How to Contour Dark Skin Tones: A Top Makeup Artist Spills

Updated 09/23/16
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Like all good beauty editors, our ears tend to perk up any time a makeup artist opens his or her mouth. Such was the case at a recent event where a makeup artist happened to mention that she uses a different contouring technique on her darker-skinned clients.

Ever the annoyingly curious intrepid beauty journalists and contouring aficionados, we wanted—no, needed—to know more. That’s why we reached out to none other than L’Oréal Paris celebrity makeup artist and all-around makeup guru Sir John, who counts Beyoncé, Joan Smalls, Gabrielle Union, and more as clients.

Sir John has long been an advocate of a subtler take on contouring—he prefers to call it sculpting. We asked him to reveal his contouring tips for anyone with darker skin, and, generous as can be, he was happy to oblige. Blending brushes ready? Keep scrolling for three major contouring tips for dark skin tones!

#1: Choose Warmer Shades

L'Oreal Infallible Pro-Contour Kit $13

If you take anything away from this story, make it this: If you have darker skin and are choosing a contour shade, make sure it is warm. “Opt for a cognac or any kind of whiskey or bourbon shades,” Sir John recommends. “Not only are these darker colors, but they also tend to skew a bit warmer.” (He say he likes L’Oréal Paris’s new Infallible Pro-Contour Kit ($13) in Deep.) While those with pale skin can get away with cooler contour tones, anything in the taupe-based family will show up as ashy on dark skin tones.

A warmer contour shade will sculpt and add a glow to your voice—not unlike Viola Davis on this magazine cover.

#2: Double Up on Formulas

Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit $40

Another key technique? Doubling up on formulas. “I like to use both creams and powders so the final result is a more dimensional look,” Sir John tells us. “Women of color tend to be lighter in center or the face and deeper around the perimeter of their face. When using two different formulas, you can help balance the color and create the perfect contour.” Always apply a cream formula first, like the deeper shades in Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Kit ($40), then follow with powder lightly dusted over.

#3: Blend, Then Lock

Tarte The Slenderizer Bamboo Contour Brush $34

Lastly, since you’re using two formulas, Sir John says it’s important to remember to establish your base. How? Blend. “When you apply cream foundation or concealer [before contour], make sure you are blending and ensuring the blending process is seamless,” he says. “You should always do the ground work first before powder, because powder will lock everything in place.” So, to recap: Blend your foundation and concealer, apply and blend your cream contour, then finish with powder to lock it down.


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