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Best contour palette 2023: Create definition in a matter of seconds

Sculpt some killer cheekbones or narrow a prominent nose, our pick of the best contour palettes will deliver the look you’re after

Contouring is great for making the best of your features, using light and shade to flatter specific areas of your face. If you’re wanting to give the appearance of sculpted cheekbones, or a more defined nose or jaw line, then you can do so in an instant using a contour palette. Comprising both highlighting and contouring shades, contour palettes are available in both cream and powder formulations for easy application, so you can get your desired look quickly and free of mess.

So, which contour palettes are best? We’ve put several to the test to discover which will help you enhance your natural bone structure in an instant. If you’ve struggled to find contour products that match your skin tone in the past; are looking for the best value for money palette, or are a complete beginner at contouring, on our list you’ll find a contour palette for every skin tone, type and budget. Read on for some key information to consider before you make a purchase.

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Best contour palettes: At a glance

How to choose the best contour palette for you

What is the difference between contour and bronzer?

Many will have questioned the difference between contouring product and a bronzer. While a bronzer is typically used to warm the face and add a sunkissed glow to the skin, a contouring product will be used to define and sculpt the face.

Note that since some bronzers come with light-reflecting particles that give a shimmery or glittery appearance to the skin, these should be avoided if your purpose is contouring. Instead, look for formulas that are completely matte; you want the contour to look like your own skin instead of an unnatural shimmer.

Highlighters, on the other hand, can have either a matte or shimmery finish, delivering a glowy or brightened look.

What different types of contour palettes are available?

A contour palette traditionally comprises several different shades of product, but can be available in different formulations. If you’re looking for a natural effect, we recommend using a powder contour palette, since these are the most easy to blend out.

For those looking for a more defined finish, or who are a dab hand at the process of contouring and wish to move to the next levels, cream formulations can add greater dimension and depth to the skin, while remaining easy to blend.

Where should contour be applied?

Contour products, whether in the form of a stick, wand or palette, add depth and dimension to the face by playing with light and shadows. Typically contour is applied to give definition to features such as the cheekbones, along the jawline, down the sides of the nose and along the hairline and temples.

You can blend out contour either with your fingers, a fluffy makeup brush or a beauty blending sponge, depending on your preference.

Should I apply contour before or after foundation?

Contour should be applied after your foundation and be around two to three shades darker than your natural complexion or the shade of your foundation. That difference is key for creating enough of a contrast between your skin colour and the contouring product to achieve a sculpted appearance without looking unnatural.

How much should I spend?

As you’ll see from the products on our list, prices for contour palettes vary. With prices starting at below £10 and going up to as much as £65 or £75 depending on the brand, we don’t believe you need to spend vast sums of money to achieve impressive results.

Some of our favourite products sit around the £20 to £30 mark. Plus, given that a palette comprises a number of different shades, it should last you some time, making it a worthwhile investment. If you’re on a budget, our best priced contour palette comes in at less than £10.

How we test contour palettes

At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing delivers the most complete information about a product. When it comes to testing contour palettes, then, we apply each of the contour powders or creams to clean skin in the exact same areas of the face, blending them with the same brush to evaluate the overall application and consistency on the skin. We also note how well the contour lasts over the course of a day, and whether the product smudges or moves as the hours progress.

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The best contour palettes you can buy in 2023

1. Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow in Light To Medium: The best contour palette for fair skin

Price: £49 | Buy now from Charlotte Tilbury

Many of the entries on this list are made up of multiple shades or types of formula in one palette. The Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow palette focuses on two in particular – a matte bronzer and golden highlighter, which makes this a fool-proof contour palette, even for beginners.

Bronzers and certain shades of contour can look quite orange, or particularly dark on lighter skin tones. However, this taupe bronzing colour can be applied to give a natural contour to fair, freckled and lighter skin tones. The satin finish of both powders blends seamlessly, further giving the appearance of “your skin, but better”.

Buy now from Charlotte Tilbury

2. Benefit Hoola Contourist Palette: The best all-round contour palette

Price: £29 | Buy now from Cult Beauty

Benefit is known for its iconic Hoola bronzer, a product that has won multiple beauty awards and has become a cult-favourite among beauty lovers. As a result of this success, the company has since expanded the Hoola range to include three further shades: Hoola Lite for fairer skin tones; Hoola Caramel for mid-tones; and Hoola Toasted for darker complexions.

The Hoola contour palette includes all four of the Hoola shades, as well as a built-in mirror, allowing you to contour quickly and easily or on-the-go. This product is particularly good for those whose skin gets more colour in the warmer months and then gets slightly paler in the colder months, with the four shades offering options throughout the year. The powder formulation blends nicely, achieving a natural look.

Buy now from Cult Beauty

3. e.l.f. Cream Contour Palette: The best budget contour palette

Price: £9 | Buy now from Feel Unique

If you’ve struggled to find the perfect contour shade for your skin colouring then this cream contour palette from e.l.f. has been developed with mixing in mind. You can customise your own personalised contour shade by mixing variations of colour or simply change the colour you use through the seasons as your skin becomes more tanned or pale, for example.

Since this is a cream formula, using a makeup brush or damp beauty blending sponge to apply this to your desired areas will give you the most control over the product, with the creamy consistency of the contour blending out seamlessly, while still managing to feel lightweight on the skin. This is also a completely vegan product.

Buy now from Feel Unique

4. MAC Studio Fix Sculpt and Shape Contour Palette in Medium Dark: The best contour palette for dark skin

Price: £36 | Buy now from MAC

People with darker skin tones can often struggle to find contour shades that are deep enough to shape and define the face. However, this palette of three matte contour shades and three subtly shimmery highlight colours each has slightly different undertones to them, making them easier to match and personalise to each unique skin tone.

The powders themselves are lightweight on the skin, but deliver buildable coverage to create great depth and dimension. And if you’re one of those whose skin is slightly more sensitive, then you’ll be pleased to learn that this palette has also been dermatologist tested.

Buy now from MAC

5. Smashbox Step-By-Step Contour Kit: The best contour palette for beginners

Price: From £30 | Buy now from Smashbox

Comprising a bright highlighter, a warm bronzer and a deep contour shade, this step-by-step contour kit is the perfect option for newbies who haven’t dabbled in contouring before. The powders themselves blend nicely and are of the type that you can build, depending on the intensity you’re after with your contour.

Available in Light/Medium and Medium/Dark shades, this contour palette comes with a built-in mirror, accompanying angled blending brush, and a handy paper guide, giving you all the tools you need to create a sculpted look.

Buy now from Smashbox

6. NYX Professional Makeup Highlight & Contour Pro Palette: The best range of shades in one contour palette

Price: £20 | Buy now from BootsWhether you’re a professional makeup artist, or simply love experimenting with your own looks at home, this pro palette offers multiple specialist vegan powders for just £20. The kit is made up of eight shades, which includes bright, pale and yellow-based highlight colours; this is another palette made with customisation in mind.

We also love the fact that this palette is refillable, so if there’s a specific shade or shades that you use more often than others, you can replace each one individually. Add to this the benefit of being able to use these powders as eyeshadows as well, and you have yourself a pretty versatile contour kit for the money.

Buy now from Boots

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