Done well, highlighters will look as if you have your own personal soft focus spotlight shining on you. They’re particularly ideal for the first few grey months of the year, when natural light is fleeting.
There are two schools of theory on using highlighters. The first targets all the high points of your face - forehead, under your brow, bridge of the nose, tops of cheekbones, and the cupid’s bow. Adding illuminator to these areas will make them pop and increase the three-dimensionality of your face. If you think about your younger face, your skin was tighter and fresher, making it easier for light to bounce off the face. This is partly what gives young faces that fresh, dewy look. As we age, our skin becomes more lax, wrinkled and dull. Highlighters cheat the aging process by adding the illusion of luminosity.
The second technique is to lighten shadowy areas - inner corners of eyes, under-eye circles and the inner corners of mouth. Adding highlighter here helps lift the shadows, evening the skin tone and diminishing unwanted contours. Again, this is a very beautifying technique that can instantly take years off a face.
Generally, you want to find a highlighter or illuminator that’s in a formula that works for your skin (powder or liquid/cream) in a yellow-based shade that either closely matches your own skin tone (for a soft, glowy look) or one that’s cooler than your skin tone (for a bright, icy pop of illumination). If you have oilier skin, stick to powders. If you have combination or drier skin, liquids will feel lovely on your skin.
It’s pretty easy these days to find a good highlighter at almost any price point that’s more about shimmer and glow than outright sparkle - which you definitely don’t want. The finer the particles, the more subtle and realistic the glow. Leave the sparkles behind with the holidays and go forward with these tested and loved recommendations.
Apply powder highlighters with a brush that offer precision. Use smaller brushes that aren’t too dense, such as an eyeshadow brush or fan brush. Large, fluffy powder brushes will only make a mess of this process - stay away!
Guerlain’s Météorites Illuminating Powder Pearls ($71) just may be the original modern highlighter. These small, luminous pearls come mixed in a variety of pastel colours, perfectly mimicking skin’s own diverse range of undertones. Swirl your brush lightly over all the pearls, tap off excess and apply to face.
Hourglass’ Ambient Lighting Powder ($52) comes in six shades that offer slightly colour-correcting properties. Choose the pale yellow to mimic candlelight, the peach shade to counteract darkness, and the lavender one to brighten.
Cream or liquid highlighters are extremely versatile as they can be layered on for greater effect, thinned out or even mixed in with you daily moisturiser or foundation for an all-over glow.
Mac’s Strobe Cream ($40) is an industry classic by now. This is more of a hydrating moisturiser with highlighting properties. It’s packed with antioxidants and you can use it directly on bare skin (best for dry/dehydrated skin), over your makeup or even mixed in with your liquid foundation. It now comes in a smaller, travel-sized tube ($12).
Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector ($50) is another industry darling, a favourite among makeup artists. There are five skin-flattering shades, two of which are also available in travel size ($23). Pat this onto skin with a brush or fingers, taking time to gently buff out edges for seamless transitions.
Click-y highlighter pens are often mistaken for concealer pens, so don’t be disappointed when yours won’t cover spots. That said, if you already have a great highlighter pen but need more coverage, simply mix a little of the highlighter with some concealer on the back of your hand and then use the brush to apply.
Touche Éclat ($60) by Yves Saint Laurent is probably the most well known and most misunderstood highlighter product. While it does come in 10 shades that make it ideal for a range of ethnicities, it offers no coverage. It’s truly meant as a highlighter and should not be mistaken for a concealer. The pen format makes it extremely convenient for pinpoint application around the eyes and mouth, which can be blended out with the brush-tip applicator or fingertips.
Clinique’s Airbrush Concealer ($26) has a similar marketing dilemma. Labelled as a concealer, this product does offer quite a bit more heft than YSL’s, but it’s still ultimately a highlighter. However, this one is truly ideal for undereye concealing because of its increased pigmentation. Plus, impressively, it comes in 12 shades. If you’re using this for the undereye area, pick a colour that matches your own skin tone to avoid looking ashy.