Contouring for pale gals?
November 14, 2013 6:28 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to learn how to do make-up. All the advice for contouring requires you to have some bronzer a shade darker than your skin. The thing is, I'm super pale, and I don't have much of an interest in looking more tanned than I am. Are there any other colour options for shading my face?
posted by teraspawn to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
If you're just trying to do make up, don't contour. It's mostly for photography and it looks weird in real life.

If you feel you must, it's not bronzer, it's two different colors of foundation. One your natural color, and the second, one shade darker.

But really, just use a nice BB cream, a bit of rouge on the apples of your cheeks and dust with powder.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:33 AM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Use a foundation/concealer slightly darker than your skintone, instead of a bronzer. Matte eyeshadow in the right pale shade could work, too. More tips here!

Contouring is advanced-level makeup and I don't know of any women who use it in their daily routine, so I'd recommend learning it only if you really enjoy playing around with makeup and want to build your skills. Highlighting - just a tiny tiny bit of highlighting around the corners of the eyes and maybe outside the lips, not all over the forehead like in the above link - is much easier and will pay off well. But again, it's not really necessary.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:40 AM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

The point of the bronzer in contouring is not to make you look tan. It's to simulate the effect of shadow, which makes certain parts of your face seem to visually recede.

You don't actually want a color that gives you a bronze glow—you want a neutral color that looks like the shadows on your own face.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:49 AM on November 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

I will sometimes, when I know I'm going to be photographed (wedding guest, for example) do a teeny tiny amount of contouring. I am also very pale. The way I do it is, I use l'oreal true match foundation. I am almost always the N2 color. I have the N1 (palest) and N3 (an eensy bit tan, which I once achieved after a month outdoors in summer) as well, and before I put on the normal color, I'll do a tiny bit of contouring in certain spots that I know work well for me. These are highlights under my eyes and along my nose and a tiny bit along the jaw, and shadows under my chin and a bit on the sides of my face. Rarely will I do that "cut" thing people will do to define cheekbones, as my face is just naturally round and there's nothing to do about it. I will smooth those areas into my skin, and then apply the N2 everywhere I normally would, and also use it to cover up what areas I may have been a little heavy handed on for the contouring. By the time I've got concealer and powder and whatnot, it's all very subtle. But people do seem to notice, since they're always surprised at how different I look when I "bother to clean up". Little do they know, right?
posted by Mizu at 7:07 AM on November 14, 2013

I agree that contouring is advanced-level makeup, and if you're just learning, not something I would incorporate right away.

And yes, you want to use something that's a shade darker than your skin--foundation, bronzer, shadow, etc.--it doesn't have to be bronzer! In fact, I'd say if you're making yourself look tan, you're not contouring.

If it's in your price range, I've always had good luck with makeup application tips from the MAC counter or at Sephora. Sephora is also very generous with their free samples and returns, so you can try products out at home for a few days before buying, or even after you buy something and decide you don't like it, you can return it.
posted by inertia at 7:11 AM on November 14, 2013

I'm pale too, and one thing I do that you might want to try is rather than shading your face darker, add brightness on certain areas you want to highlight (which has a similar effect to contouring.) Use a shimmery highlighter cream like BeneFit's High Beam, applied lightly to cheekbones, the bridge of your nose, etc. There are some YouTube tutorials on using highlighters if you search for them.

I don't do this for everyday, but for evening occasions and photographs I quite like the effect that highlighters can provide.
posted by ladybird at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2013

I also think contouring isn't really necessary if you're just starting out with makeup. That said, the usual recommendations I've seen for contouring for pale skin are NYX Taupe blush and Illamasqua Hollow cream. You can see swatches of them both here.

You can also look into MAC sculpting powder and Make Up Forever's sculpting kits, which come in a range of shades. Or if you'd rather not invest that much, you can try the Maybelline Fit Me foundation stick in a shade a bit darker than your skin.
posted by LNM at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I will say that rather than contour, highlight.

Do a C shape from your cheekbone to your eyebrows. A bit in the inner corner of your eyes, and a bit of sparkle at the top partof the apple of your cheeks.

This is much easier to achieve and it looks WAY more natural. I got it from Carmindy from What Not to Wear.

Here's her 5 minute face.

I'm really into NYX makeup. Inexpensive, you can get ita Ulta and drag queens use it. Need I say more?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:27 AM on November 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am quite pale and using any kind of bronzer just makes me look like my face is dirty. I've been using this stuff from Benefit, and for blush, I use Nars in Orgasm. It's a very flattering color.
posted by sutel at 8:28 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am also a highlighter rather than a contourer.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:11 AM on November 14, 2013

I think a highlighter is good if you want to look even paler. Some people don't, and in that case use a shade darker foundation to contour instead. However, I think more important than contouring (which most people don't need unless they're being photographed) is blush. Peoples' natural faces are more than one color, and blush helps relieve that flatness that foundation can create.

An easy way to play around with color is with makeup samples. Meow Cosmetics has all kinds of highlighters, blushers, bronzers, contouring powders for about a dollar a sample. This contour is tied to their foundation colors, which is nice if you need to avoid the golden or orangey tones that many bronzers provide.

I also recommend Wayne Goss videos (may autoplay) on YouTube for makeup know how. He's awesome. Here's one from Wayne about bronzer, highlighter, and blush.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:31 AM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

The gold standard for bronzer for SUPER pale people is Too Faced's Milk Chocolate Soleil. Bonus, it smells like chocolate!
posted by mollymayhem at 10:07 AM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "only bother with this on very special occasions or in special photography."

The number of amateurs who can do this to their own faces with the subtlety it requires and still have it mean anything is massively, massively smaller than the number who wind up with unfortunate dark patches that look great in a mirror under one kind of light, but when you're standing next to them in daylight, look like what they are.

I'm pale myself, and I concur with those who say it's easier to add a few highlights to very pale skin. But mostly, the shape of your face is something to embrace, rather than try to alter with optical illusion, which is what contouring is. (That's not meant to sound as scoldy as I think it does; that's practical advice about what I think works well.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:33 AM on November 14, 2013

You might like the Laura Mercier 'Bonne Mine' palette.
posted by kmennie at 11:42 AM on November 14, 2013

Adding my voice to the chorus of "highlight!" Even though contouring is all over the makeup blogs lately, for most people, heavy-duty contouring is a weddings-photos-and-other-special-events sort of thing. And it is a lot harder for us pale folk, especially, to pull off well. But you can achieve the important goal of contouring--calling attention to the parts of your face you want to call attention to--by just using a highlighter. I strongly prefer a liquid highlighter, and Benefit's HighBeam and YSL's Touche Eclat Radiant Touch pen are both great. But you can use any face powder, blush, or even eyeshadow that's lighter and brighter than your foundation. Many blush palettes include a highlight color, too.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:35 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love love love beauty blog Brightest Bulb in the Box. She's also very pale and has a few entries on products she uses to contour but seems to primarily use NYX blush in Taupe.
posted by jabes at 12:48 PM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I like the Lisa Eldridge make up how-to videos!
Aside from just being really useful, she has this super relaxing Bob Ross quality to her voice and just seems really... nice. It's kind of meditative.

You might like an adaptation of this look she did for Clemence Posey (Fleur in Harry Potter).

(Just looked at your profile: you colouring looks a lot like mine - and Lisa Eldridges'. I wear a variation of the Clemence Posey make up All. The. Time. I'm one of those people that get the "You look tired! Late night?" comments whenever I don't wear make up, and this look makes me look 'normal' and is good for the office/weekend.)
posted by jrobin276 at 5:15 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm very pale, and I tend to use Nars' Douceur blush on my cheekbones. (I believe that MAC Blushbaby is similar, but I haven't yet come across a drugstore dupe. Sigh.) I never wear bronzer - I don't tan naturally so it would look weird - but for some reason this adds a bit of definition to my chubby cheeks.
posted by mippy at 2:25 AM on November 18, 2013

I am also pale and I like the bronzer in the Too Faced "No Makeup Makeup" palette. The instruction cards in there have diagrams for use of the bronzer in a way that I think would translate contouring into everyday "No Makeup" looks.
posted by Dr. Zira at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2013

I can't pick which was the best answer, because you've all been super helpful!

For posterity, I also found this wonderful tutorial on exactly this subject.

Thank you all so much.
posted by teraspawn at 10:02 AM on April 18, 2014

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