The Best Cream and Powder Contouring Palettes, Because That's Normal Now

Blame the Kardashians, blame Instagram, blame us makeup artists turned beauty bloggers. Whoever's fault this is, I feel compelled to share my favorites.
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Lisa Bensley
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Blame the Kardashians, blame Instagram, blame us makeup artists turned beauty bloggers. Whoever's fault this is, I feel compelled to share my favorites.

Once upon a time not so long ago, contouring was a makeup-artist-only trick, used in movies or to minimize a large nose. Red-carpet makeup artists knew how to contour their celebs into superhumans, and the world would drop to their knees in awe. And we didn't have special contouring products, no ma'am. We had bronzer, eyeshadows, and a couple favorite brushes that we used. 

But now, EVERYBODY'S DOING IT. Every brand makes a contouring product or sculpting kit. Blame the Kardashians, blame Instagram, blame us makeup artists turned beauty bloggers. Whoever's fault this is, our secret is out in the open now, and I feel compelled to share some information. 

All the different contouring products out there can be a little confusing to the layperson, especially if they’re just trying to pop the cheekbone a little, rather than going for Kardashian-level sculpting. So I’ve weeded through all (okay, most) of the contouring products out there and found some favorites.

Creams

This is personal, but I just love cream makeup. You can apply it with brushes, sponges or fingers, and I feel like you get a really natural look because they're easy to blend. You can use cream contouring products under or over your foundation to get a well-blended look.

BECCA Lowlight/Highlight Perfecting Palette ($42 at sephora.com) is a favorite of mine for light or medium skin tones like mine. The contouring shade is a cream-to-powder formula, so it's blendable, but still gives me the nice matte finish that I like. This is good if you’re a powder person that’s wanted to venture into creams. The highlight color gives a nice pop to the high points of the face without being overtly sparkly.

This is me wearing the BECCA Lowlight/Highlight Perfecting Palette.

This is me wearing the BECCA Lowlight/Highlight Perfecting Palette.

Laura Mercier Flawless Contouring Palette ($50 at lauramercier.com) gets bonus points for its color range — it’s nice to see a cream palette with three different contouring shades. (More would be better, but we can start here.) Also, most highlighter shades out there are a light pearl or opal, which can look chalky on darker skin tones, but the highlighters in this palette are more gold/bronze, so no chalkiness here.

The Laura Mercier Flawless Contouring Palette colors on the back of my hand. From left to right: The two gold/bronze highlighter shades, and then the three contour shades from light to dark.

The Laura Mercier Flawless Contouring Palette colors on the back of my hand. From left to right: The two gold/bronze highlighter shades, and then the three contour shades from light to dark.

The Powders

I think powders are easier for most people to understand, whereas not everyone has used a cream product. And the technology behind a lot of powders today gives you a really beautiful, airbrushed-type finish, so you don’t need to be an expert to use them.

NARS Contour Blush powders ($42 at sephora.com) are really soft and blendable, and won't make you feel (or look) like you're wearing a ton of makeup. There are only three options in this range so far, but they're pretty versatile. (I use the middle shade out of the three available: Paloma). 

This palette is different than many out there in that the highlight and contour shade are both matte, so it’s great for people who are averse to sparkle.


Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette ($46 at sephora.com) is a nice value at for six matte shades — three highlighting and three contouring. For those using the deeper shades, note that the deepest shade of NARS (Gienah) is considerably more warm than the deepest Kat Von D shade. Definitely something to keep in mind if you’re a warmer skin tone. For cooler skin tones, I would go for the Kat Von D to avoid looking badly self-tanned.

On the left: Nars Gienah. On the right: darkest shade in the Kat Von D palette.

On the left: Nars Gienah. On the right: darkest shade in the Kat Von D palette.

Last but certainly not least, we must talk about the NYX Highlight & Contour Pro Palette ($24.99 at ulta.com). It’s the best value with eight shades (four highlight and four contour). This is a great intro kit if you're a beginner and want to play around with different shades and see what works for you — at that price, it’s the best investment if you don’t know what you’re doing and want to practice. Or even if you do know what you’re doing and just get bored easily like I do. It’s fun to play with.

A Quick How-To

An easy trick to find the hollows of your cheekbones if you don’t know where they are already: Point a makeup brush from the middle of your ear to the corner of your mouth. Does it fit snugly under your cheekbone? Success!

An easy trick to find the hollows of your cheekbones if you don’t know where they are already: Point a makeup brush from the middle of your ear to the corner of your mouth. Does it fit snugly under your cheekbone? Success!

For contouring, I like to use the darker creams underneath my foundation, and then I’ll use the highlighter after foundation on the high points of the face (where the sun would naturally hit it). For cream applications, I really like to use the Illamasqua Blush Up Brush in the hollows of my cheekbones and a Beauty Blender to apply foundation on top.

Pre-blending. I'm using a contouring shade in the hollows of my cheekbones and on my forehead near the hairline. I'm also using a highlighting shade on the tops of the cheekbones, and above the eyebrow. Then I blend and apply foundation, and voilà! Cheekbones!

Pre-blending. I'm using a contouring shade in the hollows of my cheekbones and on my forehead near the hairline. I'm also using a highlighting shade on the tops of the cheekbones, and above the eyebrow. Then I blend and apply foundation, and voilà! Cheekbones!

What are you favorite cream and powder contouring products?