If I could only use one kind of makeup for the rest of my life, I would most definitely go with highlighter. Also known as luminizer or illuminator (or many other made up words), at its base, it’s some kind of light reflecting substance that you use to define the high-points of your face. They come in many different formulas, but I tend to prefer a balm, cream or liquid because those work the best on bare skin.
In terms of the amount of payoff you get for the effort, I think it’s the most impactful tool in my makeup kit, and despite what you might think, it’s the easiest to use. You can get crazy with it if you want, but in terms of minimum skills required for use, we’re talking toddler levels here.
Just dab it across the tops of your cheekbones, down the middle of your nose and on your cupid’s bow, and your face is instantly brought to life.
These are my top-five highlighters, and there’s one here for just about everybody. (Highlighters are notoriously hard to see on camera but I think you can get the general idea from these photos. Also, enjoy the zit next to my nose!)
THE FOOLPROOF OPTION: Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder
This finely milled pressed powder creates the best “glowing from within” effect I’ve ever seen, and it comes in six excellent shades that are so high-quality that you could put them on blindfolded with your fingers and they’d still look good.
Unlike many powders, they never look cakey or dull and have a pretty remarkable imperfection-blurring airbrushed effect. This is going to sound ridiculous, but sometimes I don’t like to use it because it can make my skin look TOO perfect and I prefer a more natural look. It's the real deal.
THE NATURAL OPTION: RMS Living Luminizer
If, like me, you find yourself drawn to so-called “natural” products, this balm is the highlighter for you. It’s got only six ingredients and the shimmer in it is a beautiful, multidimensional mother-of-pearl color that works on every skin tone (literally).
It’s super-sheer, so it’s easy to apply, but you can build up the shine for more drama. It does have a tendency to crease, so I don’t use it on my eyelids, but anywhere else is fair game. The little glass pot is very portable, so it’s easy for me to just keep it in my pocket in case I find myself in need of a little extra luminosity.
THE BUDGET OPTION: Revlon Photoready Skinlights
These liquid highlighters are definitely the sparkliest of the bunch—I don’t usually go in for that sort of thing—but not so much so that we’re getting into glitter territory. They come in four shades, including a peachy tone that has the rare honor of being a pink highlight that actually works on dark skin.
Like all of the Revlon Photoready products I’ve tried, it has an extremely natural finish, and for less than $15 a pop, I can’t really ask for a whole lot more.
THE PROFESSIONAL’S OPTION: BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector
This is hands-down my favorite makeup product of all time, and it’s the highlight that gets recommended to me most frequently by professionals. This liquid highlighter is densely packed with enough mica particles to create a striking effect, but never ever looks glittery.
I use a drop about the size of a peppercorn for my whole face, and I just now used up the bottle I bought two years ago (don’t tell the makeup hygiene police please). The formulation of the product is quite moisturizing, so it works really well on bare skin, which is the way I use it. It does require thorough blending, though, and it took me a couple tries to get the hang of it. As long as my skin isn’t too dry when I apply though, the process goes pretty quickly.
It can easily be combined with moisturizer or foundation for an all-over glow, and you can even use it on your body. I can’t really explain how much I love this product! Just go get some and thank me later.
THE NO-MAKEUP OPTION: Olio E Osso Balm
Olio E Osso is a micro-brand out of Portland that could have easily been tapped for the “natural” option as well. It comes in a dispenser that looks like a tiny stick of deodorant and slips easily into your pocket (must-have for us tomboys who don’t carry a purse).
I like the clear formula (No. 1) the best, but it also comes in super flattering coral, red and berry shades. The pigmented shades are more like blush, but they still leave the skin with a dewy glowing finish. If you’re a no-makeup kind of babe like I usually am but still like the idea of making your features pop, give your cheekbones a swipe with this super-emollient stick. Bonus: you can also use it as lip balm!
- Any other highlighter junkies out there?
- Why do so many drugstore highlighters have giant chunks of glitter in them?
- Are there any brands you recommend?