Chiaroscuro: Highlight & Contour


Derived from the Italian words “chiaro” for light and “scuro” for dark, chiaroscuro is a technique employed in visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define 3D objects. Artists painted on flat canvases, but were able to give shape and definition to their subjects as if they were jumping out of the canvas using the play of light and dark. Enter: Highlight and contour!

The perfect face shape is said to be oval, but we all know that faces come in a bevy of different shapes. Depending on your shape, each “sculpting” routine will be a little different. Beginners, you just have to remember 2 things:

  • Everything you highlight (or lighten) comes forward and
  • Everything your contour (or darken) recedes

First, you’ll need to first determine your base shade, or the shade the matches your skin the most. Your highlight should then be one shade lighter with the same undertone as your base shade. Your contour shade should be one shade darker, keeping with the same undertone as your base shade.


The goal is to make the face appear oval. So imagine there is an oval on your face your eye sockets being the width of the oval and the tip of your forehead to the tip of your chin as its length. This will help you visualize what you want to highlight and what you want to contour.

1. Begin with your natural shade of foundation.

Don't forget to prime!
Don’t forget to prime!

2. Apply highlight to the high points within the oval like your forehead, the center of the nose, the cheekbones, and the tip of your chin.

You can apply highlight to the sides of your nose if you want to slim it down.
You can apply highlight to the sides of your nose if you want to slim it down.

3. Contour all areas outside the oval: the temples and along your hairline. And the sides of your cheeks. This will make all these areas recede and make your face look slimmer.

We know it's hard, but don't overdo it!
We know it’s hard, but don’t overdo it!

4. Set with powder that is your natural skin tone to blend everything together seamlessly.

Blend like your life depends on it.
Blend like your life depends on it.

Between contour palettes and contour sticks, the life of an aspiring MUA is much easier. If you can’t get a hold of these or just want to save on the cash (we feel you girl!), you can work with different shades of face powder or foundation, but that’s a story for another time.

Ladies, don’t forget that highlighting and contouring is not just for changing your face shape, it can also be used to manipulate your features! You can give yourself cheekbones by deepening contour below your cheekbones, make your nose appear slimmer by highlighting the center of it and contouring on opposite side, draw attention to the shape of your lips by highlighting your cupid’s bow, the possibilities are endless! Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up and just figure out what works best for you. You know what they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, also da Vinci’s Mona Lisa wasn’t finished in a day. We’re pretty sure she’s smiling because her contour game is on point!


Show us the goods (aka your results)! Use the hashtag #beautybytes, we’ll be watching!

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