Contouring has evolved since its debut on our Instagram feeds in the early 2010s. Now you don’t have to settle for a painted-on look: A number of brands are offering contouring formulas with subtle color payoff and buildable textures that let you work the product up to your desired level of coverage.
Byrdie Researched & Approved
Our best overall pick is Iconic London Multi-Use Sculpting Palette which contains six creamy shades that blend easily to accentuate your features in a believable way. For a more affordable pick, consider CoverGirl TruBlend Contour Palette in Medium, a drugstore palette created in collaboration with legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath.
These light to deep brown products can do more than just carve out your cheeks. “Contouring can make you look more awake, hide early morning puffiness, lift the face, soften your bone structure, or make you look more chiseled,” says celebrity makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor. The beauty of cream contour products is the believable finish they impart. Powder formulas tend to mattify your complexion, whereas cream ones mimic the texture of your skin, creating believable shadows wherever you blend them. With a cream contour palette, you have everything you need for good definition in one place.
We conducted hours of research on the best cream contour palettes, evaluating them on the number of shades, pigment level, and skin feel. We also took into account any skin concerns and how the contour formula affects different skin types. After consulting with a makeup artist, we landed on the following best in show.
Ahead, find the best cream contour palettes to sculpt your face.
Best Overall: Iconic London Multi-Use Sculpting Palette
Includes shades to contour, conceal, and highlight
May smudge on oily skin types
With creamy, highly pigmented, and buildable shades, we give this palette our top marks. The fair to deep shade options work for most skin tones to conceal and contour. But the real beauty of this palette is the way the formulas blend onto the skin. No matter if you apply them with your fingertips or a brush, the colors diffuse evenly—key for convincing definition. You can also use the pigments as an eyeshadow primer; apply the tone most similar to your skin to even out any discoloration.
Number of shades: 1 | Size: 0.42 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best Drugstore: CoverGirl TruBlend Contour Palette in Medium
Easy to blend
Ideal for acne-prone skin
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 orange on the skin
Only one highlighting shade
Despite the ultra-affordable price tag, this quad comes with plenty of options. We greatly appreciate that it includes three contouring shades in different bronze hues, allowing you to mix and match to find the best one for you. The highlighting shade adds a pretty contrasting pop.
Number of shades: 1 | Size: 0.43 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best Splurge: Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate Highlighter & Shader Duet
Shades are complementary
Easy to apply with fingertips
Some reviewers note there is too much shimmer
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 compact is chic and sleek.
Number of shades: 3 | Size: 0.49 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty Free: No
Best for Mature Skin: Ogee Crystal Contour Collection
Easy to apply
Doesn’t settle into fine lines
Sotomayor vouches for this trio of contour, blush, and highlighter sticks. “They’re easy to hold, so you can just streak them onto your face and blend with a brush, fingertips, or a sponge,” he explains. Each one packs certified organic ingredients like jojoba seed oil and coffee seed oil—these emollient additions are great for moisturizing mature skin, which tends to err on the dry side. Although this product is a bit more expensive than others on the list, we think the humectant formula justifies the spend.
Number of shades: 2 | Size: 8 grams each | Byrdie Clean: Yes | 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 options for deep skin tones
“This is one of the go-to palettes for professionals,” says Sotomayor. “It’s one of the most pigmented options out there, so it’ll last you a long time since a little goes a long way,” he adds. We like it for fair skin, which can be tricky to contour: Go even the slightest bit too dark, and you easily start to look, well, like you’re trying really hard to contour. 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
Includes cream and powder
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: Black Radiance True Complexion Creme Contour Palette
Designed for medium to dark skin tones
Included illustration shows where to apply each shade
Feels heavy on oily skin types
This palette has just-right undertones for olive skin, and you can select a light-to-medium or medium-to-dark trio of pigments to suit your skin tone. The creamy pigments compete with some of the pricier options on our list, so it’s a good option if you’re interested in contouring but don’t want to invest in a product quite yet. The formulas contain a small amount of mica, so you can use them to highlight, too.
Number of shades: 2 | Size: 0.26 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best for Deep Skin: 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 Dry Skin: Danessa Myricks Beauty Dewy Cheek & Lip Palette in Dew It Undercover
Sheer and buildable
Best applied with a brush
Though this isn’t technically a contouring product, the deeper palette (Dew It Undercover) contains four light to medium shades with cool undertones that work beautifully to define and highlight your complexion. The tacky texture grips onto your skin and lasts well throughout the day, all while imparting moisturizing benefits from jojoba seed oil and shea butter.
Number of shades: 2 | Size: 0.88 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best for Beginners: Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour & Highlight Stick
Easy to apply
Creamy and buildable
Shades look natural
Shades may not suit very fair skin tones
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 Stick: Makeup by Mario Softsculpt Shaping Stick
Great shade range
Includes built-in brush
Can be difficult to blend on dry skin
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
Best for Dewy Skin: ILIA Multi-Stick Face Palette
Only one contour shade
This limited-edition palette is for those who like barely-there definition. The shades deliver a sheer, watercolor-like finish on your skin, but you can easily build up the pigment for a medium coverage finish. Each color in the pan glistens on your skin (the formula contains shea butter and avocado oil), and you can choose from four blush shades, from peach to soft mauve.
Number of shades: 1 | Size: 0.04 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best for Sensitive Skin: DIBS Beauty Desert Island Duo
Large shade range
Not all shades work for contouring
Easy-to-use and travel-friendly, these blush and bronzer sticks are great for a low-maintenance routine. Some of the bronzer shades have warm undertones, which are a no-no for contouring, but you can choose from four options with cool and neutral undertones to sculpt your cheeks and nose.
Number of shades: 8 | Size: 0.3 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best for Concealing: NYX Professional Makeup Conceal. Correct. Contour Palette
Small amount of product
If you’re dealing with breakouts, dark circles, or hyperpigmentation, this palette is just for you. The inexpensive product contains shades to color correct and conceal, so you can even out your skin tone before defining with the included contouring shade (an excellent medium-coverage formula that doesn’t look muddy on your skin). With four shade combinations, you can easily find a good match.
Number of shades: 4 | Size: 0.05 ounces | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty Free: Yes
Iconic London Multi-Use Sculpting Palette is everything a cream contour palette should be: The pigments work to conceal and define your complexion, and they’re buildable and easy to layer with blush and highlighter. The texture diffuses easily onto your skin, so you won’t have to worry about splotches. CoverGirl TruBlend Contour Palette in Medium is our runner-up; the included shades were created in collaboration with legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath.
Meet the Expert
What to Look for in a Cream Contour Palette
Larger shade ranges are preferable, as you’ll have an easier time finding a color that’s just right. More color options also let you switch between shades if you get noticeably fairer during winter months.
A successful contour look relies on blush for a realistic lifting effect. Palettes that include blush are a no-brainer, all-in-one choice, as the shades are designed to complement the included contour shades.
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, it 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. Contouring is all about painting in natural-looking shadows, so soft brushes that help to blend color without any hard edges is what you’re looking for, Sotomayor adds. 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.
Is it better to contour with cream or powder?
Like most things with makeup, it boils down to personal preference. Cream contours have a more skin-like, dewy finish that looks natural (powder formulas, on the other hand, are typically matte). Sotomayor likes to combine both types of formulas, using powder to set cream contour for longer wear time.
Do you apply cream contour before or after foundation?
“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,” Sotomayor notes that you can also try a technique called underpainting, where you apply contour before foundation for a subtler finish.
Is contour stick or palette better?
Sticks have the benefit of easy, brush-free application: You can swipe the formulas directly onto your skin and then blend out with your fingers, a brush, or a makeup sponge. Palettes give you more control of the color payoff, as you can apply the pigments with your fingertips for more payoff or diffuse it out with a fluffy bristled brush. Palettes also have more color options than sticks—great for travel.
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. Avoid contouring with bronzers—because of the warm undertones, it’ll make you look tanner rather than more defined, according to Sotomayor.
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Claire Sullivan is a freelance beauty writer based in New York City. She spent six years at Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings, most recently writing and editing beauty content for both brands. Claire tested a number of products on this list, with her favorites being the Iconic London Multi-Use Sculpting Palette and Ilia Multi-Stick Cream Blush, Highlighter + Lip Tint palettes for their blendability and skin-like finish.