Contouring vs. Strobing: Comparing Two Makeup Techniques

Contouring or Strobing? We'll help you tell the difference. What you should know about the contouring and strobing makeup techniques

close up of woman with red lipstick using makeup brush on face

Learn to tell the difference between contouring and strobing makeup techniques

Contouring and strobing are both makeup techniques that are confusing, time-consuming and not easy to master. Does anyone still even survive with a 10-minute statement lip color and winged eyeliner anymore? Sometimes it can seem like putting on makeup is an “all or nothing” exercise, especially if you’re a cosmetics enthusiast willing to go down the neverending rabbit hole of beauty vlogger tutorials online.

The influence of both contouring and strobing on the contemporary beauty industry is undeniable, though. The results of both look amazing. Supported by the reach of the Kardashians and Jenners, as well as the rise of drag queen how-to videos and general influence, relatively extreme makeup techniques like these aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

You may be asking: What are contouring and strobing, anyway? Below we explain their similarities, differences, and specific uses.

What Is Contouring?

Like using double-stacked false lashes, contouring traces back its roots to stage makeup. The point of this technique is to exaggerate contrasts and accentuate certain features for a more chiseled, dramatic look that can be appreciated even from very far away.

Contouring uses a contour kit containing shades that are darker than your skin, plus at least one that is lighter. You can contour with cream foundations and concealers, but these will feel heavy and may take much longer to apply and blend. Powder bronzers and contour palettes are more understated and easier to work with, though you should use matte products as much as possible so you don’t end up with unwanted shine messing with your shading.

The basic method involves using lighter hues on parts you want to emphasize while using darker hues to add depth and a slimming effect. Typically, you want the bridge of your nose and your eye area to look more lifted. Parts you want to minimize are usually the sides of your nose and forehead or chubby cheeks and double chins.

Not exactly sure which parts to paint which shades? Remember that contouring is meant to subtly enhance the bone structure your face has. When in doubt, suck in your cheeks and apply the darker product in the hollows and along your jawline. Use the lighter product on parts that should stand out when light hits your face: the cheekbones, the tip of the nose, a small portion above your top lip, and most of the upper center portion of the face.

Blend as if your life depends on it unless you want visible bronzer lines to be the main feature of your contoured face.

What Is Strobing?

Strobing is sometimes called “anti-contouring,” but is very much a gentler and more forgiving version of traditional contouring. Think of it as contouring but without any focus on shading or lowlights. Strobing is all about emphasizing where the light hits your face when it’s at a flattering angle.

While contouring relies on shades darker than your skin, strobing leans on the opposite end of the spectrum. Put your bronzers away and pick up your favorite neutral hue highlighter, and stay away from matte products throughout your makeup routine as these will work against what you’re trying to achieve with strobing. Pearly highlighters will work well for pale skin, while warmer tone highlighters are better for dark skin. Don’t use highlighters with a shimmery or glittery effect unless you’re sure you don’t mind letting go of the “natural-looking” advantage of this method.

Apply highlighter on the tops of your cheekbones, along the bridge of your nose, on top of the cupid’s bow of your lips, and even in the inner corners of your eyes. If this isn’t your first time strobing, you can try highlighting above your eyebrow arches, the middle of your forehead, or the middle of your lower lip, as well.

The goal is to present a radiant and relaxed face. We want supple-looking, not shiny. Dewy, not muddy and not completely blended. Glowing from within, not goopy because of too many layers of product. Remember: You don’t need to highlight everything, only some parts of your face that you want to stand out.

Strobing is much easier to blend out and perfect and much more conducive to outdoor and daytime lighting, compared to contouring.

Which Makeup Technique Is Better?

By now, both are tried and tested makeup techniques on the world stage. The answer depends on the situation.

If you’re performing on a big stage or attending an all-night event that demands a full face of formal or heavy makeup, traditional contouring will last longer and will give your face more definition.

If you’re low on makeup products or in a hurry, strobing could be for you. This method is ideal for daytime and outdoor events, or times where you may sweat a lot while wearing makeup. Strobing is relatively easier to touch up, although it can quickly end up making your entire face shiny if you have oily skin.

Resources⁠—Bustle, FabFitFun, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, The Sydney Morning Herald

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