Whether you’re contouring, strobing, nontouring (yep), or just doing you, highlighters have become an invaluable part of many makeup routines. For any readers who don’t yet know, highlighters are pale, shimmery products applied to the high points of a face – think cheekbones, tip of the nose, bow of the mouth. Highlighters help illuminate these places by catching the light with an iridescent glow, sparkle, or dewiness. They usually come in a gel stick, or powder form. They shape the face and create a universally flattering glow, helping you photograph as if always in the spotlight.
Picking exactly the right highlighter can be tricky and at around $40 each, you want to be sure you’ll get as much love and use out of the product as possible. I tried and tested 9 favorites for you. Shown in the swatches below are Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish 003 in Nude followed by Skin Fetish 003 in Golden – both powder and stick form are shown for each. Moving from the elbow toward the hand, I have also shown Becca’s Shimmering Skin Perfecter in Moonstone and Opal, then Nars’ The Multiple in Copacabana. Next I mixed the three highlighting tones from Anastasia Beverly Hills‘ contour kit in Light to Medium. Finally, I have the Surreal Strobe Lighting powder from Hourglass’ Ambient Lighting Edit palette.
As you can see, the darker the skintone, the more prominently some highlighters show up. It’s important to play to the undertones of your skin type when choosing between a highlighter with a golden or pink undertone. The iridescent highlighters- such as Skin Fetish 003 in nude and Nars’ Copacabana tend to have not only a pink undertone, but a blue-ish tint when flashed under white light. These create an otherwordly, almost alien quality. Meanwhile Becca and Hourglass tend to have warmer copper tones. Neither glow is objectively better or worse; it depends on what look you want to play to. I have pale skin with pink undertones and tend to rely most heavily on Copacabana and Becca’s Moonstone for a pearly radiance. Sara, also modeling the above swatches, has yellow undertones and tends toward the Anastasia palette and Becca’s Opal.
Kenton, pictured below, favors the warmer undertones of a highighter like Skin Fetish 003 in Golden.
Besides color tone, there is the issue of powder vs. stick. This really depends on your skin’s moisture levels and the rest of your routine. If you primarily use a powder bronzer or a setting spray, I would recommend powder highlighter. Setting spray can wet and then dry the powder really beautifully, which also prevents ‘cakiness’ associated with a thick cast of powder makeup. On the other hand, a stick highlighter followed by setting powder pair well together for a silky feel. If you don’t set your makeup – which you really should – consider your skin type. Oily or problem skin might require thick coverup. Stick highlighter does not go well over layers of foundation or coverup and you’re better off with a powder to avoided dreaded streaks or brushstrokes. If you don’t wear much base makeup, or have dry skin, a stick will give you a nice level of dewiness and more of a sheen than the powder can.
Image courtesy of Hourglass via Byrdie