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Anatomical Explanation of Highlighting and Contouring

*Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this post elsewhere, it has been stolen!*

Highlighting and contouring is fun to do when you know what you are doing. If you don't know then the colors can just look like misplaced racing stripes on the face. I have seen many people's attempts at contouring and highlighting and sometimes I just want to shake them and tell them, "You should have just left your face alone."

Check out: Contouring, Shaping, and Highlighting -What Does it All Mean?

I know makeup artists say that highlighting and contouring is just bringing what you want forward and what you don't want into the shadows.  Yeah, right. Easier said than done. I know that many of you do the fish face of sucking in your cheeks to contour yet some do not stop the contouring until that line meets the middle of the cheek. I won't tell you to do something without a reason. I am not going to be like some makeup artists who say you put it there just because. No, I want the reason and explanation to why. So, what I am about to post you may not agree, I don't mind; but I will tell you why to put the color in that area. As you look at the pictures, feel your face and learn where your muscles and bone structure sit. Feel how the bones curve into the hollows. (This will be very important for the eye shadow application post.)

In the following picture (probably a male skull but let's pretend it is female) I have divided the face into the various planes. (Ignore the acupuncture needles coming out of the skull, they pointed to the names of the bones.) The four skulls show the various planes of the face with the black line showing where the hairline starts approximately. The front of the face (outlined in red) includes that "apple" of the cheek. The corners (shaded in white) can make or break the face. (I will explain later.) The sides (shaded in yellow) which is usually contoured to bring the front of the face more forward.


The Front

The red outline of the face which is really about the first 6 teeth but due to the drawing the perspective shows the back of the jaw. The front of the face is mostly correcting the discolorations and deemphasizing the deep lines around the mouth. Contouring is mostly done on the sides of the nose, in the crease of the eye, on or below the chin. The rest is highlighting to bring the face forward. When I highlight and/or contour, I usually draw lines with my brush first to see the placement. Then I take a filbert brush and blend until the lines are gone.

Check out: Come Fly With Me: Understanding the Planes of Your Face

As you can see by the picture I place the highlighting on the temples; this brings the forehead more forward. The bridge of the nose to make it more prominent. (I start right before the eyebrow then go down the bridge.) I highlight under the eye from the inner corner of the eye (tear duct) to the other corner. Just a tip, smile and check where the muscles below the eye area puff up; just place highlighter below that puff. If placed on the puffy area, this emphasizes the puffiness. If you have bags, place highlighter right below the bags. You can see that I extended the highlighting to the corners. This will open up or lift the eyes. I also chose to highlight the lip area, the upper lip line and the small area beneath the lower lip. This gives emphasis on the lips and brings it forward. If you have thin lips, this can help in making them look more prominent. You can also see where the blush goes on the apples of the cheeks.

The Corners

These are very important, at least to me. Your skull has rounded corners like the ones on the sidewalk. These corners on your skull bring together the front and the side of the face. Now, this is the area that can make or break makeup. It can make the face makeup two dimensional or three dimensional. The corners especially the eye area (which will be greatly elaborated in a future post) can give shape and depth with some tricks. Or it can look just flat and aging. The corners of the cheekbones are generally where highlighting powder is applied. I used a pink to show the cheekbone highlight to make it easier to see. The highlight is very close to where the eye area is highlighted. The highest part of the cheekbone is highlighted here, and it stays in that corner area of the face to emphasize dimension. Contouring can start at the temple area if you want to slim that area more. Same with the cheekbones, the contour should never go past beyond the corner point that turns towards the front. You want the contour beneath the bone and not the apple of your cheeks. Blush can also be placed in this area, the continuation from the apples of the cheeks. This is where I stop with the cheek color. I don't go beyond the corners. Some people do and sweep it up to the sides but on me I feel like I am reliving the 1980's. If you feel comfortable with it then by all means do it.

The Sides

The sides of the face is pretty much for contouring. You can contour on the temples to the sides, under the cheekbone, sides of the jaw and under the jaw line. To contour the cheekbone, feel where your ear hole is, then go towards the side of your face. You should be able to feel the "hollow" or dent from the cheekbone into your facial muscles. Follow that until you feel the mandible or muscles that open and close the mouth, it should never go past that point. Highlighting is rarely done unless you really want to widen the face. This is usually done when you are trying to change the bone structure for a character but in real life, looking slim is the goal.



As for products for highlighting and contouring, you can use creams, powders, and liquids. The colors should be two shades darker than your skin tone for contouring and two shades lighter for highlighting. Yes, there are contouring sets out there, but I would avoid the ones that look really grey and ashy because you will look gaunt and ashy in natural light. Pick a color that is neutral or has just a touch of warmth. You can use a matte bronzer. I would avoid the shimmer ones for contouring since anything shimmery catches the light.

The following highlighting and contour is just a guideline. You can see that I never mention face shape. I think every face shape is perfect and should be celebrated. Everyone is different. All you really want to do is just bring out your features and feel good about yourself. Don't compare your face to the "perfect oval". That exists when you are trying to draw the face on a piece of paper. Just have fun with highlighting and contouring.

Read by the Intelligent! Uncredited, copied, and plagiarized by the idiots!
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