Best Contour Palettes

Updated November 2019
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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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

19 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
256 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best contour palettes

Last Updated November 2019

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 guarantee 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.

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

Formula

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.

Cream

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.

Powder

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.

EXPERT TIP

Remember, for contour palettes to work well, you need to properly apply all three elements: contour, highlight, and blush.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

A powder formula is ideal for fast application. Lightly contour along the hotspots – temples, nose, cheekbones. Top off with dabs of highlighter and a few circles of blush.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Knowing your face shape will help you choose the best contouring techniques for you. Use video tutorials to identify and practice on yours.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Number of shades in the palette

There should be at least three colors in your palette: 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.

Ingredients

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.

Long-lasting, natural cream palette

This highly blendable formula is perfect for beginners and experts alike. Its weightless, natural appearance won us over. The four shade selection makes it easy to choose your best shade, and since they are so blendable, you can create perfect, natural looking contours.

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 value 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.

Tips

  • 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 above the cheekbones to complement and contrast the contour color you applied just above 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.

Portable palette with buildable coverage

This small compact is perfect for travel and touch-ups. Since there are only three colors in the palette, application is simple. It is less expensive than many comparable palettes, making it ideal for those not ready to commit to a full-size contour palette.

Other products we considered

Out of the multitudinous contour palettes that have sprung up recently, there are two more that we were impressed with, but didn’t quite make the final five.

First is Kat Von D Shade + Light Face Contour Refillable Palette. The key word here is “refillable,” which we think is tremendous perk, and means you can easily replace colors that you might use more often than others. It is cheaper to simply replace the pan you go through quickest rather than buy a whole new compact.

Dior BACKSTAGE Contour Palette was another consideration. A luxe product with four shades to play with, plus the Dior reputation, we are confident this is a solid choice. The drawback is the inclusion of a bronzer: bronzers have shimmer, and are meant to create a tanned glow. This can be confusing to the beginning contourist, who may confuse bronzer with the shimmery effects of a highlights. Although purported to be quite blendable, there is only one shade of palette available, limiting usage by consumers with darker complexions.

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.

FAQ

Q. Isn’t contouring just a fad?
A.
While contouring palettes like the ones we have reviewed here are fairly new on the market, 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 above the lip and the inner corners of the eyes, with more precision.

The team that worked on this review
  • Amber
    Amber
    Writer
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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