Contouring is all the rage these days. It is one of those trends that can completely transform the look of your face shape. But, are you afraid to hop on board the contour train? If you are new to the game, it can seem a bit overwhelming at first. I recall the time when I first attempted contouring on my own by downloading a random diagram off of Pinterest. I mapped out the contour lines all over my face just as the diagram instructed. But, it kind of ended in disaster and my version came much closer to resembling a Pennywise knockoff than the picture represented in the diagram, lol!
Have you noticed that many of the tutorials you see out there across the social media spectrum tend to feature bronzed goddesses like J. Lo and Kim Kardashian? These are the looks we covet when we are out to obtain the perfect sculpt and glow. But we have to keep in mind that not all of us have that same base and skin tone (and, for those of you who do, we kind of all hate you…sorry, not sorry). I think part of the key to avoiding a contouring fail like me is to choose colors suited for our skin tone rather than trying to imitate models who look nothing like us. Hopefully this guide will serve to help keep you from making similar mistakes, especially if you are someone with fairly pale skin.
*Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may include affiliate links where I get paid a commission for some recommendations. However, I only bring you resources that I have personally tried or researched, and firmly stand by them. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn on qualifying purchases.
Choosing the Right Colors
One of the most important tips I can offer for contouring lighter skin is to match the right makeup colors to your skin. There are two beauty terms to become familiar with when determining our color palette. First, skin tone is the color right at your skin surface. This color can change depending on whether you’ve been out in the sun a lot or even due to a hormonal change. The undertone, however, is our actual base color that does not change and can be determined by our vein colors or how jewelry or white paper looks against the skin.
So, how can you tell your skin tone and undertone colors? For skin tone, you can generally tell based on the color of the surface skin. You may be a dark bronze/tan, a medium base, or a more fair/pale color. Keep in mind that you can still be light-toned but rock a yellowy undertone rather than a pink one. Pink hues will tend towards cool undertones and yellowy hues will lean more towards warm undertones.
There are a couple of ways to tell your undertone, including assessing your vein colors. If the veins at your wrists are a blueish tint, you are most likely a cool undertone. But, if your veins are more green, it indicates a warm undertone. If they have traces of both colors, then you probably have a neutral undertone. See pictures below for examples of each type. It can be challenging to tell if your veins are green or blue until you see them compared to others.
Another way to determine your undertone is to figure out if silver or gold jewelry looks better on your skin. If gold jewelry compliments you better than silver, then you are probably warm-toned and vice versa. If you are neutral-toned, then you can wear silver and gold interchangeably. Also, how does the color white look against your skin? If your skin tone appears more yellow from a white shirt or a piece of white paper, then you most likely have a warm undertone. If your skin reflects more of a pinkish color, than you are probably cool-toned.
This is helpful for choosing the right contouring colors. If you are have a warm undertone, you’ll want to choose more yellow/bronze tints. If a cool tone, you will want more pinkish tints. If you are neutral, you are more than likely able to pull off both tints. See how the picture displayed to the right includes two different contouring and highlighting palettes? The more taupe/pinkish colors on the left are more appropriate for cooler undertones, while the browner, yellowy colors on the right can pull off warmer undertones.
For some good ideas on appropriate contour colors for pale skin, I’ve included a few picks straight from Amazon below. Keep in mind that some of these are technically a “blush”, but the color selections are certainly relevant for contour, as well. You really don’t have to restrict yourself to the “contour” label. You can honestly wear blush, possibly bronzer and even certain lip colors, as long as you are choosing the appropriate colors and textures for your skin.
Similarly, here are some good bronzers to choose from off of Amazon, as well. A special note on the Charlotte Tilbury palette: This is the bronzer of choice by Nicole Kidman’s makeup artist, Kate Sinnot. Pricey, but worth it to get the coveted glowy Nicole Kidman look!
Contouring Do’s and Don’t’s
Now for some general overall contouring tips that benefit people with pale skin. It can seem like when your contouring game is off, it is a lot harder to hide the flaws on fair-toned skin colors than on those with more tan colors. Therefore, here are some tips to keep in mind to maintain your contouring A-Game:
- DO make sure to blend well! On fair skin, contour lines that are not blended will take on a stripey look. You want to avoid this by applying layers gently and with quality brushes that are better for blending. Also, your pre-contour steps, including base foundation and setting powders should be well blended and applied before adding the contour to the mix.
- DO choose the right type of contour brushes. I recommend finding a brush that has an angled tip to first apply your contour, then using a blending brush that isn’t too stiff to come back behind it for softening the edges. Some like to use a beauty blender, as well. This is not typically my preference but it can be useful to some for blending more subtlely. Some examples of good quality contour brushes include these linked below off of Amazon:
- DON’T confuse bronzer with contour. Did you know there is a difference between the two? Contouring is used to amplify the natural shadows of your face to create a slimmer and more defined shape, whereas bronzer is used to give the face the appearance of a sun-kissed look. You will not necessarily want to use the same colors to contour as you would to bronze. If you have paler skin, taupes and cognac colors might be a more appropriate fit for contour colors for you. But, most bronzers will generally appear as a shade that is more…well…bronze. Just like it’s name, lol! The two also have different placement recommendations on the face. In the photograph below, you’ll find a general guide for where to contour on the left and a bronzer guide on the right. As you see, the contour is placed along the natural shadow lines, whereas the bronzer is placed in the areas typically hit the most by the sun.
- DON’T contour using the “penis nose” approach. Ok, ok, this isn’t just for pale girls. But, I thought it was worth a mention for contouring techniques. When it is time to contour the nose, the correct shape is to follow the natural bell of the nose rather than a vertical line down, creating the shape of a penis…ha, ha! The more you know, right?
- DO consider your skin type when selecting cream vs. powder-based contour. Powders are generally better for oily skin and creams are better for dry and sometimes aging skin. Generally, cream-based contours can be easier to work with for a beginner contourer, and can also tend to give a more dramatic, exaggerated look. But, it can really come down to the brand and personal preference for you, as well.
- DO stick with shades that are no more than two shades darker than your skin tone. With pale skin, subtle is usually best. Rocking those dark colors to fake a tan will not be helping you out. Just sayin.
That wraps up my tips for all things contouring pale and light skin tones. Hope this helps as you practice those techniques! For more tips on all things beauty, style and makeup, check out my special beauty page on the blog and/or follow me here on my separate Instagram beauty page and/or here for beauty on Facebook.