While a contoured face may look great on reality TV (see Kim Kardashian’s gorgeous complexion for proof), a heavily-sculpted effect may not translate as well off-screen, where you don’t have total control of where the light hits your face. When done correctly, a well-blended contour can emphasize your features or slim down specific areas, but celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose advises taking a “less is more” approach to the method.
“You don’t want to create a new face,” he tells us. “That’s the mistake some people make. When you apply foundation and powder, sometimes it takes away your natural contour, so the goal is to bring that back out so your face doesn’t appear flat.” Barose has made up the famous faces of Lupita Nyong’o, Hailee Steinfeld, and Coco Rocha among many others, so during a recent visit to InStyle headquarters, we asked the pro to demonstrate how to create a perfectly sculpted effect that won’t leave you looking like a music video extra on our site producer Leah Abrahams.
Keep reading to learn all of Barose’s expert tricks, and to see the handy GIF guide!
No concealer and bronzer stripes here! To pull off a natural-looking contour, your complexion should still look like your natural skin. Begin by applying a layer of foundation and setting powder, then lightly dust a sheer bronzer around the perimiter of your face. On Leah, Barose used a Koh Gen Do foundation ($62; sephora.com), which he applied with a wet Beauty Blender sponge ($20; sephora.com).
Before applying any contouring powder, use your hand to find your natural cheekbone. “Turn toward the mirror and feel for where it begins and ends, that way all of the product will be going in the right direction,” Barose says. “Sometimes people just suck in their cheeks and pick a spot, and they’ll end up going too high or extending the contour too low, so determine the angle of yours first.”
Armed with Lancome’s Cheek and Contour Brush ($40; lancome-usa.com) and Dolce & Gabbana’s Bronzing Duo ($66; saksfifthavenue.com), use the short, dense side of the brush to sweep the darker powder onto your face. “You do a little bit of an obvious line at first, then blend the powder with the fluffy side of the brush,” says Barose. “I try not to go all the way to the hairline—it looks a little ’80s if you do that. Blur the line a little with the thicker end of the brush so that it goes from the dark, contoured area to a natural fade.”
He then used the lighter shade from the Bronzing Duo to diffuse the color slightly. Light and medium skin tones can get away with using a bronzer as a contour powder, provided that it isn’t too orange, while deeper complexions should focus more on highlighting the high points of the face. Even if you don’t have Lancome’s dual-sided brush, you will need both dense and wide-bristled versions to nail the look. “The dense brush is for sculpting. You can really create that definition, then you blend it with the fluffy brush,” he adds. Finish with a quick pass of the Beauty Blender sponge.
To contour your nose, use a small amount of bronzer along both sides with the dense brush. “Follow your natural shape—don’t try to make it so narrow or draw a thin line,” he adds. “It’s your nose, just a little sculpted. I climb upwards with product on the brush, and blend it down.”
A shimmery highlight serves as the final touch. On Leah, Barose used Chanel’s Soleil Tan De Chanel ($48; chanel.com), a fluid formula. “A lot of times when people contour, they’ll use a matte powder to highlight, and that’s when you can tell it’s makeup. Use something with a slight shimmer instead,” says Barose, who advises using the Beauty Blender to apply the product. “Using your fingers will create a blotchy appearance, so blend it on with the sponge, and don’t use more than two sheer coats as too much can bring out fine lines and make you look oily.” The highlight should be discrete, so pat the product on little by little, and the rule of not extending the product to your hairline also applies here. “You shouldn’t see it from across the room,” Barose says. “It should look like your skin is glowing, and will show up when you catch the light.”
The finished product: