Why this underpainting makeup technique is the new contouring

By Fiona Embleton

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With over 96.5 million views on TikTok, "underpainting" is undeniably the new contouring – here's how to get the look

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A new genie is out of the bottle when it comes to creating a realistic-looking contour and next-to-natural flushed cheeks. “Underpainting” is a technique popularised by makeup artist Mary Phillips and, simply put, involves reversing the order in which you currently apply your makeup.

While the technique itself isn't exactly new, Phillips has given it a modern twist and rendered it in a matte, satin and glossy finish depending on the celebrity face she is working on (think Hailey Bieber, Jennifer Lopez and Kendall Jenner). Such is the appeal of underpainting, Phillips has even started a TikTok account in order to post a video demonstrating the technique on herself.

Essentially underpainting involves contouring and highlighting the skin before applying foundation. Phillips says in the video that it's like you are "laying down the bones under the skin. The bones being the contour and the highlight, and the skin being the foundation.” In other words, creating dimension before adding blanket coverage.

Phillips begins by buffing the Westman Atelier Face Trace Contour Stick in Biscuit round the hairline, beneath the cheekbones and the jawline using the MAC 130SHS Duo Fibre Brush to blend. She then uses a Tweezerman brow brush down the sides of the nose to carve out definition, before adding the RCMA highlighter on the high points of her face, including the bridge of the nose, and underneath the bronzer on her cheeks for added lift.

After dabbing the Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer under the eyes, a light veil of Chanel Vitalumière Radiant Moisture Rich Fluid Foundation is applied over the top, which taps into the current trend for "skindations". This is blended with the cream bronzer Nudestix Nudies Bronze in Sunkissed and Westman Atelier Blush Stick Baby Cheeks in Petal, which she sweeps on the apples of the cheeks and across the nose.

Given multiple cream formulas are applied directly to the skin before base, it's crucial to create a smooth canvas with a carefully considered skincare routine. Exfoliate to lift away dry flakes and shuttle lost moisture back into the skin to avoid patchiness. Those with oily skin should lean on water-infused gels such as Ole Henriksen Cold Plunge Pore Remedy Moisturizer.

Marina Andersson, make-up artist for YSL Beauté in Denmark, is also an advocate of using primer on her celebrity clients "for prolonging the wear and longevity of a look.” Her go-to is the YSL Touche Eclat Blur Primer (“it’s a hydrating oil-infused gel with illuminated golden flecks”), applied to moisturised skin with a flat foundation brush or fingertips. “Always start with the T-zone and blend the primer out and up towards the cheeks and hairline,” she adds.

And there you have it, a more 2.0 approach to sculpting that is so pretty and light-handed it creates a hazy effect with depth rather than obvious stripes.

8 of the best products for underpainting

Face Trace Contour Stick in Biscuit

Westman Atelier

130SHS Duo Fibre Brush


Shaping Round Brow Brush


Radiant Creamy Concealer


Vitalumière Radiant Moisture Rich Fluid Foundation


Nudies Bronze


Blush Stick Baby Cheeks in Petal

Westman Atelier

Touche Eclat Blur Primer

Yves Saint Laurent