Your ultimate guide to highlighters: How to pick the best one and use it right

A good highlighter is a must-have in your makeup bag—applied across your cheekbones, down your nose and beneath the brow bone—it can add definition, elevate a dull, tired complexion and deliver the elusive dewy glow you’re looking for. Whether you like to swipe it on, dab it across or swirl it in, here’s your ultimate guide to highlighters, just in time for the party season.

What are the highlighter best-practices to keep in mind?

“Highlighters are used to emphasise a particular feature on your face. Thanks to its lighter colour and also the sparkling pigments in the formula, light reflects off of the areas where the product is applied enhancing its appearance. Our attention is naturally driven to those areas,” says Manu Horn, a Paris-based editorial makeup artist. “A contour product creates shadows while a highlighter brings out key points on your face,” explains celebrity bridal makeup artist Bianca Louzado. The two makeup artists share their tricks here.

  1. You can start with a glowy base from the get-go. “You can mix a drop of luminising liquid with foundation and use a damp beauty sponge to blend it seamlessly all over for that lit-from-within look.”
  2. But when you’re increasing the pigment, apply only in the areas you want to emphasise. “You don’t want to apply it all over, less really is more here,” says Horn. “The simple scientific logic is the play of light and shadow to create an optical illusion. Think of a sun-kissed evening and observe how the light falls flatteringly on your face. This is what you would like to recreate.”
  3. Since the highlighter is meant to be lighter than your skin tone, it will add volume to the areas applied. Both Horn and Louzado caution against using too much highlighter on the tip of the nose, the forehead, chin and apples of the cheeks.
  4. Blend, and then blend again. “On the cheekbone, make sure you always apply with round movements so the effect will be diffused and natural. We don’t want to have a ‘line’ of highlighter next to our eyes,” Horn adds.
  5. Pick the right shade. “To highlight your face you need to choose a colour that is two-three shades lighter than your skin. Pay attention to your skin colour: if you have a yellow or olive tone you would preferably wear gold highlighters. If you have a cool undertone, pink/pearl colour highlighters will suit you better.” The warmer your skin is, the darker the highlighter should be. “So, if you have medium to deep skin, look for peaches, oranges, copper tones as these will look more natural on your skin,” says Horn.

What highlighters do you need to add to your repertoire now?

Different highlighter formats—jellies, sticks, creams, powders, gels—afford you the option to go as heavy or light as you want. Wet textures (like creams and jellies) tend to look more natural and can work on their own without much prep, thanks to the fact that they melt into the skin to give you a natural incandescence. But if you want a makeup look that is more all-out, a powder can give you the dimension you need.

Powder highlighter: It’s the final touch to be applied on top of your foundation/setting powder. “You can apply this type of highlighter with a fan brush or a rounded, fluffy brush and works for those with oily skin types, or if you want to give your skin a more defined shape,” says Sonic Sarwate, global senior artist, MAC Cosmetics India.

Stick highlighter: These come in an easy-to-use roll-on/stick format which gives you more control. “These formulations are creamy but the post-application texture is not creamy or greasy. It dries down to a semi-matte finish,” says Sarwate. “The only thing to remember when using a stick highlighter is that you should just lightly press into the skin and not try to buff it too much because if you have used powder, it can disturb the makeup a little bit.”

Cream highlighter: “While powders can skew a little frosty, cream highlighter will give you a more dewy finish,” he says. It is best to apply cream highlighter directly onto the cheekbones by swiping it and then using fingers or a blender to pat it onto the skin.

Jelly highlighters: “Jelly formulas may appear wet on application, but they set almost immediately,” confirms Sarwate. “Moisturise your face, use jelly highlighter on the areas of the face you want to emphasise, and then put your makeup on top of that to create a more inside-out glow.”

Strobe cream: These pearlescent formulas go on sheer—they don’t look too glittery or bright, making them all-over illuminators that wear comfortably.

The article was first published in Vogue


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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