Contour kits are great! They come with instructions (for people who prefer paper to YouTube), they're portable (for people who carry their entire lives in their purses), and they usually have soap opera names like 'The Bronzed and The Beautiful' or 'Days of Our Lines' (for people who were babysitters in 1989). But they're also completely unnecessary. There's a 99.3% chance you already own everything that's in a palette, and the shades you have right now are probably better suited to your skin anyway. Which is why you might consider assembling your own collection of contour accoutrements. You only need four "ingredients," plus your usual base or tinted moisturizer. Here's a rundown of DIY kit basics, plus good substitutes if you don't have a ton of bronzer lying around:
Highlighter is like an instant nap/yoga class. It makes any area you apply it to look brighter and more prominent, which is why people love putting it around their eyes, on their cheekbones, and in the cupid's bow of their lips to create more fullness.
Pictured: It Cosmetics Hello Light Anti-Aging Luminizing Creme Stick is a favorite because the formula is hydrating, it doesn't sink into fine lines, and the luminizing particles are small, so you just look extremely healthy, not covered in a weird glitter film or something.
But you can also use: Your favorite light, shimmery eyeshadow—whichever one makes you look most awake when you put it on is probably the one you want for this. White shimmer is good for looking ethereal, but don't count out pink and gold shadows. If you have a bunch of options, dust a few on your hand and then choose whichever shade makes your skin look pretty without being too obvious. Oh, and great as glitter shadow is on eyes, stick to shimmer for the rest of your face unless your official look for Spring 2014 is Burning Man Elfin Princess Chic.
The yin to highlighter's yang. It's dark and shadow-creating, which is the other half of contouring. Shimmer is also good here, since it generates that much-coveted "glow" thing, but not necessary. Mainly, it should be dark—but not so dark that you can't blend it in—and have a terracotta, golden brown, or puce (terrible name, great hue!) base. Just stay away from colors that are grey-tinged; they make everyone look sickly.
Pictured: RMS Buriti Bronzer, which is sheer but highly pigmented and has a healthy dose of gold-brown flecks. It's coconut oil-based, too—great if you're sensitive to bismuth oxychloride or other chemical ingredients that are common in bronzers.
But you can also use: Cocoa or taupe eyeshadow is the classic substitute, but lipstick that's anywhere from copper to raisin can also work. The shade you choose should depend on your skin tone and what you you already know looks good on you. As a general rule, though, if you're warm-toned (which is almost everyone), go with an orange brown. If you're cool-toned, purple browns look great in an I'm-a-hot-vampire way.
Blush is...blush. It's basic, but really comes into its own when you're highlighting, since it makes the transition point between highlighted areas and bronzed areas (aka your cheeks) look soft and natural.
Pictured: Ilia Multi-Stick in Tenderly. It's slightly shimmery and light enough to brighten, so if you want to skip using highlighter on your cheeks you can. Plus, the ingredients are 85% organic and there are no synthetic dyes, which are an allergen for some people.
But you can also use: Sub in your favorite daytime lipstick by dabbing three dots along the tops of your cheeks and blending it out to your temples. Or grab a pan of eyeshadow in soft orange (warm undertones) or baby pink (cool undertones) and use it just like you would regular blush—the formulas are often almost exactly the same.
4. Brightening Powder or Cream
This is usually either a matte powder or concealer-type formula that goes under your eyes, across your forehead, and anywhere else that should be highlighted without being shiny.
Pictured: RMS Un Coverup, which is easy to blend and translucent enough to look natural.
But you can also use: Pressed powder (Make Up For Ever HD Powder is great), or a any concealer you like that's one shade above your skin tone.
Photos by Lacey Gattis.