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When you want a more sculpted jawline, a slimmer-looking nose, or cheekbones that pop, contouring is the way to go. Once a trick largely reserved for the pro makeup artist crowd, the technique has undoubtedly gone mainstream. Sure, it can seem intimidating at first, but contouring correctly is surprisingly easy—so long as you’re working with the right product.
Choosing the right formula and/or wrong colors can result in muddy streaks, rather than that structured jawline you were hoping to achieve. Pairing a contour tone with an accompanying highlighter will help—the duo is what helps you achieve the most natural result.
Whether you’re a contouring pro or just testing the waters, check out our list of the best cream contour palettes—they'll make your makeup routine easier than ever.
Best Overall: CoverGirl TruBlend Contour Palette in Medium
Comes in three shades
Ideal for acne-prone skin
Easy to blend
Pan only contains three colors
There aren’t a ton of cream contour palettes to be found at the drugstore, making this one all the more noteworthy. The trio of shades in this palette work great on their own but can be mixed and matched, too. (It comes in options for light, medium, and dark skin.) The formula is creamy yet oil-free—a major win for those with acne-prone skin—and is beautifully blendable. Fun fact: This palette was designed by makeup industry legend Pat McGrath, so you know it’s going to be good.
Number of shades: 3 | Size: 0.28 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Budget: e.l.f. Cosmetics Cream Contour Palette
Comes with three shades for contouring
Not orangey on fair skin
Only one highlighting shade
Despite the ultra-affordable price tag, this quad comes with plenty of options. We greatly appreciate that there are three contouring shades in different bronze hues, allowing you to mix and match to find the best one for you. The highlighting shade adds the best contrasting pop.
Number of shades: 1 | Size: 0.43 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Fair Skin: Make Up For Ever Pro Sculpting Face Palette
Creamy and buildable formula
Great options for fair skin
No option for darker skin
Contouring can prove to be tricky for those with fair skin. Go even the slightest bit too dark, and you easily start to look, well, like you’re trying really hard to contour. That’s what makes this option such a great choice for those with lighter skin. There are two contour hues, neither of which is too dark, a highlight shade, and even a blush color, all in a buildable and blendable cream formula that doesn’t feel even the slightest bit sticky or tacky on the skin.
Number of shades: 2 | Size: 0.25 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Medium Skin: Patrick Ta Major Sculpt Creme Contour & Powder Bronzer Duo
Comes with both cream and powder
Great staying power
Only comes with two colors
There are three shades of this dual compact available, the two lightest of which, “She’s Statuesque” and “She’s Sculpted” are both nice options for more medium skin tones. This pick is also unique in that it comes with both cream and powder; layering both ultimately yields the most natural, and longest-lasting, result.
Number of shades: 3 | Size: 0.25 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Olive Skin: Fenty Beauty Match Stix Matte Contour Skinstick
Great staying power
Shades are easily layer-able
Creamy with a matte finish
Can be difficult to blend
In true Fenty fashion, shade inclusivity is the name of the game, and these creamy contour sticks are no different. Available in seven shades, several nice options flatter olive skin (Mocha and Truffle being two of them), though they’re all easily layered, making it easy to find the best hue for you. Bonus: the cream-to-powder formula dries down to a matte finish and has great staying power.
Number of shades: 7 | Size: 0.25 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dark Skin: UOMA Beauty Double Take Contour Stick
Very pigmented color
Great color pay-off
Creamy, buildable texture
Can settle into pores
As is the case with fair skin, finding a contour color that works on deeper complexions is also challenging; after all, it has to be dark enough to make an impact. This brand places a huge emphasis on shade inclusivity, which is why this dual-product stick comes in six shades, half of which are geared toward darker skin. Each stick has a contouring tone on one end and a complementary highlighting tone on the other, both of which tout a creamy formula with plenty of color pay-off, thanks to a 30% concentration of pigments.
Number of shades: 7 | Size: 0.38 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dark Skin, Runner-Up: Melt Cosmetics The Deep Cream Bronzer and Contour Stack
Rich, pigmented shades
Shade range could be expanded
This cool-looking (and space-saving) stack comes with five shades, all specially formulated for dark skin. They can be used to contour, yes, but also conceal, highlight, and more, all without imparting any unwanted grayish cast. Plus, they all pack a nice level of medium coverage.
Number of shades: 1 | Size: 0.66 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Beginners: Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour & Highlight Stick
Easy to apply
Creamy and buildable formula
Shades look natural
Shades may not suit very fair skin
Contouring can admittedly be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but we find that using a stick makes it feel somewhat more approachable off the bat. The formula on this stick is also choice: “It’s surprisingly sheer and looks incredibly natural on the skin,” says celebrity makeup artist Bryan Cantor. AKA, you really can’t goof up. You can also apply them directly onto the skin with your fingertips or blend them into the skin with a brush.
Number of shades: 4 | Size: 0.32 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Splurge: Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate Highlighter & Shader Duet
Shades are complementary
Can be easily applied with fingers
Former Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue vouches for this luxurious pick. The inside includes one contouring and one highlighting color, each selected to pair precisely with the other. Not only are the shades beautiful and natural, but the texture is also creamy enough to dab on with your fingertips when a brush isn’t available. Plus, the chic and sleek compact looks and feels oh-so-special.
Number of shades: 3 | Size: 0.49 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Stick: Makeup by Mario Softsculpt Shaping Stick
Great shade range
Comes with built-in brush
Can be difficult to blend
Cantor says this is one of his favorite contouring products: “It’s blendable, buildable, and contains its own removable brush to make application easy and effortless,” he explains. That should come as no surprise, given that it was created by celebrity makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic, best known as Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist. (And you know she loves a good contour.)
Number of shades: 6 | Size: 0.37 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Cream contour palettes offer an easy way to mix and match different shades to find the exact right contour hue for you. The COVERGIRL Tru Blend Contour Palette (view at Amazon) is our favorite, an affordable drugstore buy that features three shades (and comes in options for light, medium, and dark skin). Contouring newbies may want to consider using a stick rather than a palette; both the Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour & Highlight Stick (view at Sephora) and Makeup by Mario Softsculpt Shaping Stick (view at Sephora) are pro-recommended options. Contouring can be especially tricky for those with deeper complexions, but the Melt Cosmetics The Deep Cream Bronzer and Contour Stack (view at Sephora) offers a nice range of five tones specially made to still show up on your skin but never look muddy.
What to Look for in a Cream Contour Palette
According to Cantor, you want these types of cooler tones in a contouring product. “If they’re too warm, your skin will end up looking dirty rather than contoured,” he explains.
Ideally, you want a contour product that has some good staying power, says Cantor, as if it ends up melting off your face that can create a messy, muddy look.
How do you apply a cream contour palette?
“You can use either a brush, sponge, or your fingertips,” says Cantor. If you’re using a brush, dip it into the color and draw the lines of the contour on your face, then blend it out. For a sponge, press it into the color, then bounce across the skin where needed, using the clean side to buff it out. And if you want to use your fingers, simply dip your fingertips into the color, then swipe and blend in where desired, repeated until you reach your desired intensity.
When in your makeup routine do you use a cream contour palette?
“I like to apply cream contour after foundation and concealer, but before cream blush or highlighter,” says Cantor. “It’s helpful to define the bone structure before applying the other products.”
How do you find the right shade of cream contour palette for your skin tone?
One good guideline: Look for a color (or colors) that look like the color of a shadow on your face in natural lighting. “It should be a few shades darker than your natural skin tone, but not significantly darker,” explains Cantor.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Since she doesn’t contour, she relied on expert intel and tons of reviews and consumer input when researching this article.
Meet the Expert
Bryan Cantor is a celebrity makeup artist and beauty expert based in New York City. He brings his impressive knowledge of makeup products, skincare, application techniques, and professional tips and secrets to clients and companies in New York City and across the globe.