Blurred lines: contouring and highlighting

Facialist and skincare expert Dija Ayodele gets to grips with contouring, but is it all it’s cracked-up to be?


Blurred lines: contouring and highlighting

I am definitely a late bloomer in the contouring department. For years, it’s a been a bit of a mystery to me. More often than not, whenever I tried it I ended up looking like I had a big stripe of dirt on my cheek. Even when I did my make-up artist training, I muddled through hoping for the best. I had since buried all memories of contouring until the chiselled look became popular once more. 

A practice that has evaded me for so long, I had adopted the school of thought that creating a face shape that wasn’t truly my own and made me another clone in a sea of people that all looked the same wasn’t for me. I liked the youthful roundness of my face. But then I discovered Laura Mercier Flawless Contouring Palette, £35, which comes with illustrated flashcards, so there is no way you’ll get confused. The colours themselves are best suited to medium-to dark skin tones with a subtle finish for make-up that doesn’t wear you.

And that’s when I realised contouring can be all things to all women. From intense definition that has the feel of smoke and mirror about it, to a more subtle version of contouring that actually accentuates your unique and natural features (well, the ones you want at least). When I subtly define my nose, my eyes take centre-stage, while a soft smattering of highlighter above my cheeks make my whole complexion glow.

For my daily contouring needs speed is key, so I’ve introduced Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Contour and Highlighter, £19, to make the job quick and easy. I like to use my fingers to apply and blend directly where needed. The contour is ideal for golden skin tones, while the rosy gold highlighter really works on any skin colour – fact. If you prefer powder, Nars Contour Blush, £30 are simple foolproof two-toned duos to offer natural definition to cheeks, and with three different shade pallettes, all skin tones are covered.

I’ve discovered some other great finds, too. MAC Studio Chromagraphic Pencils, £14, are soft and easy to blend and help define smaller areas like the brow bone, the inner corners of the eye and cupid's bow. I can just about get away with using them as a highlighter, but on fairer skin tones like Thandie Newton's for example, they would work a treat – I do hope darker shades will follow soon.

I’ve also been experimenting with House of Glamdolls Glambase Wheel 2, £25, which includes six shades that work with the golden and red undertones in darker skin. The perfect example of a multi-purpose buy, this conceals, highlights and contours beautifully. My favourite shade is Radiate, a creamy copper. It’s much softer and wearable than the usual gold toned highlighter offered to women of colour, and is great for wearing further down the neckline on collarbones and bare shoulders. 

I’ve come to believe I was a little too quick to judge the contouring trend as something that made us all look the same. In fact, I’m now starting to see that contouring techniques and products can actually help us look like us but on our best day.

Photograph: Corbis