it is to find something even darker for contouring (I didn’t say impossible, I said harder). Sometimes you’re lucky if you even find a color to match you in the first place! You can use black pigments to deepen your foundation, but the average person would just rather be able to pick up a ready-made shade at their local cosmetics counter rather than mix multiple products to get the right match.

In summary, of course, contouring can be done on dark skin tones, but with a caveat! When executed well, the results are magnificent (ask Sam Fine)! However, some individuals of deeper complexions may benefit more from highlighting (especially if color options are limited) than they would from contouring. Similarly, some individuals of lighter complexions may benefit more from contouring than they would from highlighting.

You can check out Khadine’s original article on her blog, Cosmetic Passion. Khadine is an emerging makeup artist based in New York City who has a long-time passion for cosmetics. With her blog, she hopes to share her passion for beauty with enthusiasts like her while exchanging beauty tips!

Discussion and debate are highly encouraged, and we expect community members to participate respectfully. When asking a question, please check the FAQ section (above) for information about purchasing, price, dupes, and the like. If you have general feedback or need technical support, please contact us.

Comments that include advertisements, self-promotion, insults, etc. may be in violation of our comment policy and subject to deletion. Please see our comment policy for more information.

79 thoughts on “To Contour or Not to Contour for Darker Skin Tones

  1. Khadine & Christine, thank you for writing and featuring this truly excellent article. I learned a lot from it!

    (and Khadine, I’ll be following your blog in the future, I’m so glad to have found it!)

  2. z

    nice to see you address this. speaking as a woman of colour, it can feel like being left out pretty often.

  3. Kendra

    Khadine is so beautiful! :)

  4. Welcome to Temptalia Khadine! Though I have the complete opposite skintone (around NC15-NC20), I still appreciate that you took the time to clarify some misconceptions about contouring and highlighting.

    I’m sure many people will follow your advice. Thanks and I hope to see more from you.

  5. What a great post, Khadine and Christine! I think this is great not only as a response to the previous article on Temptalia, but also as a solid education on why one highlights/contours in the first place – I had no idea!

    Will definitely be following Khadine’s blog in the future, and would love to see her over here on Temptalia more!

  6. Phoenix

    Agreed! I am a nc45 and I have been contouring since the 90′s. When I read that I felt it was misleading.

  7. Miss J

    Thank you Christine for posting this wonderful write-up, and thank you to Khadine for taking the time to share her thoughts!

    I am disappointed in some of the responses left in Victoria’s post. I simply think she was misguided with stating N/45 range.

  8. Stephanie

    I think the original comments were taken as offensively because there are so many rules placed on women of color and limited color selections. We are tired of being put in a makeup “box” and given rules. So, while I don’t think the poster intended to be offensive, it could be seen that way. Thank you for clearing this up.

  9. i like that she turned what seemed like a negative into a definite positive. she didn’t bash the original author, and gave us valuable information. thank you for this.

    • HautePJ

      I totally agree with your comment, Monica. The approach and tone of Khadine’s response hit the mark and read as very informational. I am an NC50 and have never really contoured, but I think I might try it. Keep up the great work, Khadine!

  10. Maurine

    Khadine for colaborator on Temptalia! afroamericans and afrobrazillians girls (me !) would enjoy it ! :)

    • Hahaha! Thanks for the support Maurine! :)

    • Vick

      this!!! I love this site because of great swatches and reviews but i’m really left in the dark when it comes to foundations, tips, techniques, and skin care when it comes to being a WOC.

      • Maurine

        So sure! Christine, invite her! We really love your site, but she would be a very very good addition!Please!There are a lot of good colaborators here right now, but no one of than talks about black beauty! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaseeeeeeeeee!

      • mumtaza

        Christine is also a woman of color.

  11. Nika

    Well written article!!!

  12. Carmen

    I totally agree with your post. Dark beauties shouldn’t feel discouraged to contour, it can definitely work for us!I think contouring around the perimeter of my face works wonderfully since I am darker there and lighter in the center of my face as are a lot of dark ladies. There are tons of bronzers/powders that are dark enough to show up on our skin. For instance the Sleek contour kits are wonderful in medium and dark, love the covergirl deep bronzer and my favorite (and the one I use now) is Bobbi brown deep chocolate bronzer. It is wonderful to contour with and shows up nicely on my nc45 skin.

    • I’m dying to try the Sleek Contour Kits in Medium and Dark! Just not too thrilled about the $13.50 shipping fee :/ …hope the brand comes to the U.S. sometime soon.

  13. Steph

    Great post. I’m as white as a ghost, but it was interesting and well-written so I read the whole thing.

  14. Thank you Christine for addressing this issue and allowing Khadine to educate your readers on it. It really shows the integrity this blog has. I am NC 45 and I have learned alot about contouring now. Thanks again.

  15. Dame Elizabeth

    I’m massively pale (NC15 is orange on me) and I have found it hard to really try out contouring, because I didn’t really understand it, but this:

    “It’s the same thing on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you are really fair (think Nicole Kidman) and it makes more sense to only contour (and use your skin tone as a highlight), then so be it!”

    …makes me think I should try it out!

    • Miss J

      Have you tried a sheer pressed powder in a slightly darker shade to contour? I find that something like MAC MSF Natural works great as a contour for those with fair skin as a more natural option, as I know on light skins it’s hard to find a shade that is not too stark.

    • Emily

      A rule of thumb for those new to contouring would be to try out a shade approximately 2 shades darker than your normal shade to contour with. Adjust as you see fit from there! =]

      I’m an NC05-10 in the winter and NC15 in the summer (so I understand) and I’ve found that a hint of matte bronzer (like Dior Matte Sunshine in their lightest shade) or MAC Sculpt powder (lightly, then build up if you’d like) around my temples and cheek hollow areas help slim my face and show off the structure better. I like Miss J’s suggestions below, as well!

      Use a stipple/skunk brush to apply the contour if you’re heavy-handed and it’ll allow you to build up a more natural-looking contour (I use MAC 187 with my bronzers and it helps blend the color quite well!).

      • Dame Elizabeth

        Miss J and Emily thank you so much!
        I think that’s why I’ve been scared, that it will look too stark, but I’m definitely going to go to MAC tomorrow and pick something up!
        I use the 187 and I love it to pieces so I’m keen to try out a new way with it. (:

    • Sarah

      I’m in the same boat as you – mac’s omega eyeshadow is perfect for contouring! Darker powders come off really orangey when trying to contour, the undertones are totally off so they don’t work at all. Seriously, give omega a shot. It’s an absolute godsend!

      • Miss J

        This is a great suggestion! Many use Omega for brows, but Sarah is right, it doubles wonderfully as a contour! It’s especially great on pale girls as it’s more similar to a natural shadow. Excellent suggestion!

  16. TJ

    Um no. That doesn’t make sense. Often times women of color get sucked in the category of all being “Alex Wek’s” complexion. She is fab btw. We all are not. We come in many shades. And when you have makeup companies labeling color ranges like Selma Hayek as “dark”-when one says dark skin tones in the cosmetic work, one immediately might include all complexions Selma Hayek’s or darker. That is a lot of shade of women who absolutely unequivocially CAN contour. Alex Wek can contour as well.

    This article is just plain wrong and I had to comment even though I never do.

    • Kenleigh

      Your comment is sort of wrong too. Salma Hayek is really not dark at all, alek wek is. So this post is very much true.

    • This is what she said:
      “When she says, “skip the contour and stick only with highlight,” this does make sense in the case of women with very deep skin tones (Alek Wek is the only person that comes to mind immediately). What makes contouring (and its counterpart, highlighting) effective is contrast, however you can best achieve it. If you have a deep enough complexion to be able to use your skin tone as the contour color, then that’s okay! If you’re of a dark complexion and can find appropriate contour colors, there’s no need to limit yourself”.

      I don’t think she meant that women with Alek Wek’s skin tone cannot contour, she just meant that they don’t necessarily have to. She does say that you don’t have to limit yourself.

  17. amanda

    I am NW50-55 and I use The dark brown in the Wet n Wild Vanity palette. It is a dupe for Mac Embark so when I sun out of that as well as my back up I am just going to purchase Embark.

  18. Thank you Khadine and Christine! This is a great way to respond to the original post.

    I’m really looking forward to more posts about beauty for darker skin tones. Khadine, I love your blog!

  19. Excellent post! The original post threw me off quite a bit because as a NC50 makeup junkie, I have a drawer full of great contouring products that I use for my skin that look amazing. Creams, powders, and kits from a variety of brands from Guerlain to Covergirl at the drugstore. Maybe 10 yrs ago there wasn’t anything sufficient but now the possibilities are endless which is a really good thing.

  20. Thank you Khadine!! Beautifully written and definitely appreciated! Love your blog!

  21. Holly

    Great post!

  22. stephanie

    I find that some eteshadows like MAC Embark and Handwritten make excellent contour colors for me, NW45 for reference. I love that I could use something I already had.

  23. Smidgeroo

    Nikki Minaj is a great example of contouring gone wrong from time to time. Every so often, her makeup artist makes her nose rather bizarre. I think her nose was perfect to begin with and needs no contouring, myself. It can me a really great trick when done well, though!

  24. nichole

    Deeper skintones can easily contour using a deeper toned foundation, pressed or liquid. Finding a matte bronzed that doesn’t lien orange is very difficult.

  25. I loved this article, thank you for giving insight into what ladies with darker skin tones go through in finding products that we take for granted. This will help me grow as a MUA!!

  26. I was praying someone would write a post like this. I contour the faces of black models all the time, so I know it can be done. Thank you, Khadine!

  27. Tiffany

    Very well put… and Khadine, you are just stunning!

  28. Lolly

    Khadine, you are a pleasure to read! Thanks for the great post!

  29. Audrey

    Khadine, you’re freakin’ stunning! I love your makeup in that picture. I disagreed with Victoria’s post a bit, but for the entirely opposite reason. I’m really, really pale, and I don’t think contouring works well on me because it looks super obvious. Highlighting, on the other hand, is my best friend. I love the look of highlighting on all skin tones! Everyone looks good when their skin is glowy.

  30. I’m an NC45, and I can’t imagine ever wearing makeup and not contouring. It just leaves a completely unpolished look. I think it’s more than a little ignorant to assume something doesn’t work for a whole group of people just because it may not look good on YOU personally.

  31. Meiya

    Thank you for your insights! I think the lesson learned from this situation is that before contributors post articles, they should be as knowledgeable and experienced as possible before making sweeping claims that could be easily refuted.

    Another good lesson is that different makeup artists have different rules. Some say never put blush on the apples of the cheeks (Goss says this). Others do it all the time. “Never put a cream over a powder or the skies will open and it will rain fire!!!” When really it won’t. It boils down to each artist or person doing what they like with makeup.

  32. amanda

    exactly-i was recently informed [read] that if you’re light, you should contour more than highlight, and if you’re dark, highlight more than contour. makes sense =] great article

    • amanda

      sorry-hit enter a bit preemptively.

      that being said, i was thinking its mainly skin tones like the aforementioned ms Wek that really need to “skip” that step. Its simply a shift of focus. It can still be managed, just the main focus shifts

  33. I really like the way you approached this topic/issue, including explanations and options. thank you! I don’t think it is ok to be rude to someone especially when they aren’t trying to be malicious. However, the experience darker women have in the make up world can be quite defeating. Still, I don’t find it an excuse for an attack. I think this was definitely and eye opener and the author now has info she didn’t have previously. take the lesson and move on.

  34. maebeee

    There is always a danger of offending someone when you tell that person what they can not do. Makeup is to be enjoyed by all and who am I to tell anyone what not to wear when they are having fun adorning and expressing themselves. Forget all those rules why do we all have to look the same? Especially when so many can never fit that mold.

  35. Lora

    Enjoyed this write up :)

  36. Great post!

    Contouring doesn’t have to only be about using foundation or bronzer. You can use almost anything (eyeshadow, pigment sticks, etc.) to use as a contour.

  37. ericka

    Very well said, great points and I totally agree.

  38. kia

    great response and thanks temptalia for posting! sad part is, when i read the initial article, it didn’t phase me a bit. i’m used to that range of thinking in regards to cosmetics. just like going to a store and foundations being made in fair, light and medium.

  39. Rachel C Grizotti

    Excellent writing and i must agree with Khadine!

    well i have something to say … it’s not quite in the subject of ‘contouring’ but is almost related…

    i live in a country where atleast a half of the population has darker skin tones (Brazil) what most of people don’t know is that we don’t have a lot of options here!…wich is a shame!!! most part of the beauty companies produce only 3 to 4 shades of foundation, powder and/ or concealer… CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! so yeah…

    anyways… i think that not only here in Brazil but in overall beauty companies should take a look and see that in the real world is not only about ‘fair’ ‘medium’ and ‘dark’ … there’s so much more than that!

    and by the way i have light skin and i’m around NC20-25 ;)
    seeing this only makes me remember that our girls here in Brazil are not alone and still searching for good products, better color range and good prices!

    *sorry about the bad english :S

    • Hi Rachel…your English is not bad at all, you were able to get your point across! It’s always interesting to hear what’s going on OUTSIDE of the U.S. Thanks for sharing :)

  40. Alison

    I don’t really see what’s offensive about her original statement, either! She does say “unfortunately” before her statement that most contour products don’t generally go that dark, and from what I know, she’s right – I often hear complaints from people with very dark skin that foundations, concealers and all manner of face products rarely run dark enough to look right on their skin, and that includes contours for actual contouring purposes…

    The same goes for extremely pale skin, too.

  41. MORENA

    One thing that irritates me is that people that aren’t our skin tone try to tell us what we can and can’t use. I had a rude experience at a MAC counter years ago when i was shopping for some dark berry color eyeshadows (like hepcat for example) and the clerk ran over to me and told me I was too dark to wear it. There was another makeup artist that was dark skinned and said yes you can, I wear these shades all the time. You would just need a primer to help them stand out. But I’m more on the lighter side of the brown spectrum (which i consider myself medium, but makeup companies would consider my shade “deep”) and the lady still had the nerve to tell me what I cannot wear. Makeup companies do not know how to make products for our skin tone.
    Especially mac (foundations!!) and their makeup collections seem to suit lighter tones better. Even though i still buy them.

    • Miss J

      Please do not generalize! :P Not everyone is like that, but some people are just so stupid, lol. I don’t like when I’m told what is or isn’t for me, either. I’m light skinned, and I have had experiences like that quite frequently. I had a chick at a makeup counter run up to me, snatch a blush out of my hand, and put it back telling me that, “OMG, THAT IS NOT FOR YOU! You’re a fair girl, and that’s for dark skin.” For reference, I consider NC10, 5, 0 fair/pale, and at the time I was around NC25. I think it was NARS Taos, and I popped it right on, and said, “What was that again?” It’s not just people who are much darker than I am. I get that with people who are only a few shades darker acting like I’m the fairest girl in the world. I constantly get matched to pink foundations because way too many people assume if you’re lighter that you’re pink when in reality I’m olivey-beige.

      I do agree that many companies don’t focus enough on the variety of skin tones, and really do leave out many with dark and deep skin tones, as well as very fair tones (in regards to foundation, at least). With foundation in particular, I notice that even if a company makes a very fair foundation or a good range of dark and deep foundation that it is rarely carried in stores. I always find a ton of light-medium and medium shades and then maybe a couple lighter and a couple darker than that. It makes no sense!!!!

      BTW, that women was out of her mind who told you an eyeshadow such as Hepcat wouldn’t work for you. You shoulda asked her if she hadn’t heard of an invention called a white or lighter base to make colors pop.