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Best Contour Palettes

Updated March 2024
Bottom line
Best of the Best
Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate Contour Duo
Tom Ford
Shade & Illuminate Contour Duo
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Compact Coverage
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Tom Ford's combo palette gives you everything you need for a beautifully blended look.


You have light and dark contour tones, which you can blend easily between the 2 to balance your next look out. The warm brown and creamy light shade offers a wide range of options, with several other shades offered, as well. The smooth and creamy formula was a hit with buyers.


You only get the 2 tones in a pack.

Best Bang for the Buck
Nyx Highlight Powder
Highlight Powder
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Pro Face Palette
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Whether you're looking for a rosey highlight or a dark yellow shade, this set comes with 8 tones to complete your look.


The long-lasting contour fulfills a wide range of makeup needs. It comes from a vegan, cruelty-free formula that's safe on your skin. Buyers applaud this well-pigmented palette's versatility for a wide range of styles, needs, and contouring functions.


Won't last as long as some of your other options.

Smashbox Step By Step Contour Kit
Step By Step Contour Kit
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Simple yet Solid
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A streamlined contour palette that explains, in detail, exactly where to apply each shade.


Includes bronzer, contour powder, and highlighter. Instructions tell you which shades to use in which spots. Blends well. Fantastic for hiding dark circles and other blemishes. Creates a simple, sophisticated look. Shades are great for skin that's medium or darker. No phthalates or parabens.


Darker shades may be too dark for those with light skin. Brush could be of higher quality.

Smashbox Cali Contour Palette
Cali Contour Palette
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Customer Favorite
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This high-quality powder contour palette produces a natural California glow.


Highlight, contour, and blush powders apply smoothly and evenly. There are a range of matte and shimmery shades. The color payoff is amazing, and the colors blend seamlessly. The palette works together to give your skin a natural sun-kissed glow.


Matte highlighter can appear chalky if applied too heavily.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Matte Contour Powder
Anastasia Beverly Hills
Matte Contour Powder
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Best for Light Coverage
Bottom Line

You get 6 basic flesh tones that you can mix and match to fit your natural look.


Anastasia Beverly Hills contour kit highlights and shades most skin tones with ease and beauty. The well-balanced highlights and shades work well together and help you blend together a natural look. It's designed for versatility.


This product wears off too quickly for long-lasting looks.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best contour palettes

Contour palettes use the concepts of shadow and light to alter the appearance of facial features. Whether you want to slim down a round face and cheeks or adjust the appearance of your jawline, a good contour palette gives you a whole set of tools to accomplish this.

The same way a professional lighting designer or director might “light” an actor a particular way to flatter their face, contouring palettes give you the power to use that same art of manipulating shadow and light to play up your best features.

What used to be a secret of professional make-up artists has emerged as a DIY trend. To achieve a positive result, you must know how to choose your shade and learn how to strategically apply the makeup in your palette. You will quickly figure out which type you prefer: cream or powder. Also, keep in mind that different face shapes call for slightly different contouring techniques.

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Contour palettes can help you create a slimmer face by creating cheekbone definition and the illusion of a more defined bone structure. Nose and lip sizes and shapes can also be tweaked.

Key considerations


Contour palettes come in two main types: cream or powder. Which one is right for you is a matter your skin type and personal preference. Some find cream contour products easier to blend; others find the texture too thick to blend well. And, make no mistake - when it comes to using contour palettes, blending is pivotal.


If you have dry skin, a cream formula will help keep your skin supple and flake-free. If you like to apply your make-up with a sponge-brush or beauty blender, you may want to try a cream version first. However, creams can go on heavy and are often harder to blend to achieve a natural look. They also tend to wear off more quickly than powders.

If you live in a hot, humid climate, cream contour palettes may not be the best choice. When you perspire, makeup can bead and meld your contour and highlight shades together, creating a mishmash of mixed colors. If you still prefer cream in such a climate, set your contouring palette makeup well with powder or setting spray, and touch up regularly. Rice powder blotters are ideal for instantly removing perspiration without wiping away your color or ruining the contour placement.

Applying cream-based contour palette shades most often calls for the use of a specialty sponge like the Beauty Blender, a sponge-tipped applicator. Hand-held sponges work especially well for targeted reach, such as lining the sides of the nose near the small creases of the nostrils. Sponge-tipped brushes give users the familiar feel of a traditional makeup brush, but the attached sponge glides the cream on easily — no need to learn any intimidating specialty techniques.


Those with oily skin or who prefer a very matte finish will want to stick to powder palettes. The powder will help to mask shiny areas on your face. Some people prefer powders because they are a bit more forgiving than cream versions, and are easier to blend and build for more subtle contouring. If you are a newbie or not yet confident in your contouring abilities, start with a powder formula.

Shade selection

Most contour palettes make it relatively easy to choose the right shades, since it is uncommon for a brand’s contour palette to come in more than three or four varieties. With palette colors labeled “Light/Medium” or “Medium/Dark” it is fairly easy to assess which one is right for you. Palettes with at least three color designations to choose from will take the guesswork out of choosing the right shades within the palette.

In order to select the right shades for your face, you must know where your skin is on the skin tone spectrum. Is your complexion mainly cool, warm, or neutral?

Break it down into these simple rules:

  • Fair skin requires a cool-toned contour shade.

  • Medium complexions have the most versatility and can go warm or cool.

  • Dark skin looks best with a neutral contouring shade.

If you aren’t sure what exactly “cool” or “warm” means in relation to color, here are a few guidelines. If you have pink or beige in your skin, you are on the cool spectrum. If your skin is olive or yellow, you are on the warmer side. Very dark skin is neutral, so if this describes your skin, you have a lot of freedom to choose whichever shade you like best.

Another good rule of thumb is to double check the contour colors in the palette against your skin — you want to choose a shade that is two shades darker than your natural skin color as your contour color. Similarly, your highlighter should be two shades lighter than your skin.


Number of shades in the palette

Your palette should include at least three colors: contour, highlight, and blusher. The majority of palettes include three to six colors. Be wary of contour palettes that offer only two colors, and make sure you are not confusing a “bronzer and glow” product for a contouring one. Your contour color should always be matte. Otherwise, your face will not look natural, and overly made-up.

Brush-inclusive palettes

Some contour palettes come with the added perk of a brush built into the palette. If you plan to use your palette on the go, or want to pop it into your bag for touch ups, look for this handy element.

Choosing a palette that is not made with dedicated space for a brush that is included can be a good thing, though. Until you become an expert at contouring, you will want to have a variety of brushes, sponges, and other implements with which to experiment. So, unless you are willing to try other sizes and types of application tools, limiting yourself to a small, pop-out brush may not be the best investment.


There is a growing demand for safety and organic ingredients in the beauty industry. If this is of concern to you, avoid products that contain the following:

  • Parabens: these are a preservative that may affect hormone function.

  • Sulfates: sulfites are compounds that are often naturally occuring. In skin care products, though, some experts believe these are too drying and/or damaging.

  • Phthalates: these lubricants may impact the endocrine system.

Some interesting and beneficial ingredients to look for include:

  • Amazonian clay: this all-natural ingredient known for its detoxifying effects.

  • Mineral pigments: ancient people used this earth-derived ingredient as makeup. They are natural iron oxides that present in a variety of colors.

  • Vitamin E: this antioxidant also acts as an anti-inflammatory.

Contour palette prices

Most beauty products have a wide range of price points, from generic drugstore brands that cost a few dollars to prestige brands that can cost into triple digits. We found that quality, full-size contouring palettes that contain at least three colors range from $20 all the way to $110. You can find the majority of quality contour palettes in the $35 to $48 range.

Some contour palettes come with extras like concealers or color correctors, so keep this in mind when you consider the product and price. If you prefer vegan ingredients and no animal testing, you may be willing to pay more for a cruelty free brand. Similarly, a luxe brand might contain prized ingredients or have beautiful packaging. If this these are worth it to you, except to pay more.


  • Use your favorite foundation or primer to create a smooth, even tone that will keep the integrity of the contour, highlight, and blush colors.

  • A Cupid’s bow can be emphasized by highlighting in the center of the bow.

  • Highlighter can be lightly applied just over the cheekbones to complement and contrast the contour color you applied just over the hollows of the cheekbones.

  • Shimmer is sometimes included in palettes of four colors; think of using this as a boost to the highlights and be careful not to overuse, especially during the day. Shimmer is usually best for special occasions or evenings out.

  • Try the figure eight trick: to apply blush, start in the center of your hairline and trace a swift, light figure eight.

  • Remember: it is easier to build and add than it is to remove. Use a light touch and start small. You can always layer more product on to create just the right color.

  • A kabuki brush is another favorite tool when it comes to contouring.

  • Using a bronzer to contour, which has shimmer instead of a contour color, is a rookie mistake. It will ruin your contouring, not to mention will clash with — instead of complement — the highlighter.

  • Although using contour palettes can be tricky at first, many products include instructions or a link to an online video tutorial on how to achieve various looks. When in doubt, video tutorials are easy to find online.

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Contour palettes are not the only way to contour; contour sticks have become popular as well. Palettes, however, are a bit more fool-proof and convenient.


Q. Isn’t contouring just a fad?

A. While contouring palettes like the ones we have reviewed here are fairly newly available, the concept has always been the secret trick of professional makeup artists — a darker shade of color swept under the cheekbones, and a swipe of shimmer across the top of the cheekbone creates a slimming effect. Contour palettes have simply taken the guesswork out of choosing the right shades. With the basic instructions many palettes come with, it’s easier than ever to achieve the kind of illusions light and shadow (contour and highlight) offer.

Q. I don’t want to look fake or orange. Isn’t blush alone enough to flatter my face?

A. While blush is, indeed, a great boost for complexions, it alone can’t do what contour and highlights can in conjunction with blusher to flatter your best features and downplay those you want to make less distinct.

Q. Do I need special brushes and/or sponges, or can I just use my fingers?

A. Using your fingers to apply foundation might be effective, but you will want more control than your fingers can provide when you apply contour color and highlighter. A specialty sponge-brush or blender will give you a gentle glide. By squeezing sponges into just the right configuration, you can get into smaller spaces, like over the lip and the inner corners of the eyes, with more precision.