Tutorial - Contour, Blush, & Highlighting the Face

Contour, blush, and highlight tutorial for the face.

Skill Level: Beginner-Moderate

You need the following tools for contouring: a contour brush (I use MAC’s 168) and a contour color (I use MAC’s Enriched Refined Bronze). An angled powder brush can usually double as a contouring brush, just like you can make your choice in the color you want to use to contour. In general, I would assume a color that is darker than your normal skintone is ideal. Contouring adds shadows to your face to create more dimension (carving the cheeks or accenting the cheekbones, thinning out the nose, etc.).

Contouring is really pretty easy, so long as you place the contour line in the right position, and it is quite simple to find that right area. You need to make a “fishy” face, which is when you suck in your cheeks as much as you can. You can see/feel the hollow it creates below you cheeks; this is the area!

Using your contour brush, pick up your contour color, and apply in the hollow created by the fish-face. This is why makeup is done in private, usually, because this pose is not at all flattering 😉 The brush should fit nicely into the hollow of your cheeks, and you simply guide it upwards alongside the hollow/curve.

I followed my natural curve, which you can see resembles the same angle/line of my jaw.

This is what the finished product looks like, and of course, you need to blend this out if you weren’t going to use blush later on (which I will be doing). You can see that I have followed my jawline almost, only beginning in the hollow of my cheeks. For me, that means the curve ends around the middle of my ear.

You need the following tools for adding blush to your cheeks: a blush/powder brush (I use Philosophy’s blush brush) and a blush color (I’m using MAC’s Margin blush for this tutorial). Any large, fluffy powder brush will prove to be a decent blush applicator. The blush color you choose can be whatever color you want, and I usually match my blush color with the rest of my makeup. There aren’t any restrictions on the blush color just because you have contoured your cheeks previously, though.

It’s time to smile real big and cheesy-like! When you smile very large, your cheeks will puff up a bit, and these are the apples of your cheeks. You want to take your blush brush and pick up the blush color and apply beginning on the most pushed out part of the apple and then brush upwards toward your temple.

As I have done here…

This is what it should look like at this point, and I have deliberately done my best not to blend as I go along so I don’t skip over steps someone might want to see! It is pretty clear that there is a pinkish color and a darker brown color on my cheek, and nobody wants to look like this.

I usually blend my contour color into my blush by picking up more of the blush color with my blush brush and adding some to the gap/harsh line between the two, which is just under where I originally placed the blush.

Again, I move from the inner part of my cheek towards my temple.

It’s getting better, isn’t it? You can see that it isn’t quite blended at the innermost portion, so I’m going to fix that.

I fix this by repeating the process and making sure to start lower and at the point that needs to be blended better.

At this point, it’s not a bad idea to simply make small, light-handed circles on your cheeks to facilitate in blending.

I usually move in small circles beginning at the bottom inside and move my way upwards and outwards.

Make sure you do it to the apples of your cheeks, too!

All the way up to your temple…

And just a little more. All done. You have to realize that even though it took several photos to show the process, in actuality, it takes but several seconds to do it. Mostly the photos are taken to show you the placement of the brush since this isn’t video.

You will need the following to highlight: powder brush (I use MAC’s 182 buffer brush) and a highlight color (I’m using Pink Opal pigment in this tutorial). You can continue to use your blush brush, even an angled brush, but anything that is going to be soft and nice against your skin. A highlight color is usually quite light, and my two basics are Gold Dusk and Pink Opal pigments. I know some have been using Lightscapade mineralize skinfinish lately.

When using pigments as a highlight, a little goes a long way.

Using my 182 buffer brush, I pick up the Pink Opal pigment and dust it on very lightly right below my eye and on my cheek bone (you can use the cheesy smile pose to help find your cheekbones – the cheekbone point is not the prominent part of the apple, but where it dips down to your normal face “plain” at the top; press it, you should feel something hard – bone!).

Pull the highlighter out towards your temple.

Voila. You can always blend the contour color less than I have in order to make it stand out more or give you a darker line of contour. It is important to blend between the contour line and blush line so that the two are seamless, though!

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As a witness to the plum streaks down women’s faces in 1980, may I emphasize that one really should not use to dark a color for contour! Go a shade or two darker than your skin, but not much more.

(not in any way trying to diss or one-up Temptalia’s awesome tutorial, just sayin’)

Hi! I’m not really good in English, but wanna ask you a thing. My friends and I are creating a non-commercial Russian internet resourse containing different tutorials, including makeup. And now I’m searching for the material for the site throughout the web. This your tutorial is really great!! Could you let us use your tutorial for our site? We would appreciate it very much!

Hi! I’m not really good in English, but wanna ask you one thing. My friends and I are creating a non-commercial Russian internet resourse containing different tutorials, including makeup. This your tutorial is really great!! Could you let us use your tutorial for our site? We would appreciate it very much!

Hi there,

You are welcome to link people back to the tutorials found on my site, but they may not be copied word for word onto other sites. You can post the first paragraph or so and have a link to continue reading that goes to the original post on my site.

Thanks for asking!

hello… i love all your tutorials…i learned a lot from it.. however, i would love to see you making a tutorial on how to contour the nose… i been all over the internet looking for a step by step tutorial on this but failed.. u see, i belong to one of the unlucky asians who have wide and broad noses.. u are so pretty. i just hate my nose.the shape evrything about it so im hoping i could enhance the shape by contouring.. thanks a lot.this would mean a lot to me.

Hi Maya! I will try to post something, but as far as I know, the best way to contour the nose is simply to put a bit of dark coloring in the “hollows” of your nose, or along the sides of it to create the illusion of more shadows. I’ve never had the need to contour, but I’ll experiment and see if anything comes out of it.

The Kevin Aucoyn (sp?) book does a lot on contouring different areas of the face, not ‘Making Faces’, the second book (whose title I can’t for the life of me remember.

Maybe try that.

I love this tutorial, very helpful to see it step by step!

thanks.. that would mean a lot..i know u don’t need to contour your nose coz u have the perfect one… lucky for u.lol sorry for me.. i tried putting it with a darker color but it looks horrible.. i don’t know.. probably the blending or just my nose…

I enjoyed your tutorial very much. Do you have any color suggestions for really dark skin, I wear NC50 in studio tech. Thank so much.

Just choose a slightly darker color than your skintone, so maybe NC55-60 toned and use that as your contour color and maybe a soft balmy bronze for a highlighter.

Wow, thanks for the tips. I’m glad I found this site. Oh btw how do you get such amazing eyelashes? Any tips on products to use?


No problem, Lisa! I use CoverGirl’s Last Exact, Maybelline’s Full ‘n Soft, and/or L’Oreal’s Telescopic mascaras. I find those are the best 🙂

Thanks for the great tips on contouring – I’ve always been afraid to try it.

I have a rather round face with high cheekbones – would it help slim down my cheeks if I contour? What other areas should someone with a rounder face shape contour?

Also, can you suggest a few good pigments to use as blush (I have golden/tanned asian skin with yellow undertones)

No problem, just happy to share what I’ve learned!

Yes, it will help narrow the face, and you can also enhance your jawline by shading directly below your ear, where your jawbone starts, and going 2-3 inches from there (maybe stopping halfway to your chin), and making sure to buff it out so it doesn’t look dark, but it’ll help define your face more.

Rose pigment is a good blush, but so are Apricot Pink, Pinked, Mauve, Pink Opal, Accent Red, etc. I adore Pink Opal as a highlighter on top of powder blushes, same thing I use and adore Gold Dusk pigment for, too.

You look beautiful even without the make-up. Thank you so, SO much for this. I have a ton of MAC make-up and all of the colors you are using so I have to get to work. This is a great site and I hope you keep it up – I’ll donate if need be! 🙂 Going on to read about the eyeshadow tutorials now …Thank you!

Thank you, Cheryl! I’m happy to be able to help 🙂 I will do my best to keep the site going however I can!

Hi Christine,

I have a question about different finishes for blushes – besides preference on which type of finish, do matte, shimmer, sheer, frost blushes make a difference to one’s face shape and look? Sometimes I find matte blushes give me a rather “fake” flush even if applied lightly…I really like blushes with some shimmer (like mac blush in style – I think that one is actually quite frosty) but would that be too shimmery since I have oily skin?

Would you recommend some good mac blushes (any finish) that will give me a natural (but distinct) flush? Perhaps sometime other than brighter corals (since I already have style). My skintone (asian) is similar to yours, but perhaps with more yellow undertones.


Hi Meme! First, thank you for all the questions! I love answering them 🙂

I actually find that matte blushes tend to give a more subtle color than shimmery blushes, since the shimmer really accentuates the cheeks. I personally do enjoy shimmery blushes more than matte ones, though, for cheek color. I adore Margin blush, which is a staple of mine, and it gives me the perfect “glow” and coloring. Peachykeen, Springsheen, Peachtwist, etc. are all good products to consider, too. Cubic is another one that is similar to Margin that would work well.

I would only caution against using a shimmery product if it made you think your skin was extremely oily… if you put it on and it looks to you as if it makes your skin look worse than it is – not the right finish for you! Some people do not have a problem using shimmery products despite having oilier skin combinations. You could also use a mattifying foundation or primer like Smashbox’s Photo Finish Primer or MAC’s Studio Fix Fluid foundation (matte finish) to help reduce oily appearance.

Hi Christine!

Thanks for answering my question on blushes =)

I’ll definitely give margin a try (it’s a peachy color right?)…as well as peachykeen. I’ve picked the peachykeen tray up from the blush stand 3 times already lol, must mean something! But I find it a bit more on the shimmery side when compared to something like margin (which actually looks gorgeous on you from your pics on MUA!).

I recently also picked up dame (a huge risk to me since it’s very cool toned and light pink, but I thought it might work well when I do very cool toned eyes) and blushbaby (which I love since it’s a more neutral flush so I can pair it with strong/dark eyes).

I’m still trying to get the hang of dame and I’m currently wondering whether I could wear such a light and cool toned pink after all since I’m pretty tanned with golden/yellow undertones – what do you think? Any blush colors I should avoid for my skintone?

Thanks again for all your expertise!!

Margin is a peachy-pink color… it’s hard to describe. It comes out as almost a bronzy sort of flush for me. LOL, Peachykeen looks so lovely in its pot 🙂

You can totally wear a cool-toned pink! It’s weird, and it isn’t something you could throw on with any look… but trust me, I never thought I could, but I picked up Don’t Be Shy blush from the Barbie Loves MAC collection and it’s awesome with pink or purple eyes! Or even a smokey one.

Hi Christine,

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, as always!

Don’t be shy blush looks fabulous on you (especially with the purple look you had recently).

Going back to contouring, just wondering how “defined” the contour lines should be – are you suppose to blend the line very well with the lighter parts of your face so that it’s a gradient from light to dark or are you still suppose to leave it as a slightly noticable defined/distinct darker area? I’m scared of having too many different lines of color on my face! Also, I have a rather square jawline and would also contour (like you recommended before) from the back of the jaw diagonally down to about mid-jaw. Should I start a separate contour for the jaw area or just a continuous contour from underneath my cheekbones (i.e. so that I get 1 larger contour area starting from the hollows of the cheeks)?

LOL hope all that made sense…quite wordy =)

Also, recently and MA suggested that a large fan brush could be used to contouring…I tried it and it actually worked pretty well…just thought I’d share since I thought it was a pretty interesting way to use a fan brush (which I usually don’t have much use for except sweeping off pigment flyaways on my sink counter lol).


Oh and, just wondering…would it be better to use a darker color blush (i.e. brownish) or a more bronze/dark neutral color (i.e. without any rosy tones often found in blushes) for contouring? I’m wondering if I’m going to contour other parts of my face besides the hollows of the cheeks, that blushers might make my face look overall too red?
Thx again =)

It depends – I’ve used Enriched Refined Bronze to contour most often, but just recently purchased Harmony blush, which is a cooler color. I lot of people like Strada blush, too – it looked too light for me in the store, but I talked to another girl who’s similar in coloring to me and she said it works well for her. You want to get something that’s not too pigmented with red, though, definitely!

You don’t want the line to be obvious, so definitely buff it in with a buffer brush if you have it! Of course, don’t make it disappear either – it’s supposed to be a subtle “shadow.” You’re going to want to do two separate contour areas – cheeks and jaw. You might want to angle your cheek contour up a bit higher to ensure that the two areas are distinct from each other 🙂

Interesting, I’ve never thought to use a fan brush for that purpose, thanks for sharing! I’ll have to test it out. I’ve always used my fan brush for fall out, too (even though I rarely use it, lol).

Omg! my sister JUST introduced me to your site and im a completly spazzing out! you are so talented!!! and these tutorials!!! i always see stuff on magazines and mac posters that i always wanna try out but im too scared to.. that and ive tried experimenting before and its a mess!!! but i have newfound confidence with ur site!!! im seriously so excited to try these! you are so amazing with makeup! and ur makeup collection—to die for!!!!! im a girly girl so i loooove dressing up and make up and the sorts, but when it comes to make up i feel i fall short– until now! ur my make up hero!!! seriously, i must sound like such a freak– but im seriously so excited! Thank you for taking the time to do this!!! i have so many questions to ask u, but i’ll start with the most important, since ur an expert!

Ok, first things first… a couple years back I tried this MAC powder/foundation. I dont remember what it was called, but I know you could have used it as powder or moisten it and use it as foundation.. I dont use foundation daily, only on special occasions like when I go out or dress up, but I use pressed powder regularly. I used the MAC one (and applied it with a brush) but I found it didnt last long. I would apply it, and within 2hours it looked as if I had never applied anything. That and it made my face really oily. I have been using Cliniques face powder, but either my complexion has changed or they have changed their powder because its not the same. Its dull and it makes my skin look gross. So im looking for a new powder. I was thinking about going back to MAC and then my sis showed me your page—coincidence?? lol! So I come to you for suggestions. I know i can go ask the ppl at MAC but I feel like they’ll say anything to sell, u kno? Ur experienced in this so I wanted to ask you. Do you use MAC powder and foundation? other? What have you found to be the best powder? and foundation? That is all! Sorry for the length!

Oh, it can be any kind of powder (or foundation)– I dont mean it has to be MAC. Just what you’ve found to be the best or your “holy grail” lol! I know exactly what you mean tho by when you’ve found something really good! i used to be a Covergirl kinda girl and since trying “higher-end” make up I just cant go back. Aaand the L’Oreal HIP eyecolor thing, how you said it doesnt deliver–omg! so true! Thanks again!!!

Hi Alexendra! I’m glad you like the site 🙂

It sounds like you might have used Studio Fix powder? A lot of people seem to use that one, especially new users (I used it myself). Sephora actually has a great compact powder/foundation that I like. My favorite foundation is liquid called Studio Fix Fluid by MAC. By far best foundation EVER for me.

I generally only using foundation and skip the powder (since Studio Fix Fluid is matte and my skin is normal, I don’t even need powder to set it), but if I use powder, I use Sephora’s brand.

Hi Tope! To contour your nose, you would take a small contour brush (angled brush) with the same color you used to contour the face and jawline and go against the sides of your nose creating the appearance of a thinner nose.

hello,your site is wonderful can you sugest some mac eyeshadow colors that would look good on an afician american woman with brown eyes. thanks!

Hey! You should definitely check out MAC’s range of purples – Stars ‘n Rockets, Plum Dressing, and Creme de Violet would all look fabulous on your skintone. I also think golds would be awesome!

I came across your site by searing “smoky eye” in google image search. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING AND HELPFUL SITE EVER!! Thank you so much!!!! You’re gorgeous! I’m going to have a lot of fun experimenting!!!!

Hi Christine! I am a great fan of your site…have been for many months! I don’t know what to use to contour. Should I get a dark blush or a bronzer type thing? I don’t have any bronzers. I’m NC42 and I would like to begin contouring because it looks so nice. I bought Goldspill MSF…I dont know if I could use that.

Hey Allysha!

You can use a dark blush like Taupe, Strada, or Harmony – you can also try a bronzer or a deeper foundation color than you are. Perhaps NC50 (bad me, I don’t know if this shade exists) could work for you.

Try something matte rather than glittery or shimmery like Goldspill though!

your contour in to low..you also brought it in to far…it should never go past the outer corner of the eye…you shouldn’t suck your cheeks in to find the place to contour…take your index finger place it (long ways,not pointing) directly on your cheekbone..move your finger down until it is barely below the cheekbone…dont bring past outercorner of eye, place blush directly above contour..using a bronzer contour with any hint of shimmer is a bad choice for photos

Hi, christine.Toapply all these(contour , blush and highlighter), must you have your foundation and powder on first?
They all look nice together,and, i will like to know how to apply these things, as i only use blush.

Hi Sam, you don’t have to, but it helps (just because it gives you a base to adhere and blend everything with), but you definitely don’t HAVE to wear foundation.

If you do want to wear foundation/powder, it should go first as it’s quite literally, the foundation to the rest of the face!

Hey Sam! You can, but you have to be careful. I do find that other things (such as cooler brown blushes) work better than bronzers, though.

Thanks so much. My wedding’s coming up and your website really helped me put together some really great looks. This is so good for a brightened look. YAY 😀

hi christine! thanks for all of the great tips! i was wondering if you could recommend some mac conotour & blush colors for dark skin (think lauryn hill complexion) ? thanks!

Hey Shangrila!

You’re probably better off trying to use a powder (like a foundation) that’s for a darker skintone than yours, because I think you may have a tough time finding a regular contour shade!

Hi there..

This is Aishwarya from India

Extremely useful !! I never knew abt contour and highlight all these days.. and urs has been extremely useful.. thanks a loooot again!

Hi, thanks for the great tutorial! I have been looking into contouring techniques and such. I saw a few sites that mentioned using foundation first. Did you use that? Also, I’m an average pale Asian, and I heard that bronzers would make the contouring really obvious and fake. Do you agree/have any alternative suggestions?

No problem, Amy! I use foundation, then a contouring color. It depends on how warm you are naturally – bronzers can be contouring colors, but you need to be warmer-toned to pull it off (otherwise it may look too orange-y).

You could try bronzer if you have it on hand. You can also try MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural in Medium Deep (I think that’s the name – it’s one level darker than medium), which would be better than bronzer. Also, you can always use a foundation that’s 1-2 levels darker than you, too.

I’m still learning to properly contour my chubby face 😛
but just wanted to say that the detailed step by step tutorial really helps~
Guess I will eventually need to invest in a proper contour brush 😛

Hi Christine,

I am using the MAC’s cremeblush, therefore do I still contour and then apply my blush like what your tutorial mentioned? So I just treat the cremeblush or powder blushes the same?


i really love the ones which show you how to put on your foudation so well. but i was wandering how you keep your skin so good. i have ok skin but every now and then i get some blackheads and some spots so i was wandering if you could possibly do one on skin care. thanks alot
:):) xx Hari

hi, nice tutorial! but i do hope you realise your M.A.C brushes are fake. M.A.C doesn’t make brushes in all black handle. Also for contouring and highlighting it really depends on your face shape to know where to properly apply the contour/highlighter. Everyone has different face structure. Google online for contouring / highlighting techniques for different face shape, like for round, oval, heart, long and square.

But overall nice tutorial!

thanx a lot. this was really helpful! i actually became obsessed with buying mac’s scuplt and shape duo from an earlier article.
just wanted to say you guys are the best!

Thanks so much for this tutorial! I’ve been trying to learn how to contour especially since I’ve lost weight and I can actually see some of my cheekbone 😛

Can you recommend a good contour shade for my skintone?
I’m not sure what color I am in MAC, but I use Honey 4.5 in Bobbi Brown, and MUFE Velvet+ 35 in the winter and 55 in the summer. I have MAC Honesty for the highlight and blush I have as well, but not sure of the contour color. I do have an MSF Natural in Medium Deep but not sure if this will be too much shimmer with the Honesty.

Thanks so much!

Have you tried Blunt? MSFN is actually a good option, because there isn’t much shimmer at all. Where you contour tends to be below where you highlight, so it shouldn’t interfere.

You really did a very thorough explanations and even told what brush and powder you used. Its really easy to understand. Thank you so much. You’re gorgeous without makeup too.

thank you so much! i have been looking for good directions on how to properly contour and apply blush for a long time, on youtube, blogs, etc.
but never found any that were really well explained. yours explains everything, and what really helped me was that you provided good pictures showing what you did. thanks! your site is so nice, i’m definitely going to be coming back here for makeup help and ideas.

I am a student of beautician course. Today I have learn this thing from my teacher but your tutorial is amazing. After my class I had many confusions specially counting of chick bones but now confusion is clear. Thanks dear for this wonderful guidance.

Very nice, just two questions. Can you ever take highlighter and give a “allover” face dusting at the end, or is that too much? 
Also, every time you went back to blend blush/bronzer better, did you always add more blush, or just go back with a blank brush and blend?? 

You sure can – just as long as you use either a light hand or a subtle highlighter! Just go back with your brush without adding more product!

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