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Once upon a time, not so long ago, contouring—using shadows and darker colors to define and reshape your face—was a makeup technique almost solely reserved for the pros. That’s most definitely not the case anymore. Thanks to a massive influx of new contouring products, not to mention the impact of a certain mega-famous Hollywood family (five bucks if you can guess which one), contouring is now more commonplace than ever before.
The secret to mastering the move? The end goal is for it to truly be undetectable, and for everyone to think that you were simply born with a bone structure that’s just that good. In order to do so, your contouring product should be two shades deeper than your foundation. You’ll want to apply it in a few strategic spots: along your temples, under the cheekbones, along your jawline, and down the sides of your nose. Then blend, blend, blend before adding foundation and highlighter to balance things out.
And when it comes to choosing a contouring product? Keep in mind that creams will always be more blendable than powders, a good option if you’re a beginner or are looking for a more natural end result. Enter the beauty of a good contour stick. Not only are they super creamy, but they couldn’t be easier to use. Simply swipe one on, no extra tools or tricks required.
Check out the best contouring sticks to try now, below.
Best Overall: KKW Beauty Crème Contour & Highlight Set
Who better than the queen of contouring herself to come out with a contour product? (Truly, we think it should be renamed kontouring solely because of how mainstream the Kardashians have made it.) Since, as we’re sure Kim Kardashian West herself would tell you, it’s important to balance out contouring with a good highlight, this set features sticks for both, along with two tones on each stick. Options, people, options. We also appreciate that there are seven different shades available to address all complexions.
Best for Fair Skin: Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour & Highlight Stick
Contouring can be tricky (heck, we may even go so far as to say risky) for those with pale skin. After all, go too dark and no matter how much you blend, it’s still very easy to end up stripe-y. That’s why this pale caramel tone is ideal for light complexions, offering full-coverage color that’s also buildable, super important when you’re trying to add shadows to pale skin.
Best for Dark Skin: Fenty Beauty Match Stix Trio
Contouring can also prove a little bit tricky when you’re trying to deepen already dark skin, but happily, there are now lots of choices for brown-skinned girls. Our girl Rihanna got it right with her stick threesome; while there’s a set of three for light, medium, and tan skin, it’s the deep shade that we really think takes the contouring cake. You get two matte colors for concealing and contouring, plus a highlight shade to finish everything off.
Best Budget: Maybelline New York Facestudio Master Contour V-Shape Duo Stick
Contouring first-timers should reach for this thick stick. With two shades in the split-tip, it makes the entire process easier than ever, not to mention minimizes clutter in any makeup bag. It doesn’t hurt that it rings in at such an affordable price, so if for some reason you decide you only want to contour on special occasions, your wallet won’t take a hit.
Best Drugstore: NYX Professional Makeup Wonder Stick
This helps take the guesswork out of the whole ‘contour, then highlight’ thing. The dual-ended stick features a contour shade on one side and a perfectly paired highlight hue on the other. It also comes in options for fair, medium, and dark skin. Not to mention that you can get it at the drugstore, which is not always the case when it comes to contouring products.
Best Foundation: Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick
Believe it, you can use a foundation as a contour color. The nice thing about that is that if you’re already using it as your base, you can stick within the line and easily find the color that’s two shades darker for the most flattering contour tone. Regardless of whether you’re using it all-over to just to sculpt your features, we’re fans of this classic. It’s creamy and hydrating, though also contains light-diffusing powders to create the appearance of smoother skin and absorb excess oil (not to mention is water- and sweat-resistant on top of all of that). Plus, there’s an option for every skin tone…43 to be exact.
What Our Testers Say
"My application looked smooth and the buildable coverage the Skin Foundation Stick provides allowed me to place more product in the areas I needed without my skin looking patchy or thick." — Khera Alexander, Product Tester
Best for Dry Skin: Glossier Haloscope
While this may technically be called a highlighter, this bronzy hue pulls double duty as either a bronzer or contour tone. The color itself is insanely creamy, thanks to a (visible) moisturizing core rich in coconut, castor seed, and sweet almond oil. It not only helps the stick itself glide on seamlessly but also ensures your complexion stays flawlessly dewy.
Best Highlighter: Milk Makeup Highlighter
As a general rule of thumb, contouring and highlighting have to happen together. But if you’re a makeup minimalist who wants to somehow combine the two into one, you can kind of break the rules with this product. The color is dark enough to act as a contour (as long as your skin is on the lighter side), but is still light enough and has a shimmery finish that means it can act as a highlighter, too.
Best Long-Wear: Benefit Cosmetics Hoola Quickie Contour Stick
Byrdie editors love this guy, a riff on the brand’s best-selling and beloved Hoola bronzer. True to its name, it starts as a cream (easy application for the win) but transforms into a powder (long-lasting staying power for the win). Unlike the bronzer though, it only comes in one shade, which is most flattering for fair to medium complexions.
Best Natural: ILIA Illuminator
Shea butter is a plant lipid that comes from African shea tree nuts and is rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins. It's used to help moisturize, nourish, and soothe the skin.
An all-time favorite among team Byrdie, this chubby stick is squeaky clean. We’re talking a formula that’s free of questionable ingredients such as parabens and synthetic fragrance and instead is loaded with natural oils, shea butter, and beeswax. It’s these guys that give this an ultra-silky texture. Use this deeper tone for contouring, and pick up one of the other three shades to use as a highlighter.
Best Multi-Tasker: NARS The Multiple
This iconic stick has been lauded time and time again for its multi-tasking abilities; the variety of pink and peachy hues all look equally gorgeous whether they’re swiped on cheeks, lids, or lips. But don’t ignore the deeper, brown tones which can also step in as a great contour tone. Also nice: The color is sheer, making it fairly goof-proof, though easily buildable. You can also swipe it onto either wet or dry skin, depending on the finish you’re going for.