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Why “Soft Sculpting” is the New Contouring—And How to Get the Look

Photo: Patrick Demarchelier

Over the past few years, there has been a seismic shift towards a more natural contour. For proof, just look to the King of Contour himself, makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic. He may have pioneered the transformative sculpting technique that the Kardashians catapulted into the beauty zeitgeist during the 2010s, but his more recent 2.0 approach is distinctly more light-handed. In a word? Softer.

“The contouring trend started to shift when people began to realize that social media makeup is not the same as everyday makeup,” explains Dedivanovic, who just launched his new Soft Sculpt Collection of buildable, lightweight contour, blush, and highlighting essentials. “Today, now that everyone knows how to contour, and it’s become part of their everyday beauty routine, people are realizing that you can achieve a sculpted look with a lot less makeup.”

Los Angeles-based makeup artist Mai Quynh believes that people have not only sharpened their sculpting skills, but are newly inspired by a growing skin-care obsession. “People are appreciating their own skin more and taking better care of it so they don’t have to rely on makeup alone,” says Quynh, emphasizing the beauty of building upon a dewy, healthy glow. “We want to appear more natural and less intimidating,” adds Dedivanovic. “We’re seeing this softer approach on social media from the younger generation and it’s very refreshing. I love it.”

Amid this sea change, and as summer begins, here pros break down their tips for achieving a natural contour while letting your skin shine, from a soft-focus application to a perfectly flushed finish.

Think: Soft-Focus Cheeks

While many believe contouring means applying directly on the hollows of the cheek, Dedivanovic warns that this can create a heavier, more unnatural-looking contour. Instead, apply contour or bronzer slightly above the hollows of the cheeks. “Blend upwards to subtly lift the skin and add some warmth,” instructs Dedivanovic. “This will create a natural sculpt.” The pro’s other rule of thumb: Start by applying just a little bit of product and build as necessary—especially during the daytime. “To create a softer, more natural look, you need to be conscious of what the makeup will look like in the daylight,” stresses Dedivanovic. “Sculpting your jaw or nose can appear harsh when outdoors.” Makeup artist Naoko Scintu is of the same mind in her approach, prioritizing what will be most flattering in the real world. “People aspire to looking good in natural light and not just through a controlled lighting set-up is important,” says Scintu.

Try Shading With Foundation

While you can’t beat the convenience of a contour stick, both Scintu and Quynh appreciate the second-skin finish that foundation in half a shade or a full shade darker than your natural skin tone yields when applied with a brush or Beautyblender. “I love sculpting foreheads, cheekbones, noses, and jawlines with a darker shade of Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation,” explains Quynh. “I find that using a darker foundation color mimics real skin and looks more natural.”

Add a Pop of Blush

“Blush helps make the skin appear more healthy and natural,” explains Dedivanovic, who always likes to work blush into the full contour equation. For blush application, he suggests starting by smiling slightly and applying blush to the apples of your cheek. “For a more lifted appearance, don’t apply too low on the cheeks!” he says, adding that he loves blending a whisper-light layer on the nose, forehead, and chin as well for a more modern effect. In terms of color and texture, for a “fresh glowing face,” Scintu looks to liquid or cream-based formulas. “This mimics natural-looking skin, so powder lightly and only on the T-zone to keep the skin looking dewy,” she instructs.

Create a Lit-From-Within Glow

For Dedivanovic, highlighter should never appear too obvious, textured, or heavy. “The purpose of a highlighter is to give your skin natural radiance and illuminate it, rather than have a noticeable stripe along the cheekbones,” he explains. “I always have my clients smile when I apply highlighter to be sure I’m not applying the highlight over fine lines or wrinkles around the eyes.” Another foolproof strategy is reaching for a creamy or liquid-textured highlighter. “I find liquid highlighters to be the be most natural-looking because they melt into the skin,” says Quynh. “Powder highlighters tend to sit on the skin and look too sparkly, especially in photos. They can make you look shiny or greasy instead of glowing and dewy.” To add just the right amount of “gleam,” she reaches for Armani Beauty Neo Nude A-Highlight and applies it on the brow bone, inner eye, above the cheekbone, bridge of the nose, and above the lips.

Know Your Face

“Sculpting and highlighting the complexion really isn’t a one-size fits all and there is a time and place for it,” says Dedivanovic. “Find what most flatters your face and most importantly, know the difference between social media and real-life makeup.”

Read Next: A Celebrity Dermatologist Explains Why Aesthetic Contouring is 2021’s Key Skincare Trend

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