A simple scroll on TikTok reveals that Contouring is back from the dead.
It’s back after a backlash against the sculpted, drawn look often associated with the early 2000s. (Remember the strobe? Baking?) It’s back after a pandemic in which many people have renounced makeup altogether. But the look is not what you may remember.
Makeup experts now swipe bronzer, blush and highlighter under their foundation for a look called underpainting. It’s an approach that makeup artists have used for years to create a “natural” look: all the color comes on first and the foundation acts as a veil to spread it. Sometimes the look is called soft sculpting. The idea is to choose lighter formulas, apply less and blend more.
With a new contour in mind, companies like Glossier and Undone Beauty have released watery, creamy formulas. For example, Glossier’s Solar Paint, described as an “almost whipped gel cream,” is a textured bronzer meant to be applied with the fingertips. Undone’s Water Bronzer is a water-based stick designed to create a soft contour that blends seamlessly.
As a result, many young women who may have witnessed the heavy contouring of the past are trying it for the first time.
“I’m 26 years old and I only started contouring three months ago,” said Madison Baber, a fire activation manager in San Antonio. She was inspired by TikTok influencers like Kylie Larson and Kensy Tillo who came across her For You page and made contouring look “so easy and natural”.
“I’ve seen how it can transform your face, but not make you look grumpy,” said Ms. Baber.
Fabiana Meléndez Ruiz, 26, is also a newbie. “I literally started contouring in September,” says Ms. Ruiz, who works in marketing. “I had never done it before, even though I experienced the extreme contouring YouTube chaos of 2015.”
Madison Beer’s Vogue Beauty Secrets video was the turning point for Savannah Scott, the editor of the beauty review app Supergreat. “She talks about how Charlotte Tilbury’s wand changed her life,” Ms Scott, 28, said of the 22-year-old influencer and singer. “When I saw how she used it, I thought, ‘I can do this.'”
“I was looking for contouring because I know how transformative it can be to someone’s face,” said Ms. Scott.
Mario Dedivanovic, Kim Kardashian’s longtime makeup artist who largely popularized the once obscure photoshoot technique, is all in.
“I’ve definitely seen the contours shift to a softer look,” said Mr. Dedivanovic. “First-time folks are looking for a softer, more effortless way to wear it, and there’s less pressure to follow all the rules.”
The more intimidating contour looks of the past were actually meant for social media, YouTube and heavy lighting, he said.
The new wave of contouring has a lot to do with the current style obsession with the 1990s. The OG supermodels of the era had defined cheekbones and strong jawlines, but the look was more natural and less obvious than that of the early years.
“Now that all things ’90s have made a big comeback, the contour aesthetic of the era is no exception, except we see it more scaling back for each day,” said Mr. Dedivanovic.
Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury is so enamored with the 90s contouring look that she dedicated an entire contouring palette to it, the Nudegasm Face Palette.
“I started my career in the ’90s, surrounded by the super goddesses who really understood the power of tone-on-tone color layers to accentuate their facial features,” said Ms. Tilbury. “From Cindy and Naomi to Kate and Linda, it was all about magical matte formulas to create a soft, diffused contour.” That was the beauty philosophy of the 90s, she said: improving your own features by playing with light and shadow.
Some makeup pros suggest that the new wave of contouring came about because of boredom with the highly filtered, altered look we’ve grown accustomed to on social media.
“We’re moving away from using bronzers and highlighters to sculpt the facial angles,” says Terri Bryant, makeup artist and founder of Guide Beauty, a line of makeup products created with accessibility in mind. “I’m a big fan of returning to makeup focused on celebrating and enhancing our features rather than changing them.”
For anyone considering capitalizing on the trend, the new, lighter products are a great way to get started, but application matters too. Ms. Bryant prefers different shades of cream blush over bronzers for contouring.
“Start with the cheeks,” she said. “It’s a bigger area to work with and a good place to hone your mixing skills. You highlight the cheekbone by adding a lighter, multidimensional shade to attract light. It’s like putting the feature directly in the spotlight. To contour, apply a matte shade, no more than one or two shades deeper than your natural skin tone, in the hollow area just below the cheekbone.”
The dark shade makes that area appear to recede, ultimately lifting and defining the cheekbone above it.
Ms. Tilbury also advises to think simply. “Just think of contouring as choosing the features you most want to show through the use of light and shadow,” she said.
She attributes the new look of contouring to new products. “There’s a softer, more modern take on contouring as the formulas and look have evolved,” she said. “Now it’s all about a flattering contour – super-forgiving, finely milled powders that won’t settle in your lines and pores and creamy, lightweight formulas that allow for effortless blending.”
For supermodel cheekbones reminiscent of the ’90s, she said, follow the hollow of the cheek, suck your cheeks in, nestle the brush in the hollow, and brush back and forth.
“Always remember to mix, mix, mix,” Ms Tilbury said.