The essence of beauty products — to create a flawless, sculpted base rid of any discolouration, dark circles and pesky pimples. While our foundations and concealers may do a fairly good job at hiding our problem areas, what exactly makes them work? Well, the answer lies in art! Specifically art and colour theories; there is a reason why it’s called a makeup artist!
And by understanding the colour theories ourselves, perhaps we can be one step closer to achieving professional-level coverage and sharper-than-a-knife contouring:
Colour in Creating a Flawless Base
When we conceal darkness or redness on our skin, we are actually trying to neutralise the unflattering pigments. In many facets of artistic creations — graphic design, painting and fashion — the colour wheel is employed to determine what colours complement or cancel each other out. Essentially, colours on the opposite ends negate each other while those on its side accentuate it.
This is why colour correctors always come in whacky shades. Different colour pigments specifically address different problem areas. Knowing the right ones to use is key to having impeccable and natural coverage! Instead of packing on your concealers (which can cause caking), why not try adding a layer of these colours:
Green Neutralises Red
On the opposite end of red, mint green is the perfect shade for covering pesky pimples or ruddy redness. To spot-conceal with a cream-based green concealer, start with a light layer (Just a dab is sufficient!) and blend out. Build on that base lightly to prevent any caking. After, just go in with your trusty concealer for Photoshop-like coverage!
If what you struggle with is rosacea, I would recommend a green-tinted primer instead. Not only does this help colour correct overall redness, but it also ensures that your foundation stays in place.
Lavender Neutralises Yellow Tones
As someone who struggles with pasty dullness, one of my makeup staples is a lavender colour corrector! It makes for a great way to brighten up yellow-tone, sallow-looking areas. I like to pop this colour on the high points of my face (brow bone, cheekbones and the tip of my nose) — it gives me a subtle and natural glow that brightens my overall complexion.
You can also use this on your under eyes if you are not as sleep-deprived as I am, but my deep eyebags require a little something more…
Orange Neutralises Dark Blues
Orange lies across blue on the colour wheel, and as we have established, cancel each other out! This makes it the perfect corrector to layer under your eyes, which has bluish undertones. However, orange is a pretty intense colour. While it works beautifully on deeper skin tones, it could be hard for those on the lighter spectrum to use this colour in full-force.
An alternative for light to medium skin tones would be peach or salmon colour correctors. The colours peach and salmon are made from a mix of red, orange and yellow hues. Since these colours cancel out blue, green and purple respectively, they are a good neutraliser for dark eye bags. This is also why most brightening concealers have a pinkish tone to them — they are using basic colour theory to perform that function. The more you know!
Yellow Neutralises Purple
Yellow works great at cancelling out any purple undertones, which are commonly found in blemishes such as bruises and veins. If your eyelid area is particularly dark or has veins peeking through, dab on some yellow before applying your eyeshadow. An added perk is that it makes your eyeshadow colours pop! It also works wonders for evening out your skin tone — but I would advise using a colour correcting primer if that’s your goal.
This palette assembles all the colours you need for creating a perfect base. A buttery cream-based concealer, it blends effortlessly into your skin while providing seamless colour correction. Each shade is highly pigmented; you only need a thin layer to achieve flawless coverage. I especially appreciate how it did not budge under my concealer, and did not crease throughout the day. A handy must-have for days where your skin doesn’t look the best, but you want it to!
Colour correct without sacrificing on glow and SPF! This is a creamy primer that evens out skin tone while enhancing your skin's radiance. The slight tone-up effect is also a welcomed brightener for my complexion, especially in the mornings where I look a little worse for wear.
Contouring = Creating Light and Shadows
Contouring — the closest humans will get to shapeshifting, at least for our faces! An age-old technique that stems from theatre makeup, it is essentially manipulating shadow and light to achieve a chiselled face. In art, this is known as chiaroscuro, a technique that contrasts light and darkness to create a sense of dimension. It’s how many renaissance painters bring life to their works — 2D illustrations are transformed into realistic 3D-like figures.
In a similar manner, contouring on the face is knowing where to accentuate shadows and brighten highlights to achieve a sculpted dimension. As someone whose face is essentially a circle without any makeup on, learning the art of contouring has dramatically changed my life (and my jawline!). Here’s some tips on how to apply the chiaroscuro technique to your makeup routine:
Ensure That Your Contour Shade Is Matte
The goal of contouring is to create the illusion of a shadow. If your contour shade contains glitter particles, it will reflect light instead of deepening the angles on your face. This is also what separates contour products from glowy bronzers — contour browns are always matte. While the aim of bronzing is to bring sunkissed warmth to the face, contour is a subtle addition that tricks the eye into thinking a natural shadow is cast.
How Do I Pick The Right Contour/Highlight Shade?
First and foremost, find out your undertone! You can do so by determining whether you look better in silver (cool tone) or gold jewellery (warm tone). If you look good in both — lucky you! You are a neutral undertone and most contour undertones would work on you.
With this knowledge in mind, pick a contour shade from the same undertone family. If you have a cooler undertone, look towards greyish browns. For warmer skin tones, opt for an orange-brown hue.
The next thing to consider is how dark it should be. The rule of thumb is to go three shades darker than your foundation shade — any more than that and you run the risk of having a dirt-smeared appearance (Yikes!).
On the other hand, your highlight should be one to two shades lighter than your foundation. This ensures that the brightening effect is natural and does not contrast with your contour too obviously.
Where Should I Apply My Contour & Highlight?
The basic rule of contouring is to think of where you want to add depth. While there used to be graphic charts dictating how you should contour based on your face shape, the new age method is all about accentuating, rather than changing, your natural angles.
Think of your contour as a sculpting tool — add it to areas that require more definition! You should dust on your contour after your foundation to ensure that none of your effort goes hidden. Here’s what I would recommend for specific areas:
- For the nose, go in with a smaller blending brush and start from the area below the front of your eyebrow. Shade down your nose bridge. When you hit the tip, draw inwards to give the illusion of a slimmer, sharper nose.
- For the forehead, shade around the hairline to shorten its height. I suggest going in with a light hand — it can easily go from natural shadow to unwashed face real fast.
- For the hollows of your cheeks, suck in your cheeks and place your contour shade in the sunken areas. After, relax your face and spend some time blending it out!
- For the jawline, go darker on the skin under the jawline and a light dust on the actual jaw. This gives the illusion of greater depth and sharper face lines!
A tried and tested favourite! These three shades are perfect for my pasty skin tone and create a subtle shadow that sculpts naturally. I especially like using this to define my nose — the before and after is almost like an edited picture. Just a note, though, this is relatively cool-tone and may not be suitable for those with warmer skin.
This contour powder has a cult following for one simple reason — it's the gateway to achieving statue-like definition! Easily blendable and buildable, this matte pressed powder stays on all day (and all night) without smudging. Its universally-flattering colour is a big plus that makes this contour shade a safe-bet even if you are a beginner.
Look at the high points of your face — these are usually areas that jut out such as the tip of your nose, cheekbones, brow bones or Cupid’s bow. Following the chiaroscuro technique, form is best achieved by light falling against it. By highlighting those areas, you create more contrast against the “shadows” from your contour, resulting in chiselled dimensions. As a result, these areas seem higher and more pronounced!
For those that love a lil' sparkle in their lives. This shimmery highlight intensely reflects light for added contrast. A spectacular companion to any full glam looks, the luminous Pearl shade is a creamy glide across your cheekbones. The result is a radiance so captivating, it's hard to look away!
Another NYX favourite that I've hit pan on! Comprising a shimmery highlight, a brightening banana powder and a sculpting matte brown — this is a great palette to bring on-the-go. The buttery powder formulas are pigmented but easy to blend. I especially love the velvet-matte finish it leaves on the skin. Fun fact: this was my first ever contouring palette!
Makeup is just as much of an artistry as painting, illustrating and the likes. That’s why beauty schools exist! While we may not all be professional makeup artists per say, understanding these easy art theories can elevate your base makeup from “it’s alright” to “wow, I never looked better!” Hopefully, this guide has helped you in achieving Photoshop-like skin on the days you need it the most.