Contouring and ‘the natural look’ are not easy bedfellows. Just whispering the word ‘contour’ can strike fear into the hearts of even the most fanatical of makeup maniacs. Images of badgers, power-dressing 80s businesswomen and Kardashian sisters spring to mind. Scary stripy face is not on anyone’s wish list, especially those trying to keep it real for daytime, and the very idea of contouring is particularly unnerving for anyone of pale to transparent skin tone such as yours truly.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of cosmetic endeavour I decided to experiment on my own mug to find out if it really is possible to make contouring look less geography field map, more “maybe she’s born with it”. And while I’m at it, if I’m doing this minor face-lifting thing the natural way, let's go there with natural, organic products. Contouring doesn’t get much more au naturel than this.
I enlisted the help of makeup artist Lou Dartford, who also happens to be a passionate advocate of clean, green beauty products. I trotted on down for a masterclass at Content Beauty & Wellbeing with some trepidation, but I needn’t have worried; there wasn’t a power suit in sight. For outstanding cheekbones and eco-credentials, just follow Lou’s lead.
Step One: Ace the base
As always, supple, hydrated skin is key when it comes to mastering a convincing contour. If skin looks naturally healthy, products will look more believable - just ensure that you pick the right shades and formulations to suit your skin and that you’re not too heavy handed when it comes to application. According to Lou, the golden rule of the contour is that “you can always go back for more”. Step back and ensure you’re in good light before you go back for feature sculpting seconds.
Lou prepped my skin with Pai Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream, £32, before applying Vapour Atmosphere Soft Focus Foundation in 100 , £41, with fingers. This light reflective liquid foundation created a dewy yet not oil slick-y complexion that looked fresh and convincingly real. Stubborn blemishes were put back in their box thanks to Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation in Like Porcelain , £49, used as concealer. This was just the beginning of Mission Product Repurposing - tailor making your perfect contour is rarely paint by numbers, as I was to discover.
Lou recommends using cream products to contour if you’re a face-shaping newbie as they’re easy to blend, but if you don’t feel dressed without a dusting of powder try mixing it with moisturiser to create a custom tinted base.
Step Two: Pull the fish face
It’s an oldie but a goodie; Lou insists there’s something to be said for the suck-your-cheeks-in adage:
“It’s the best way to bring out your natural bone structure. Not working with the natural framework of your face is where most people go wrong when attempting to contour. Your bones curve naturally - follow this and don’t just draw on straight lines. You’re aiming to mimic a natural shadow, not change the architecture of your face.”
Now for the clever bit - creating light and shade. This part is notoriously tricky for the Snow Whites among us, as Lou admits:
“Darker skin is much easier to contour as shading is not so obvious. The worst-case scenario for those with fair skin tones is that your areas of ‘shadow’ look streaky or too orange. To play it safe, opt for the lightest matte bronzer you can find to avoid looking grubby. If bronzer doesn’t look natural, opt for a foundation one to two shades darker than your skintone. For really pale skin, try a very light grey shade or taupe eyeshadow.”
Lou traced Jane Iredale Pure Pressed Powder in Coffee , £22, under my cheekbone with a fan shaped brush, keeping the shading darker towards the ear and lighter as the colour graduated towards the centre of my face. To avoid distorting my natural face shape, she kept definition as subtle as possible, never veering to high or too low from the cheekbone. She added a touch more intensity with Vapour Solar Translucent Bronzer in Spicy , £29, before blending in RMS Beauty Lip 2 Cheek in Smile , £28, to the apples of my cheeks. Both products are sheer, low key and easy to buff into the skin, making this whole contouring business a lot less work.
Next up was highlighter, aka, magical shortcut to instant cut-glass cheekbones in contouring terms. Avoid highlighters containing glitter - you’re after a healthy sheen that catches the light, not a full-on face disco. Pearly RMS Beauty Living Luminizer , £30, pretty much does what it says on the pot - it makes your features, in this case your cheek and brow bones, look luminous, alive and ‘there’ (no mean feat for the more cherubic of cheek). Dab it on and blend, blend, blend.
Step Three: Mind the Gap
Your highlighter, blusher and contour need to blend together seamlessly to look natural. This is where blusher can make the difference between flat or flattering - adding a pop of peach to pale skin works wonders. As with your contour colour, don’t go too bold.
Step Four: Seal the deal
To ensure that your meticulous contouring doesn’t go walkies, consider layering fine powder over cream products. To add depth and staying power to my blusher, Lou applied a light veil of Studio 78 We Walk Blush in 01, £21, to my cheeks, before setting my base with a fine layer of translucent RMS Beauty ‘Un’Powder , £28. The end result was less airbrushed, more authentic, plausible facial angles. Because we all know that, deep down, we can’t Photoshop our faces for real life. It’s all too easy to get carried away ‘correcting’ our supposed flaws and ending up looking… odd. Makeup what your mama gave you.
Step Five: Add a flash of colour
This doesn’t strictly relate to contouring but to keep you from getting bogged down in the beige why not add a swipe of something fun to your eyes or lips? Lou kept things fresh and youthful by applying Ilia Karma Chameleon Lip Crayon , £20. A caramel or nude tone might just have been a bit too vanilla for this maniac.