Illuminators: you're the difference between me looking like a potato or JLo. Dull and gray, or Kim K. You shape my face with ease and leave sparkling fairy dust in your wake.
So let's get started with my ULTIMATE RANKING of the top 10(ish) illuminator brands, with testimonials from myself, close friends, and fellow makeup artists.
10. Laura Mercier
Laura offers two different illuminators: the Face Illuminator Powder and Matte Radiance Baked Powder in Highlight 01. I'm a fan of the latter. It's a great standard, natural-looking illuminator. Ideal if you want your glow to look as subtle and "real" as possible.
It is a very finely milled pressed powder with no glitter or metallic pigment. It does reflect light, but in a super-soft manner; perfect for those who want added dimension, but don't want to look like they're really wearing makeup.
It's a staple of many makeup artists I know, however it's not my personal fave (simply because I like my highlight to be visible from outer space). It's $40 for a tremendous baked pan.
9. Make Up For Ever
This Pro Sculpting Duo comes in two shades: Pink Beige, for light to medium skin, and Golden, for medium to dark skin. This two-shade option is pretty standard for many brands (which, in my opinion, isn't always enough). However, the powders truly are beautiful. They're bright and reflective, yet the texture is soft and natural.
The major drawback is that the highlighters only come in duos with a super warm-toned "contour" shade that reaaaaally is more of a bronzer. BUT if you're in the market for a bronzer and illuminator duo, it's great.
8. Bobbi Brown
Bobbi Brown's Highlighting Powders come in two shades: Pink Glow and Bronze Glow. They are completely beautiful, twinkling so elegantly and subtly, and allowing the person wearing the illuminator to stand out rather than the illuminator itself. Natural, yet still visible — a perfect everyday illuminator. And the bronze color is truly stunning on deeper skin tones.
There are only two reasons they aren't rated more highly on my list: price point ($46) and minimal shade options. Above $40 is a bit steep for me when it comes to a single-pan illuminator.
7. Artist Couture
Instaceleb and makeup artist @mac_daddyy created a super-unique line of loose Diamond Glow Powders. There's a tremendous array of shades: nine and counting! His line also includes artsy "cool girl" shades like Mermaid Fantasy, which has an iridescent green and aqua reflect, and Double Take, which has a coral, cotton-candy pink reflect.
They can be hard to get your hands on, though. The Diamond Glow Powders are mostly available at Ricky's and Naimes (if you happen to live in New York City or Los Angeles). You can also purchase them online. But beware: they are VERY intense illuminators. Perfect for that Instabeauty look. Not-so-great if you're going for natural.
6. Anastasia Beverly Hills
So, complete honesty: I have a love/hate relationship with these illuminators. I think the Glow Kits are absolutely genius. $40 for four TREMENDOUS pans is definitely one of the best deals of all time. There are so many special, intriguing colors that don't really exist within any other brand. And Anastasia definitely gets kudos for creating a wiiiiiide range of colors for a variety of skin tones.
My only drawback is that there was so much hype surrounding this product for so long that I expected these illuminators to literally solve world hunger and poverty when I used them. Which, obviously, did not happen. The texture is... fine. Not super-dry, but not super-creamy. The glow is great, but not the strongest.
In short the Glow Kit made my list, but, surprisingly, did not make #1.
I'm not mad at the NYX Born to Glow Liquid Illuminator. At $7.50, it's definitely worth the price. It comes in four shades: a white, a pink, a gold, and a bronze. I love to mix them into primers or foundations for that "lit from within" glow. I also tap additional illuminator on top of foundation for added dewiness. They're very subtle and natural, but worth purchasing for those more chill days.
This $30 cream-to-power illuminator is pretty much foolproof. It only comes in one champagne color, but it has proven itself to be suitable for a wide variety of skin tones. You just draw the cream stick onto the high points of your face, and blend with the attached sponge applicator. I love it because it doesn't look like a metallic stripe on the skin, like some other stick illuminators. It just makes your natural skin tone appear radiant.
It also helps that Mario Dedivanoic uses it frequently on Kim Kardashian, and other celebrity clientele. I think his artistry is so amazing that I would follow him across the globe and entrust him with my entire existence.
Albatross Highlighting Blush is the most goddess-y shade. It's a soft powder that truly reflects white-gold off the skin, which makes it ethereal and totally visible. I feel like a magical fairy queen when I wear it. The color is also quite versatile on a variety of skin tones. However, it's a smaller pan with a $30 price tag. Not the priciest Illuminator, but certainly not the most affordable.
I recently found a $6 dupe for Albatross from a brand called Makeup Revolution in the color Golden Lights. The colors look extremely similar in person. The only major differences is that the dupe powder feels quite a bit more dusty and it falls off the skin throughout the day. Additionally, it certainly doesn't photograph as brightly as the Nars. However, if you're in love with the unique color, but not NARS price tag, get the Makeup Revolution as a test run before you invest.
2. Sephora Collection
DO NOT SLEEP ON SEPHORA COLLECTION YOU GUYS. A lot of their products are more affordable dupes for super-expensive luxury items! Their Radiant Luminizing Drops cost only $14 (and are a perfect replacement for the Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer drops that are $40 each).
ALSO: Sephora has a secret illuminator know as the Midnight Magic Face and Body Glitter Pots. These $10 jars are freakin' stardust in a bottle, and for some reason, NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT THEM. They're finely milled glitter that you can use on you cheekbones OR on your body if you choose. They are so twinkly and breathtaking, especially the "Holographic" color, which is a translucent powder that reflects blue and pink under light. It comes in two other colors as well: Gold and Rose Gold. I happen to own ALL OF THEM.
They are unfortunately not a part of the normal Sephora Collection assortment, but they are available online. GET THEM! I promise you. A picture can't even communicate how stunning these are in person. Trust me, I've tried.
The Rainforest of the Sea Skin Twinkle Lighting Palette (try to say that five times fast) almost gave Tarte the #1 slot. In the past few weeks, I've found myself using this palette more than any other illuminator I own. For $42, you get two huge pans of illuminator (a rose gold and a champagne gold), plus half a pan of matte highlighter.
I've seen a visible difference in how my cheekbones appear in my selfies since using this palette (which is clearly a very important factor). My glow looks like a supersonic high beam emitting from outer space. The only drawback is the small color collection. These would definitely look a bit too frosty on anyone with medium to dark skin.
Is anyone surprised?
Becca will always have my heart, specifically the Pressed Shimmering Skin Perfector. These are number one simply because they are bright and stunning in person AND in photos. No matter what illuminators I dabble with, I always end up using Becca for at least half the week. They are super-soft and creamy, like a pillowy cloud sent down from heaven.
Because I'm white like a vampire, I tend to used Pearl with a touch of Champagne Pop, but there is a wide array of colors and textures for a variety of skin tones and types. Now that's what I call #illuminatorequality.
Added bonus: the $38 pressed Illuminators are huge and have lasted me over a year so far. Becca will be my forever bae.
Now go on, my pretties, and shine bright like a highlight!
- Because there are many fantastic brands that didn't make my list, I want to know: what are your favorite illuminators?
- What other types of product countdowns would you be into?