Because You've Been Wondering, *This* Is the Difference Between Highlighter and Illuminator

The seasons have *a lot* to do with it.

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(Image credit: Design by Dana Tepper)

The ✨lit✨ look has many women venturing into shimmery new territory. And yet there's still a lot of confusion regarding what's what product-wise. A major point of contention? The difference between highlighter and illuminator. Like, is the beauty industry just playing mind games and they're actually the same thing or do they really yield two different kinds of iridescence?

To show us the light, I reached out to the patron saint of lit, celebrity makeup artist Michael Anthony, who helps the likes of Rita Ora and Tinashe get their shine on. Here's what you need to know:

The main difference: "Highlighter is for a concentrated area of light, while an illuminator casts light more generally," explains Anthony.


"If you're looking to emphasize your bone structure or to give the prominent areas of you face a stand out shine, you want to highlight," Anthony says. So look to the high planes of the face where light hits naturally—the cheekbones, under the brow bone, down the bridge of the nose, and on the cupid's bow."

Best Season for Highlighting: "In summer, when the sun is bright and high, it's fitting that your cheekbones, top of the eye sockets, and cupid's bow would glint in the light and sparkle a bit more!" says Anthony.


"If you're looking to enhance or create a feeling of vitality and light from within your overall complexion , you need an illuminator," he explains. You can look to an illuminating foundation, mix an illuminator into your foundation, or apply one over your foundation for a soft, lit-from-within glow. Though women with excess-oil-prone skin should tread lightly!

Best Seasons for Illuminating: "Illuminators will look more natural during colder months as they make you radiate warmth and health," explains Anthony.

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Beauty Editor

Lauren Valenti is Vogue’s former senior beauty editor. Her work has also appeared on,, and in In Style. She graduated with a liberal arts degree from Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts, with a concentration on Culture and Media Studies and a minor in Journalism.