The latest hair trend at the moment is hair colour contouring. But Jules Peacocke, Director of Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup says while the name is new, the techniques are not.

Full disclosure: when I was asked to write this article I got a bit shitty. Why?
Because if you are a master colourist, hair colour contouring is not a new thing and you should have been doing it all your professional life! Read on to find out more.

What is hair contouring

What is hair contouring?

A fine blonde highlight frames the face.


More freehand application of highlights to further frame the face and jaw.


You can see a hint of the darker tones coming through.

Hair contouring is a hair colour application technique that has been coined by Loreal Professional. Joico also have their take on it and call it Contour Dusting.

Both of these “brands” of contouring use techniques like freehand painting (also known as balayage), highlights, low lights, ombre and sombre.

Contouring involves the colourist carefully placing hair colour using freehand painting and more structured highlights around the face to accentuate a play on light and shadow.  This goal is to “alter” your appearance by accentuating your features like face shape and skin tone.

Loreal Professional have gone one step further and created a face map and set of tools to help stylists with their placement of colour. See their hair contouring map below:

hair contouring diagram

Loreal Professional’s hair contouring map indicating placement of hair colours.

How does hair contouring work?

Using a combination of freehand application and the more structured traditional form of highlighting, your hair stylist will design and use a colour palette that places different tones and depths of colour around the face to highlight and shadow your facial features thereby creating the “contouring” effect traditionally achieved by makeup.

Darker tones will create shadows and will help narrow a broad facial structure or shorten a long face.  Lighter tones will reflect more light and can help open up and broaden the face.

The personalised colour palette of complimentary colour shades and the placement of colour on the hair performs the “contouring” effect, like a kind of optical illusion, to define and accentuate certain features while minimising focus on others.

Will hair contouring suit me?

With the right hair stylist, hair colour contouring can suit almost everyone.

Many articles will rave on about contouring “being a 100% bespoke colouring service that is … designed to suit your unique facial structure, features and skin tone.”

My problem with this type of hype is that all hair colouring services should be 100% bespoke not only designed to suit the client’s unique facial structure, features and skin tone BUT ALSO, hair style, hair type, lifestyle and environmental factors. 

And while the Loreal map is just a guide… as soon as you create a prescription for the placement of colour, it’s no longer bespoke or personalised to you is it? 

This type of map is designed to help colourists who need help. It does help clients understand the intricate nature of hair colour selection and placement – our clients have been having contouring for years – they just didn’t know it!

Don’t ignore the importance of a great haircut for hair contouring to work.

Apart from colour selection and placement, the other critical factor in the equation which is not mentioned that often, is the haircut. Hair colour contouring will not work unless your hairstyle supports it.

To get the best out of your hair colour contouring experience, get your hair cut by the stylist who is colouring it.  No matter how great a colourist is, they cannot know what will be in the head of the cutter and vice versa.

The best outcome will be from seeing a hairstylist who is both a master colourist and cutter: they will be able to design and execute the colour with the haircut in mind.

What does face shape have to do with hair contouring?

You may recall that hair contouring is about placing different hair colour around the face to highlight and shadow your facial features thereby creating the “contouring” effect traditionally achieved by makeup.

My opinion is that you is that you don’t really need to know about your face shape, our stylists will explain that to you at a consultation.  But we have written a couple of articles that talk about face shapes and hair tones.

The big take away from both articles is that a great hairdresser will be able to interpret the trend or style and adapt it to suit you, your features and your lifestyle.  There is no point is having a high maintenance hair colour if you’re on a budget for instance.

In hair contouring the face shape that is used as a “benchmark” is the oval shaped face due to its well-balanced and symmetrical proportions.

face shapes and celebrities who have those face shapes

Honestly, it doesn’t matter what your face shape is, an expert hair stylist will know how to assess this and be able to design a look that is perfect for you.

Does hair contouring look natural?

The key to this look is subtlety and flow.  There are so many poorly executed balayages and hair colours out there that it would be a mistake to shop on price alone for this service.

Funnily enough the natural looking sun-kissed and contoured looks are often the most complex to create.  That means you need a professional who uses the best products and is expert in the techniques of freehand painting and highlights, not to mention overall being a master colourist.

Beware of the hair contouring hype

The “hype” around hair contouring “changing” the shape of your face is also highly dependent on the haircut and styling.

Take this image from Loreal as an example:

hair contouring example from Loreal for round face

This model is an example of how the Loreal contouring approach is designed to slim down a round face.  The hair colour on top is just highlights – nice colour but nothing particularly ground breaking in terms of techniques.  

Looking at the after photo, the eye makeup is different. The subtle addition of eyeliner under the eye has made the eyes appear rounder which does have an optical effect on the appearance of elongating the face shape.

Finally, the colour has contributed slightly to the overall effect, but notice how the hair has been styled to have more volume and is much closer to the face and cheeks which has the effect of slimming down the face?  The contouring effect has still been achieved by some eye makeup, styling and of course colour.

Being hair and makeup artists at Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup, we can actually help you with putting together a total look.  Not just for hair but for your makeup as well.

How much maintenance does hair contouring require?

As with balayage, hair colour contouring can be extremely low maintenance.  The problem with suggesting low maintenance is that many people will push that out to NO maintenance… and all coloured and uncoloured hair needs maintenance

Depending on the colour application, hair contouring regrowth will be soft and diffused but the actual colour needs care.  It doesn’t matter what colour service you have done, you need the right professional hair care products to support it to keep your hair healthy and your colour fresh and vibrant rather than washed out and brassy.

You may need to re-tone the hair if you wash your hair frequently or spend a lot of time outdoors. Using professional hair care products go a long way to protecting your colour.

Here are some links to products we recommend:

Key pointers on how to get the most out of your hair contouring experience

  • Create a pinterest mood board of images you like and would like to work towards. While not essential, this really helps both you and your stylist obtain a common understanding and language of what you’re looking to achieve. Just remember what looks good on one person may not look good on you.  A great hairstylist will be able to adapt any look to suit you – that’s what we do every day at Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup!
  • Don’t get hair contouring without getting a haircut to support it. The haircut is the vehicle for colour so don’t ignore it even if you just need to freshen up your ends.
  • Don’t be bamboozled by trendy industry terms: all colour should be personalised and designed for you… at least that’s the way we approach our colour work at Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup.
  • Ensure you have enough time in your appointment for a consultation. All new Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup clients have a full consultation to ensure you are thrilled with the outcome.

Hair colour contouring is a fresh take on some existing techniques. What it promises is something that experienced hairdressers have been delivering for years – a customised hair colour and cut suited to your physical charateristics and lifestyle factors.

Now that it has been popularised by celebrities and trending on the internet and social media, clients are able to see what the look can achieve and are more willing to explore some creative colour application.

We’d love to create a look just for you.

Call us on 9360 8708 or send us an email to book a consultation.