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Facial contouring: make-up trick used by stars like Kim Kardashian but could it transform you, too?

Using light and dark tones to sculpt the face used to be one of the celebs' best-kept beauty secrets. Here, top make-up artist Oonagh Boman works its magic on model Nuala Meenehan.

By Joanne Sweeney

It's the biggest trend in make-up since the big brow evolution and women of all ages are trying it out. Social media is alive with tutorials from make-up bloggers showing women how to restructure the face by the use of dark and light tones, but with very mixed results.

The challenge is to use a combination of light and shade to shape the face in the most flattering way. In the hands of those who know how to apply it, it can really transform any shape of face, and for those who don't, well, the result can be less than effective.

Kim Kardashian works it to perfection, but even celebs can sometimes get it wrong as evidenced by actress Angelina Jolie, who was recently photographed with visible streaks of white make-up powder on her jawline. So, is facial contouring really the miracle art of make-up application that slims chubby chins, shortens long noses and gives us cheek bones like Kate Moss? Leading Northern Ireland make-up artist Oonagh Boman and model Nuala Meenehan give us their views – and show us how it should be done


‘I use this technique very subtly on all my clients’

Oonagh Boman is a professional make-up artist who runs her school of make-up in Belfast. The 47-year-old lives in Lisburn with husband Leslie and children Skye (15) and Brad (12). She contoured Nuala’s face using the Senna tri-palette.

Q Is face contouring a new trend in make-up?

A It may seem like a new technique to people, with stars such as Kim Kardashian posting things up on YouTube and Instagram, but it’s something that professional make-up artists do all the time. It was perfected in the Silent movie era in the 1920s and make-up artists have been using it ever since as part of their tricks of the trade.

Q So is the current interest something you welcome?

A I have a fear of people jumping on the contouring bandwagon because a lot of women just aren’t doing it right. I see it a bit like the brow evolution from a few years back when everyone was putting these huge eyebrows on that had absolutely no relation to any other feature on their face. A lot of people are buying contouring products but do not really know what to do with them and that’s my real concern. DIY is great in any walk but you still need the professionals.

Q But you understand why young women in particular would want to emulate Kim Kardashian?

A Who wouldn’t? But she does have amazing bone structure and is beautiful looking and not everyone who will try to face contour will get that finish.

The facial colour of all of the Kardashian women is a lovely dark olive colour so when you introduce light on to their skin you will see and notice it better.

In Northern Ireland our skin tones are generally very light and pale so when you put light colours on pale skin you are not going to see the same effect.

But if contouring is done well, it will give the features a lovely soft focus look and when I’m contouring a women’s face it is to make it softer. I always say you should notice the face not the make-up.

Q What exactly did you do with Nuala to achieve her look?

A Nuala has an incredible bone structure and I wanted to make the most of her fabulous cheekbones by working the deep grey based colour into the cheekbone hollows.

As much as contouring is about depth I believe that for full effect the high points of the face need to made lighter.

I achieved this using the buff and light source colours from the Senna contouring kit onto her cheekbones, along the jawline and on to in the centre of her forehead. This added radiance to her face, imitating the look produced via a ‘soft focussed lens'. The illusion that light and shade have on the facial features after applying a contouring product is to create more defined and uplifted cheekbones with a softer jawline and brighter complexion.

Q So can facial contouring make all face shapes look better?

A Yes, definitely in the hands of people who know what they are doing. For instance, that picture of Kim Kardashian with all the stripes of dark and light foundation is extreme and more for instruction. It's along the lines of how I would illustrate the technique to my students, who will then dilute that down in practice to their clients, who will then dilute it down again at home.

I always do contouring on my clients every single day but I do it so subtly that they don’t even know that I’m doing it. I have mothers-of-the bride who say to me ‘Goodness, I haven’t seen those cheekbones for years’ and that's because I have contoured them.

Oonagh Boman Make-up is the distributor for Senna Cosmetics in Ireland and the UK. For more|information visit |


‘Who’d go under knife when this works so well?’

Model and advertising guru Nuala Meenehan (48) lives in Belfast with husband Tony. She often hosts fashion events and is known for her own inimitable fashion style and look. She says:

“I love what Oonagh has done with my make-up and I can honestly say that I think facial contouring is Botox in a brush.

Really, when you can achieve a look like that just with make-up, why would would any woman bother with Botox or surgery?

I’ve seen some really bad examples of facial contouring where the women have looked like cartoons so I think that it’s a skill that needs to be carefully handled, preferably in expert hands.

Contouring is not something that I would personally do for a day look but I’d certainly use it for the evening or if I was presenting or modelling.

I can’t believe the really soft focus look that Oonagh has brought to my face.

She has really introduced a lot of light into my face and I particularly like what she did with my lips to make them look fuller by putting some light shade on the bow of my lips.

Oonagh also showed me how to soften my nose by putting a small dab of shade at the tip of my nose.

I’ve been told before by make-up artists that I have good cheekbones so the effect of the contouring there was probably not as dramatic as with most other women, but it still really made my cheeks look fantastic.

In fact, I hosted an event at Fashionweek just after Oonagh had done my make-up and I got so many compliments about it.

While I watched carefully what Oonagh was doing with the contouring kit, and she explained everything she was doing, I’m not sure that I could manage to get the same effect on my own.

The one thing that I take on board is that any lightness you use on the face needs to be matt.

I would need to practise a bit more to feel confident with the kit but I think it’s well worth the spend.

To get the best out of it, you would need to be shown how to use it by a make-up artists such as Oonagh.”


How celebs got brush with success

  • Some of the world’s most glamorous movie stars such as Angelina Jolie, Eva Mendes, Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston are also firm fans of the technique
  • Senna Cosmetics, the US make-up brand, loved and endorsed by the stars, has its very own Face Sculpting Kit that can create killer cheekbones, a slimmer nose, bigger eyes, a softer jawline, smaller chin or all of the latter in a few swipes of a brush
  •  It was developed by Emmy-nominated artist, Eugenia Weston, the creator of the Senna Cosmetics brand. The Face Sculpting Kit was put together originally for the makeup team on the set of Desperate Housewives
  • Oonagh Boman used the tri-colour contouring palette on Nuala Meenahan and it costs £32
  •  It comes with easy to follow instructions and a Foundation 20 Brush for flawless application, and allows the user to mimic natural shading and highlighting. The oil-free HD cream-to-powder formula, gives a long lasting finish without too much glow or any streaks

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