Photo: @kimkardashian Instagram
Photo: @kimkardashian Instagram

The Kardashian effect

When Kim Kardashian took to Instagram a few months ago to share photos of her face-contouring makeup tricks, the before-and-after differences in her features weren’t the only things that were thrown into stark relief. She also proved just how much a well-defined facial structure – natural or otherwise – can do for one’s appearance. And though that exploit didn’t exactly “break the Internet”, it likely stoked interest in highlighting and contouring makeup, a trend that has been gaining traction ever since the word “selfie” entered the urban dictionary.

This focus on creating a sculpted-looking face with strong definition isn’t limited to cosmetics. Skincare brands have quickly cottoned on to the fact that with photos constantly being snapped and shared, women are going to want products that help them look better every which way. In short, thanks to Instagram, we now have a new generation of facial sculpting skincare.

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Sculpting vs lifting

Dr Low Chai Ling, medical director of The Sloane Clinic, offers a simpler picture. “Sculpting refers to enhancing certain parts of the face that you want to bring into prominence, and minimising others. Lifting usually refers to firming skin by improving its elasticity so it holds better.” According to her, there is some overlap between the two because they are often synergistic. “If one has saggy skin, one will never look as good – even after sculpting procedures – as someone who has firmer skin. This is because the drape of the skin will also impact the sculpted appearance of the face,” she explains.

Facial sculpting also seems to share some similarities with another trend: the slim, V-shaped face. However, Dr Low clarifies that though they are related, they are not the same thing.  “A sculpted face refers to a chiselled appearance that starts from having stronger, defined cheekbones, a prominent and refined nose, and a taut, defined jawline,” she says. And the jawline does not have to be V shaped – it can be a more masculine square shape too.

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Sculpting skincare then and now

One of the earliest products on the market that was specifically aimed at creating a V-shaped face was Clarins Shaping Facial Lift ($106). Promising to slim and reduce the roundness of the face, it reportedly stimulates microcirculation to prevent excessive water in the tissue, fights skin slackening and preserves skin firmness. Grace Tay, product trainer for Clarins Singapore, says Shaping Facial Lift can be considered a kind of sculpting skincare. “It helps to facilitate the release of excess fats, reduce water retention and keep skin lifted. Our facial contours will become more defined and lifted, and the appearance of a double chin is reduced,” she says.

Dior’s Capture Lift skincare range ($168-$210) works along the same lines, addressing women’s desire for a sharper chin and smaller face. The products’ sculpting effects are reportedly achieved by reducing unwanted fat and excess liquid, while simultaneously toning and lifting skin, thereby “reshaping” facial contours, and creating a tighter, slimmer appearance.

However, Dr Low expresses doubts about whether such facial sculpting products will work to any extent. “A product cannot be plumping, or maximising, as well as minimising. Sculpting would involve enhancing certain parts of the face, while minimising others. Even if a skincare does what it says, it cannot be both at the same time,” she argues. 

Not that these constraints have deterred brands from trying to deliver on both counts. Among the latest to try is Estee Lauder, which launched its New Dimension Shape + Fill skincare and makeup range ($60-$225) earlier this year.

Audrey Ang, the brand’s regional field education director, says: “What makes New Dimension unique is that it targets both volume and structure. Proteins such as collagen and elastin give skin its support, and help it to look lifted, firm and smooth. But our latest research showed that it is critical to also improve skin’s natural visible volume, particularly in areas such as the cheeks, to give face dimension and depth. Without both volume and structure, skin gradually ‘flattens out’ and loses its dimension.” It explains why the range’s star product, the Expert Serum, boasts a mix of hyaluronic acid, filaggrin and lipids – they help restore fullness to the face.

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Does sculpting skincare really work?

Those with high hopes of what these sculpting-shaping-slimming products can do to give them a more chiselled look or smaller face, though, might want to temper expectations. As Dr Low points out, there are 21 facial fat pads under our skin, some of which will shrink with age, resulting in a deflated appearance in areas such as around the eyes and cheeks. Meanwhile, others will enlarge slightly and cause the lower face to look heavy around the jowls. “These are structural issues that are beyond the reach of topical products. No skincare can address these problems despite the claims. Only aesthetic or cosmetic procedures can address them,” she says.

Her advice: “I don’t think there will be any discernible difference in the long run. No skincare can penetrate that deeply to have any sculpting or lifting effects. If you want to use good skincare, it is better to stick to the basics that will work on the dermal layer of the skin to provide free radical protection, such as your sunscreens and antioxidants.”

5 products to know

La Mer The Lifting Contour Serum, $500

This is said to produce an instant tightening feel and make facial contours look more defined. At the same time, its active ferments and trademark ingredient, Miracle Broth, help with skin repair and renewal, reportedly boosting natural collagen and elastin production so skin looks firmer and healthier.

Clinique Sculptwear Lift and Contour Serum for Face and Neck, $85

It supposedly helps to firm and tone loose, saggy and wrinkled skin, thereby creating more defined and youthful-looking features. Using a combination of ingredients, including extracts from sweet almond seed, red algae and soya bean seed, this serum is said to boost skin’s own collagen production, while strengthening its natural inner structure.

Clarins Shaping Facial Lift, $106

Formulated specially for Asian women, who are said to be more prone to having excess fat and puffiness around the cheeks and under the chin, this serum promises to help drain away excess fat and fluids from the face while firming skin. The immediate effect is reportedly lifted and tightened facial features, creating a slimmer, more V-shaped face.

Estee Lauder Shape + Fill Expert Serum, $153

It promises to boost skin’s volume while fighting sagging, so that cheeks appear rounder, the eye area become less hollow, while jawline and facial contours look firmer and more defined. Apart from having a pro-collagen complex that reportedly boosts skin density, it’s also said to support skin’s natural volumisers and proteins for stronger, bouncier skin.

Dior Capture Lift Ultra-stretch Reshaping Serum, $210

This has a high concentration of Bi-skin Stretch (an exclusive ingredient derived from natural polymers) that forms an invisible lifting and tightening veil on skin. Think of it like a face stocking that works to hold your face in a slim V-shape. Said to slim and restore skin’s elasticity in the long run.

Model photos:

An adapted version first appeared in Female’s January issue.

Like this?Check out these contouring makeup products for a more sculpted appearance.