The best highlighters are the ones you don’t even know are there—creams, gels, and sticks that leave your skin looking naturally dewy and luminescent, rather than slippery and glittery. A few swipes of a well-placed highlighter can change your mood and your bone structure (or at least what other people think is your bone structure). Makeup artists think of highlighters as flashbulbs for your face. The light-catching particles direct the eye of the observer to the highest points of your visage, making your face look more sculpted, structured, and toned.
What type of highlighter should I get?
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There's a lot of variety and choice when it comes to the pursuit of the perfect shimmer. Baked, compact highlighters deliver a sheer, all-over glow atop an already completed face. Gel formulas add more intense finishes, and balms and sticks are easy-to-apply, blendable, and easy to build up for more intense looks. And you must also consider color: Translucent versions may be the most versatile, but golds, roses, and champagne tones are equally luxe. Without further adieu: Our tested-and-approved highlighters, guaranteed to give you that ever-elusive, super-soft highlight, no games involved.
This little powder highlighter has the magical ability to look good on literally all skin tones—yes, even deep skin—without looking chalky, ashy, or sparkly, thanks to its mix of both warm apricot and cool peach undertones. Lightly sweep it over your cheekbones and eyelids with a fan brush for a diffused finish.
What you can't see in this vertical image is the stick's inner and outer core, both of which bring something different to the table. The outer layer is spiked with fine crystal particles, for an iridescent, non-chunky effect. Inside? A core of coconut, castor, and sweet almond oils for the most nourishing, blendable dry-down you ever did feel.
The Best Duo
Why yes, I do wish Rihanna would someday release music again. Until then, I will satisfy my Bad Gal cravings with this innovative highlighter duo, which comes in nine wild shades from sparky gold to sea-green. One side is for sheen, one is for shimmer, worn together or apart are both very good ideas.
There's just something about bareMinerals products that really do work to even the tone and texture of the skin, even if you're just dabbing on a touch of highlighter. (NB: If your skin is less than smooth because of past or present breakouts, and you've considered highlight on the Do Not Fly list, this unassuming pan could change your tune.)
The Drugstore Fave
If the last time you wore Wet ‘N Wild was in junior high, you’ve got about a decade of making up to do, because this iridescent powder has become a cult favorite among the beauty community for its legit shade range (light pink for fair skin, champagne for light-to-medium skin, apricot for medium-to-dark skin, and copper for dark-to-deep skin tones) and for the super-natural, super-subtle glimmer it leaves behind.
The Gel Option
This coconut-infused gel highlighter will up your skin's hydration factor, resulting in a dewy sheen that works on every skin tone. Mix it with your foundation or primer or use on its own, but note—a little goes a long way (as noted by reviewers). Translation: It's worth the money because it'll last you forever.
The Natural Choice
Okay, we’re aware that recommending a pearly-white highlighter for anyone other than the ultra-pale seems like a cruel joke, but that’s why this little highlighter has received so much praise over the last year: It truly looks good on all skin tones. The balm-like formula is super sheer with just a hint of iridescence (so, you know, basically the definition of a dewy) and a faint, blueish undertone, which gives skin the illusion of a naturally bright glow.
The Industry Go-To
When backstage beauty was a thing, this handy little stick was on every artist's workstation. That's because it glides readily, imparts just the right amount of color, and sticks around on cheeks and lips alike.
The Worth-It Choice
With it's satisfying weight and melt-into-your skin finish, this last-step, relatively pricey option is worth every single penny. My pal with the best complexion around swears by bare skin plus this, always and forever.
First you swirl on the clear end of this stick, which infuses your skin with a softening blend of aloe and argan oils, plus hyaluronic acid. Then you flip that switch, and add your color—the golden is particularly lovely—for an intense, but not artificial-seeming glow.
If you're really after that highly reflective, mirror-like flash, this affordable option—which comes in four shades, although we are partial to this rose gold—is your best bet. Go for just one swirl with a fluffy brush for a hint of shine, or work in layers for more pop.
Best Feel-Good Compact
If you're most comfortable with the ease of a baked compact, this is one of the best. Available in two versatile shades—I highly recommend investing in both—the finely milled powder is ideal for an all-over glow, not just cheekbones (like some less diffuse formulations are).
Best Bronzer Alternative
Calling all bronzer devotees, here's a product that could simplify your routine. Rather than layering on two products—a tinted bronzer and a luminous highlighter—invest in just one. Each shade in the range provides a touch of sunny color and sheen for a healthy, glamour-girl beat.
If your idea of a good highlighter is one you can easily fall back on for minimal makeup days, but one that will jump in and be the star for big moments, look no further.
The OG Fave
This sweet little bottle delivers one thing and one thing only: A sheer, moony film that can go on bare skin or foundation, and catches the lens of any camera. Triple points for the satisfying nail polish-esque applicator bottle.
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Hannah Morrill is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She’s an avid reader, an indifferent face-washer and a sunscreen/retinol evangelist.
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