Beauty In A Tik Logo

This Retro Highlighter Tip Has Gone Viral — But It Should Stay In The Past

Photo Courtesy of Jacqueline Kilikita.
At Refinery29 Australia, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but we may earn commission or other compensation from the links on this page.
Welcome to Beauty In A Tik, where each week we put TikTok's viral beauty hacks and innovative trends to the test.
There are plenty of retro trends I've welcomed back with open arms: I've got my eye on a gold drinks trolley to jazz up my rather plain apartment and I'm ready to ditch my flats for the chunky platform heels I'm seeing everywhere. But when it comes to makeup, it wouldn't be untrue to say that plenty of yesteryear's application trends and techniques were mostly ineffective.
I've tried setting my makeup with a wet paper towel (total disaster) and boosting my lips with eyeliner (never again) but that hasn't stopped TikTok's beauty enthusiasts from becoming a little obsessed with yet another nostalgic way of doing makeup.
Enter: retro highlighting.
Makeup artist and vintage collector Erin Parsons recently posted a video on the benefits of matte white highlighter, specifically how makeup artists of the '70s and '80s, like Way Bandy, used the product to enhance their clients' features. Way is known to have applied strategic swipes of white highlighter on the inner and outer corners of the eyes, down the nose and at each side, underneath the cheekbones and on the chin to create what Erin refers to as "an amazing light" in the centre of the face. Sure enough, when Erin tried the technique herself, her makeup appeared flawless. It's no wonder that her video has amassed over half a million views and hundreds of comments.
"Retro highlighting is basically the opposite of contouring," makeup artist Zoë Moore told me. "The lighter shade helps to bring out and brighten features." Makeup artist Mira Parmar seconds this: "Anything light accentuates features and makes them pop, while anything dark [like bronzer or a cream contour stick] pulls features back, increasing shadows. This retro trend creates dimension and structure to give you a 'snatched' look." I had a couple of questions, though. Would this '80s highlighter trick look just as good IRL? Will it suit all skin tones? And how much of Erin's result is just great lighting? I had to find out for myself.
The key here is to use something matte rather than shimmery. I have the NYX Jumbo Eye Pencil in Cottage Cheese, $8.99, which makes an excellent highlighter, but for maximum impact I decided to use something more substantial: Revolution Makeup Revolution Conceal & Define Concealer in C0, $6. (If you're a Beauty In A Tik regular, you'll know this product has come in clutch lately for various TikTok beauty hacks.)
@refinery29 Does this retro highlighting technique really work? #whiteconcealer #beautyinatik #makeuptest ♬ Ascend - SEDVTED
Like Way and Erin, I made sure to do my makeup as usual first; highlighter should be the last step. I mixed Kosas Revealer Skin Improving Foundation, $67, with MAC Strobe Dewy Skin Tint, $64, and applied Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Light Wand in Peachgasm, $60, on my cheeks to create this dewy base, then swiped the concealer onto the same areas as the pros. Using a foundation brush, I blended it all in as quickly as I could to stop the product from drying out and becoming chalky.
After white concealer
I had high hopes for this technique because when used sparingly, white concealer is a totally underrated makeup product. But once blended, I looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost's sister. The result was mask-like and incredibly old-fashioned. There was no way I could leave the house like this.
I know it's a retro technique but it just goes to show how much makeup trends have changed, not to mention how far we've come in regard to shade ranges. Stark, white colours — particularly when applied this generously — might not suit all skin tones, even if you are a dab hand with a Beautyblender. One TikToker in the comments section under Erin's viral video suggested that the method can work for deeper skin tones when applied under, rather than over, makeup (a trick known as under-painting). Both Zoë and Mira believe the method itself is universal — just be sure to work with a concealer that's a few shades lighter than your base and blend, blend, blend.
That's exactly what I did. I removed the streaky white makeup with micellar water and replaced it with my usual concealer, which is lighter than my skin tint base. I loved this result. My face looked sculpted and brighter in all the right places, such as around my eyes where blue and purple tones often peek through, and around my nose, which can appear red. I'd recommend using your concealer sparingly, though, as the heavy-handed, retro approach meant my skin felt clogged throughout the day.
After normal concealer
Considering this method involves quite a few layers of makeup, it's not something I'd do every day, especially not in the summer and definitely not using white highlighter or concealer. However, the modern tweak made my skin look great in photographs so I'll certainly refer back to it ahead of a special occasion. In the meantime, I'm sticking firmly with golden hour makeup. Now that's a good way to impart a glow.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Makeup