Contouring for dark skin is not just about having cheekbones chiseled to the gawds (although, heyyyyy), but it’s also a helpful technique for the unique and natural coloring we have in our skin. I’ve mentioned this numerous times on the blog and in videos on my Youtube, but as women of color we aren’t typically just one uniform shade all over: sometimes we’re darker around the perimeter of our faces and light in the center. Or we might be a totally different shade on our necks than our faces and vice versa. This unique coloring can make it harder to find great foundation options, but of course it’s not impossible. This post will cover some of the techniques and some reminders when it comes to contouring for dark skin.
P.S. These were screnshoots from a video I filmed in 2016 back when I had the worst hyperpigmentation I’d had in a while. See how I got rid of it here.
Sometimes when you use all one color, it hides that natural coloring we have and makes our foundation look like a mask. This is where contouring can come into play. For example, in my foundation routine, I use Cover FX Total Cover Cream in N110 as my base shade which is a pretty good color match that gives me color harmony between my neck, face, and chest, but I’m still lighter in the perimeter of my face so I use Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer in Golden to highlight and then Cover FX Total Cover Cream in N120 (or sometimes P125 if I want a slightly warmer look) and Cover FX Mineral Powder Foundation in N120 (or P125 if I’m using the P125) to set it. With this I get a foundation look that mimics the way my skin is naturally colored and gives me a more harmonious coloring vs messing up my clothes (and using extra product) by bringing my foundation all the way down to my neck to get a match.
Don’t let a too light highlight or improperly placed contour happen to you!
Highlighting and Contouring for Dark Skin Basics:
To highlight, you want to use a product that is about 1-2 shades lighter than your skin tone. For contouring, you want to use a product that is about 1-2 shades darker than your skin tone.
Typically, your contour color is cooler in undertone to create the type of shadow you want for contouring. There are some who *could* use something with a warmer undertone, for instance I can get a nice contour look when I use Cover FX P125 (but it does look different than when I use the N120). But it can get tricky on those with lighter complexions since products with warmer undertones (i.e. bronzer) are typically used to “warm” or “bronze” the face for a “I just got back from the Caribbean” look and doesn’t always create the shadows and contours that come with contouring.
When it comes to the undertones of your highlight color, you can choose something that is the same undertone as your foundation, or what I do is use something slightly golden in undertone (my undertones are neutral). It depends on the look you’re going for, but I personally steer clear of things that are cooler in undertone because it can look greyish on my skin. Of course if you have cooler undertones in your skin, you can use a highlight with cooler undertones.
The difference are pretty slight, but here’s a neutral/slightly cool contour (N120) warmer contour vs something warmer (P125)
There are a myriad of makeup products out there you can use for highlighting and contouring: cream foundations, powder foundations, stick foundations, cream pencils in colors that suit your highlighting and contouring shades, etc. You can even use some liquid foundations though some formulas are easier to use than others (some might not have a heavy enough finish or may be too “runny”). Just make sure that whatever you’re using is matte in finish—no shimmer, no shine, no glitter—those are all things that will take away from the contouring effect. You can start with a cream and use a powder in a corresponding color to set it, or you can just use a powder. It’s up to you and the desired look you’re going after. I would say that any time you use a cream, you want to set it with powder to help avoid some transfer and breakdown of product. Unless the product says it doesn’t need to be set with powder, I personally always set with powder. (As an aside, some people—usually those with drier skin—may only need to set foundation just in the T-zone area).
I asked you guys to tell me what questions you have about contouring (as well as foundation, but there were so many good ones that I’ll make that into a separate post, so make sure you’re subscribed to the blog so you don’t miss it).
There are a number of things that can cause creasing. One of the biggest ones I’ve found is that product settles into the fine lines in the eye area. You want to make sure you’re using a good eye cream (see my previous posts here for more info and reviews) as the area there can be delicate and can get dry so it needs the hydration. Some people might also need something to “fill” the lines in the area—like a wrinkle filler. RoC Skincare, Olay, and Estee Lauder are a few brands that make awesome wrinkle fillers.
The next thing is you want to make sure you’re using a concealer that speaks to your specific undereye situation (there’s a gazillion concealers out there so you have to figure this out for yourself based on your needs—check out a bunch of concealer reviews I’ve done in the past here). And lastly, you want to set your concealer with powder. It’s very important to know that if you’re highlighting, your powder should also be about 1-2 shades lighter than your skin tone. It should be about the same color as the concealer (or whatever product you’re using to highlight) OR you can use a translucent powder. I have a post on highlight setting powders for dark skin which names a few—Ben Nye Banana might work on *some* but it’s not the first (or second, or third…lol) choice I’d have for dark skin. I personally prefer to use a brush to apply (I like the e.l.f. Highlighting Brush), but I’ve used a beautyblender before and like that as well. It’s really about preference. I say play around with the different techniques and find out what works best for you. While there are *some* rules to makeup, there are also millions of ways to get the job done.
So I personally prefer to use a powder that matches the color of my cream contour to set. Reason being, I like that the darker powder reinforces the color and “strengthens” my contour. You can set with a regular powder that matches your skin tone BUT if the powder has a fuller coverage (or heavier finish), it could “hide” or “dull” your dark cream contour.
You can skip the cream contour if you’re using a strong enough contour powder. After a session with one of my makeup artist pals Andi Yancey, I stopped using cream and powder because I could get a similar look with less product. But recently I started using cream + powder again to contour. Mainly because I like the reinforcement they give each other, but really because I have excess cream contour product to use up…lol. It’s a matter of preference, but if you find you get the same look you like with less product, I say go for less product.
Contouring with bronzer isn’t “silly,” but on some skin tones, it won’t get you that contour effect (more of a “I’ve been vacationing” look). Also some bronzers have too much shimmer to be effective for contouring.
Now, where you highlight and contour depends on your face shape and your desired look. We’re not all going to have the same highlight and contour areas—some of us might want some areas to be more prominent than others—and that’s what’s awesome about makeup.
I break down a lot of these basics as well as mistakes to avoid in my Contouring Mistakes video which you can find on my Youtube channel and I’ll also embed it at the end of this post.
DON’T FORGET TO BLEND.
Your highlight and contour should NOT have sharp lines nor look like a mosaic. The areas should lightly blend into the skin for the most skin-like look, but don’t overblend where there’s no clear difference in the areas.
Contour Kits for Dark Skin:
In the last few years, contouring kits have gained popularity due to contouring pretty much taking over the internet. Contour Kits are awesome if you like having the flexibility to mix shades to create custom looks throughout the year (contour kits typically come with multiple shades), and they’re also amazing to travel with. I’ve reviewed a number of contouring kits for dark skin here on the blog, so you can check them out here and also via the links below. I’ll take a contour kit with me when I travel, but I’ve come to learn that it’s better for me to have full size products because I’ll go through contour kits like crazy in my personal routine plus there will always be shades in the kit I won’t ever use.
Cover FX Contour Kit
Black Radiance Contour Kit (powder)
Black Radiance Contour Palette (cream)
Sleek MakeUP Contour Kit (cream)
Sleek MakeUP Contour Kit (powder)
Anastasia Contour Kit (powder)
Anastasia Contour Kit (cream)
UCANBE $8 Contour Kit (cream)
blackUP Contour Stick (cream)
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More posts and videos for further learning
Check out these blog posts and videos to get a better look and understanding of contouring for dark skin. Make sure you subscribe to my Youtube channel!
See all contouring posts, swatches, and reviews on product here.