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Contouring After 40 — Yea or Nay?

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Contouring 101

Contouring promises to ‘reshape’ and define your facial features. Want your cheekbones to look more prominent, your forehead to look less square, or your round face to seem longer? Some beauty experts will tell you that facial contouring is your answer.

Contouring works its magic by using darker shapes of make-up to emphasize or de-demphasize your features. Typically, if you are contouring, you are also highlighting, or using lighter make-up to mimic an “under the lights” look on the top of your nose, chin and above your cheekbones.

Have you heard of painted-on abs? Well, facial contouring is like that, but for your face.

The Promise of Contouring after 40

The idea of chiseled, refined facial features is compelling, particularly for the older women. After all, we 40-somethings (and up) are coping with the natural loss of facial definition that happens with age. We are presented with many solutions for aging — from surgery to serums — but contouring is one of few that’s both instant and temporary.

Contouring Gone Wrong

Even so, facial contouring is controversial. Bobbi Brown says no to contouring at any age, and she makes two solid points. For one, most of us aren’t as skilled in makeup application as the professionals. So chances are, our contouring efforts aren’t going to come off that great.

Even celebrities, who have their own glam teams, can experience huge contouring fails. Just take a look at StyleBlazer’s hilarious collection of contouring mishaps.

Brown’s second anti-contouring point is even more compelling: There’s nothing wrong with the shape of your face, so why try to change it with make-up? Heavy stuff, I know. I mean, who decided that prominent cheekbones are the standard of beauty anyway?

My Contouring Experiment

I’ve never tried contouring, mostly because I’ve been indifferent about it. I don’t *love* for the look of contouring. The other-wordly glow and sunken cheeks are perhaps stunning under the right lights, but outside, in the sunshine? Not my thing.

I’m also pretty low-maintenance about beauty. If it takes too long, requires too many tools or any specialized skills, I’m just not doing it.

Ellen Tracy Contouring Kit

For the sake of experience, though, I decided to give contouring a try. Truth is, I found an Ellen Tracy contouring kit at TJMaxx for $3.99. The kit included five shades of makeup, plus brushes and even instructions on what to do. Perfect for a first-timer experiment!

The Process

I applied the light contour to my forehead, near the temples. I followed that up with the medium tone (second from the top in the tray above) underneath my cheekbones. The dark color went to the sides of my jaw and the sides of my nose. Then, came highlighter, which I applied to the top of my nose, the middle of my chin, underneath my eyebrow arches and above my cheekbones.

Ellen Tracy contouring kit favorites
The tray looks a little roughed up, which sometimes happens when you buy things at TJMaxx. But it was still at deal at $3.99.

Lastly, there was a lot of blending involved. I blended until I didn’t have stripes and circles on my face anymore.

The Result

Can you see the difference?

Facial contouring, before and after
Budget Fashionista with and without contouring.

It’s subtle, for sure. If you look for it, you can see the line of highlighter I applied down the center of my nose, and the shading beneath the cheekbones. Besides that, the biggest difference is my expression — I look decidedly uncomfortable in the second photo! Maybe the expectations of facial perfection got to me.

My take? I’m still indifferent. To me, I’d rather just apply some blush and call it a day.

If You Try Contouring

If you do want to give contouring a try, here are some tips to set you up for success:

  • Look for a low-cost kit with everything included. It doesn’t have to be high-quality make-up. Use it to experiment with different contouring patterns and get a feel for how much color is needed for the desired effect.
  • Don’t buy a fancy blending sponge. The generic foam cosmetic sponges from Target will work until you decide you’ll make a lifestyle out of contouring.
  • Avoid products that are glittery. The shimmer look mostly doesn’t work on older women.
  • Walk outside with a mirror and check your makeup in the sun.
  • Ask an honest friend for feedback. It’s easier to see bad make-up on someone else than on ourselves.
  • Once you have the contouring application down, then upgrade to better applicators and products.

I’m interested to hear from our over-40 readers: what’s your take on contouring?

Catherine Brock

Tuesday 12th of December 2017

Agreed. Personally, I didn't find the results worth the effort. Now maybe it'd be different if I had professional-level make-up skills.


Tuesday 15th of August 2017

I am 55 and I use a matte bronzer (It Cosmetics) to shade under my jaw and cheekbones a tiny bit. I think the major stuff belongs in magazines and on the runway.

Catherine Brock

Tuesday 15th of August 2017

Agreed! Thanks for stopping by! Catherine

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