Highlighter is one of the worst kept beauty secrets: Everyone knows that if you want to fake a
healthy glow, it's not really bronzer you're after — it's highlighter. Consider it concealer's sexy older cousin.
While a good concealer can hide a multitude of late-night sins, highlighter uses reflective properties to distract the eye away from those sins. When well-executed, it lends an effect that amounts to having your own personal lighting team wherever you go, adding dimension to your face without delving into some pro-makeup artist epic contouring session. Available in
powder, liquid, or cream forms, with or without shimmer, the amount of highlighters available are endless.
Celebrity makeup artist
Stella Kae, who is responsible for the glowing faces of Alyssa Milano, Brandi Cyrus, and Toni Braxton, says she always highlights "as a final touch," after she's completed the full face, to add more dimension. "The ideal places to highlight are underneath the arch of the brow, in the inner corner of the eyes, the bridge of the nose just between the eyes, on the high points of the cheeks, and right above the lips at the Cupid's bow," she says. "On a look that is more natural or uses light/neutral eyeshadow shades, you can also highlight just in the centre of the eyelid."
However, not all highlighters are created equal. Just like foundation, not every highlighter is made for every skin tone — here's how to find the perfect one for you.
Pale To Fair Skin
If Amanda Seyfried and Dita Von Teese are your complexion twins, Kae recommends a pearl-colored pressed powder, like this icy, opalescent pick from Too Faced. With a unique, almost creamy texture and insane color payoff, you can dust it on lightly for a subtle glow or layer up for megawatt shine.
Love Light Prismatic Highlighter in Blinded by the Light, $30, available at
This gorgeous pearlized compact from Guerlain is exactly what those with fair skin should be using, as it will add just the right amount of highlight to pale skin tones. The mix of soft colors helps to blur imperfections and adds just a touch of highlight to fair skin.
Meteorites Voyage Exceptional Compacted Pearls of Powder, $179, available at
Prefer a cream formula? This subtly dewy highlighter is the easiest — and most natural, given it's cruelty-free, preservative-free, fragrance-free status — option. Simply draw anywhere you want to apply shimmer (like the top of cheekbones) with one side, then buff into skin with your fingers for the easiest glow ever.
Illuminator, $34, available at
Don’t get caught up worrying about the specifics of this difficult-to-define product — just apply it under your makeup as an illuminating primer, mix a few drops in with your liquid foundation for an extra dewy finish, tap it over your cheekbones for a pearly highlight, or wear it alone for skin that’s luminous, but not sparkly. Highlighter has never been more versatile.
Photography Fluid, Opacity 12%, $30, available at
Not only does the pearly sheen of this highlighter sink into skin and make it look illuminated from within, the lightweight fluid formula allows for a quick pick-me-up that won't ruin your foundation when pat over top.
Liquid Lumière in Sheen, $41, available at
A believable highlighter should echo the texture of your natural skin. The center of this shimmer stick is filled with hydrating oils, which helps its outer, pearly shade sink seamlessly into the skin.
Haloscope in Quartz, $22, available at
For that no-glow glow, this face gloss adds shine and highlight without all the shimmer.
Face Gloss, $20, available at
Photo: Courtesy of NARS.
Fair To Medium Skin Tones "For fair to medium tones, like Jessica Biel, there is probably the widest product range to choose from, so those that fall into this category can afford to be less selective with their highlighters," says Kae. "Anything from Champagne to pale pink is flattering." She says her go-to for this shade of skin is the NARS Multiple in Luxor.
The Multiple in Luxor,
On the hunt for a highlighter you can see from space? This smooth-to-the-touch powder delivers intense, metallic pigment in one swipe.
Master Chrome Metallic Highlighter, $9.99, available at
This trio of illuminating powders can be mixed together to create custom shades
worn alone for a subtle glow.
Ambient Lighting Palette, $62, available at
As if you needed another reason to want to spend your money on all things Fenty Beauty, this creamy, lightweight highlighter leaves skin luminous and lasts all day. You can’t go wrong with the lineup of 10 perfectly shimmery shades, but Starstruck, a cool, icy pearl, is a particular must-have for light-to-medium skin.
Fenty Beauty by Rihanna
Match Stix Shimmer Skinstick, $25, available at
Not sure which highlighter will work best for your skin tone? This one incorporates both gold and silver pigments to produce a looks-good-on-everyone sheen.
Marc Jacobs Beauty
Glow Stick Glistening Illuminator, $42, available at
We like to call this liquid highlighter "tiny drops of sunshine" because of the dewy, radiant glow it imparts.
Celestial Skin Liquid Lighting, $52, available at
This gorgeous illuminating powder from Laura Mercier works well on fair- to medium-skinned ladies (who can pull off basically any highlight). The soft, rose-gold shimmer looks just as good in the compact as it does on your skin. And feel free to use it everywhere — even on the décolletage.
Face Illuminator Powder, $42, available at
Photo: Courtesy of MAC.
Medium To Dark Skin Tones For those with warmer skin tones or that have a lot of yellow in their skin — think Queen Bey or Mindy Kaling — try not to use anything too pink or your skin will look more disco ball than cleverly defined. Kae says your best option is a neutral peach shade such as MAC Cosmetics Prep+Prime Highlighter Pen in Peach Lustre.
Prep+Prime Highlighter in Peach Lustre,
This highlighting palette delivers a shimmery glow with
the right amount of bronze. Mix and match or hit the bottom of the pan on a single shade (you're sure to find your perfect one in here).
Tarteist Pro Glow Highlight & Contour Palette, $45, available at
This game-changing new complexion palette contains everything — and we mean
— you need to highlight, contour, and color correct for medium and deep skin tones, with both powder and cream formulas for endless options.
Naked Skin Shapeshifter in Medium Dark Shift, $45, available at
This highlighter delivers a pale-gold shimmer that flatters warmer skin tones. Smooth to the touch, it goes on with the highest impact when you use your fingers rather than a brush.
Super Shock Highlighter,
For those looking for something on the natural-looking side of the spectrum, Josie Maran's liquid highlighter is perfect. The slightly shimmery, golden finish makes skin glow, whether dabbed over
under foundation — or mixed into moisturizer or makeup.
Argan Enlightenment Illuminizer, $26, available at
On a budget? E.L.F.'s luminous, peach powder highlighter packs just the right amount of shimmer for the tops of cheekbones — and rings in at less than a latte. Tip: Use a tiny brush to dust it over your Cupid's bow and in the corners of your eyes.
Baked Highlighter in Blush Gems, $3, available at
Photo: Courtesy of NYX.
Dark To Deep Skin Tones
If your skin is as lustrous and rich as Lupita Nyong'o, go with gold shimmer. "The richer the tone of the skin is, the richer of a gold you can use," says Kae. "Avoid using anything lighter than the skin color since this will create a gray cast. A great trick I learned from fellow artist
is using loose pearl eyeshadow pigments, such as NYX Loose Pearl Eyeshadows, in anything from pale gold to almost bronze depending on your skin color." If you can't find a shade that complements your skin the way you like it, skip color altogether. "Use colorless products that simply shine," advises Kae.
Rose Bud Salve
, and Kae's personal favorite,
Pretty Peaushun Skintight Body Lotion in Clear
, tapped on lightly with fingers, will all work with your skin to give off that sheer dimension you crave.
Ultra Pearl Mania Loose Pearl Eye Shadow in Nude,
This highlighting-and-bronzing duo is the perfect glow kit for anyone with a deep skin tone. We love the shades so much, we've even used them as eyeshadows.
Make Up For Ever
Pro Sculpting Duo in 2 Golden, $39, available at
This pigmented powder has a metallic finish, making it a perfect choice if you're looking for a strong highlight.
Dose of Colors
Supreme Glow Highlighter in Gold Is The New Black, $28, available at
Dose Of Colors
Prefer powder? This light formula is the perfect way to highlight the tops of cheekbones in a flash, thanks to the convenient built-in brush and flattering golden hue.
Jay Manuel Beauty
Skin Face Lift in Gold, $32, available at
Jay Manuel Beauty
Some pink-based blushes and bronzers can wash out deeper complexions — but this rose gold option is supremely flattering.
The HiLife Highlighter in Heir, $12, available at
"This palette has three luminous shades that can be worn across the board,"
's makeup artist
Clarissa Luna tells us
. "The blush is subtle and sweet, while the highlight and contour colors can be used as eyeshadows as well. The cherry on top is the yummy peach scent!"
Sweet Peach Glow Peach-Infused Highlighting Palette, $42, available at
The Universal Cream
Without a doubt, this is RMS Beauty’s most renowned product, and for good reason. The Living Luminizer seems to work like magic, bringing light to the skin with just a couple of swipes. On dark to deep skin tones, the sheer yet glowing cream does wonders in illuminating skin without making it look gray.
Beauty Living Luminizer, $38, available at
The Universal Palette
With this trio of highlighters, you're bound to find more than one to flatter your skin tone — it includes shimmery Champagne, rose, and bronze shades so you can pick your perfect glimmer.
The Manizer Sisters Palette, $28, available at
The Universal Powder
Becca's newest highlighting powder includes five of the brand's best-selling Shimmering Skin Perfector shades, including Bronzed Amber, Moonstone, Opal, Rose Gold, and Topaz. Swirl all the powders together (the mix of cool and warm tones looks great on everyone) or tap them onto your cheekbones separately.
Shimmering Skin Perfector Gradient Glow, $38, available at
The Universal Liquid
If you’re more comfortable with a liquid highlighter, but still don’t want to have to choose your exact shade, Benefit Cosmetics’ new Dandelion Shy Beam Matte Highlighter is for you. The soft-pink, shimmer-less formula gives just a
of highlight for a subtle, luminous look.
Dandelion Shy Beam Matte Highlighter, $26, available at
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the
Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page
. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!