Beauty School: How To Highlight And Contour Your Face

What’s the deal with highlighter? I feel like I see it EVERYWHERE. When should I use highlighter instead of blush? What about bronzer?

Light colors highlight and draw areas forward, while dark colors shade and push them back. Employing these techniques together lets you manipulate light and shadow on your face to create an illusion. Here are a few handy tips so you don’t end up looking like you have a patchwork face!


  • Use highlighter on the higher planes of the face such as the cheekbones, browbones, nose, chin, cupid’s bow of the lips, under the eyes, and inside the tear ducts. The idea is to mimic the effect of light on the face.
  • Cream and powder highlighters are available for fair skin, but if you have dark skin, use a foundation two shades lighter than usual. Highlighters can be matte or shimmery with light reflectors for extra luminosity, but those with very high shimmer aren’t subtle enough for a lot of contouring work. Instead, mix bone powder eyeshadow with translucent powder to make the required natural tone.
  • Apply cream with a finger, sponge, or synthetic brush. Use a medium-sized cheek brush for powder and a large brush for blending.


  • The opposite of highlighting, where a lighter color is used to draw out or bring forward, contouring uses a darker color to hollow or recede. The two techniques work in combination, but you don’t have to highlight right next to the shaded area, since the normal will already seem more prominent by comparison.
  • Use a foundation or powder two shades darker than your skin tone. If you use a bronzer or powder eyeshadow for this, be careful it doesn’t contain too much shimmer. It should have the same luminosity as skin, so it shouldn’t be completely matte either. Apply with an oval-headed cheek brush or a sponge, and use a larger brush for blending.
  • You can use this on your cheekbones, nose, and jawline. For cheekbones, suck in to find the natural hollow. This can be emphasized by shading the area with a tadpole shape — the head in the hollow under the cheek apple and the tail blending to nothing toward the hairline. Balance this with a dot on the hollow of each temple and blend. To slim a wide nose, shade either side, starting from below the bridge and ending above the nostrils. Lastly, contouring under the jawbone will define the jawline and slim the neck.

Jemma Kidd is a world-renowned makeup artist who has painted the faces of Naomi Campbell and Jerry Hall, and now she’s here to solve all of your beauty dilemmas. Not only does she have two makeup lines of her own — Jemma Kidd Make Up School and JK Jemma Kidd — she’s also worked with Max Factor, Rimmel, and Stila. Yes, she’s a total beauty guru. Have a question for Jemma? Email it to!

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