All The Types Of Highlighter Makeup Explained So You Can Find Your Perfect Way To Shine

A well-placed highlight is basically a makeup essential these days, and decoding the numerous available options is a hefty task. Since highlighter makeup seems to be just about as popular as blush, the choices you face at a department or drugstore can feel absolutely staggering.

Highlighter draws the light to an area of the face, and it does this whether you simultaneously employ contour powder or not. Today's highlighters have shimmer, sometimes glitter, and come in a huge variety of formulas and bases/undertones.

Whether cheekbone or cupid’s bow, adding light does dramatic things for every face. You don’t even need to be wearing a full face of foundation to pop those eyebrow arches or make lips extra pouty. Highlighter can be artfully applied with a brush, mixed into foundation, or swiped on with fingers or a stick. As the matte skin look wanes in popularity, highlighting products add a pinch of fairy appeal without making the skin look shiny.

These wonder products come in sticks, powders, liquids, and pots. Highlighting is universally flattering-provided you follow the basic guidelines. More than selecting the appropriate shade, you’ll need the right formula for your needs too. All of this can depend on the tools you use (or don’t) and the rest of your makeup routine. Let's do this.

Liquid Highlighters

Clockwise from top left: Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Liquid in Champagne Pop, $41, Sephora;   Circa Magic Hour Illuminating Glow in Pink Sands, $12, Walgreens;   Perricone MD No Highlighter Highlighter, $35, Sephora;   Arbonne Sheer Glow Highlighter , $43, Arbonne;   Flower Beauty Face and Body Illuminator in Skin Radiance, $13, Walmart;  Artistry Ideal Radiance CC, $47, Amway

Liquid highlighters are the most versatile no matter your skill level. One dab can illuminate a matte foundation, define cheekbones, or add all over shimmer! Using legendary Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector this way makes skin red-carpet glorious, like the fanciest foundation money can buy. Artistry’s Ideal Radiance Illuminating CC was used on the NYFW runway as a sheer highlight to play up models’ natural beauty. 

Left to right: Flower Beauty Face and Body Illuminator in Skin Radiance, Artistry Ideal Radiance CC

Fortunately for us all, these liquids are sometimes the most affordable formulas, too. Cheapies but goodies like Flower Beauty and Circa allow you to use generously to get the glow you're seeking. Simply add a squirt into your moisturizer and see a more accessible version of that Instagram glow. Flower’s Face and Body Illuminator in Skin Radiance and Circa’s Magic Hour Illuminating Glow in Pink Sands both have a silvery-pink hue great for lighting larger areas on pale peeps or tiny light catches on any skin tone and both are under $15.

Brands like Arbonne and Perricone MD bring a skincare quality formula for anyone trying to achieve a real-life glow as well as an assisted glow. These both have beneficial ingredients with imperceptible shimmer that reads as opalescence. These have a light, lotion-like base which is precisely what you want if you are a light makeup wearer or just want to add some life to your foundation.

Powder Highlighters

Clockwise from top right: Anastasia Beverly Hills Glow Kit in Sweets, $40, Macy's;   Ecco Bella Bronzer in Sunflower, $30, Amazon;   Laura Geller Baked Gelato Swirl Illuminator in Charming Pink, $24, Nordstrom;   Laura Mercier Face Illuminator in Seduction, $44, Sephora;   Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow, $68, Nordstrom;   Becca x Jaclyn Hill Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed in Champagne Pop, $38, Sephora

The original highlight method used plain old bone white and light colored powders to add light to the face, usually without shimmer. Today, having at least some shimmer is the actual goal, with equal parts praise and hate showered upon the intense highlight spotted all over Instagram. Though a metallic glow is the standard right now, most of the top selling highlighters have very small glitter particles, so it isn’t a '90s raver sparkle, but a deep, light-filled effect when applied properly.

Peaches left to right: Becca Champagne Pop, Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Glow, Laura Mercier Seduction

Powders are also where you find the most universal shade: the golden peachy highlight. Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze and Glow and Becca x Jaclyn Hill Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed in Champagne Pop are two formulas that work well on the majority of skin tones. Using a lighter hand is typically the best way to apply these treasures since they're super saturated with color, and blending will get you far. Though a bit more expensive, these pans are large and can last well over a year.

Those of you with lighter skin tones my want to skew more toward pink, like translucent Charming Pink from Laura Geller, while darker may want to shoot for what some brands consider bronzes like Ecco Bella Sunflower and Laura Mercier's Seduction. The color should blend nicely with your skin tone, rather than leaving an obvious stripe of sparkles.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Glow Kit comes in a dizzying number of shades. The Sweets collection is the perfect example of their next-level charm: instead of basic peaches and silvers, Anastasia helps indulge our inner creative with pink duo chromed Marshmallow and soft lavender Sassy Grape. With four shades per kit the value is just a bonus.

Stick Highlighter

Clockwise from top left: Laura Geller Easy Illuminating Stick in Ballerina, $24, Nordstrom;   Palladio The Definer, $16, Amazon;   Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Slimlights (3 PK), $40, QVC;   Vapour Organic Beauty Halo Illuminator, $36, Free People;   Center: Wander Beauty Catch The Light Highlighters , $25, Sephora

Stick highlighters are not only extremely user-friendly, but they're perfect for getting the utmost advantage of light. By hitting tiny areas of the face like under the brow bone, the cupid’s bow, and the inner eye corner, you can trick the light without even dirtying a brush, minimal blending required. Wander Beauty gives you three color options with their Catch the Light sticks to flatter every face, and is travel-friendly and cruelty-free.

Left to right: Becca Slimlight in Pearl, Wander Catch the Light in Sun, Becca Slimlight in Champagne Pop, Wander Catch the Light in Sun, Becca Slimlight in Topaz, Wander Catch the Light in Star

Laura Geller Easy Illuminating Stick in Ballerina is a perfect pink highlighter with a silvery undertone, great for creating contrast on darker tones and for general highlighting on lighter tones. Becca's thin and easy to use Shimmering Skin Perfector Slimlight sticks come in their signature Champagne Pop gloriousness as well as Pearl, a pure silver, and Topaz, a bronze tone that can contour on lighter and provide a highlight for darker tones.

Vapour Organic Beauty is most known for their illuminating primer sticks, and their Halo Illuminator has the same organic oil base with perfect small-size shimmer, a great choice for a ‘No Makeup Look’ on a skincare junkie. The rare drugstore highlight stick can be found in Palladio’s The Definer. The double-ended stick's mocha shimmer highlighting is great for medium to dark skin tones and it sells for under $15.

Pot Highlighter

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth Arden Beautiful Color Bold Illuminating Liquid Highlighter in Golden Kiss $25, Amazon;   Tata Harper Very Illuminating Highlight, $40, Amazon;   Becca x Jaclyn Hill Shimmering Skin Perfector Poured Creme in Champagne Pop, $38, Sephora;   Ramy Cosmetics Pure Nude Highlighter, $26, Ramy Beauty Therapy

If you don't wear lots of other makeup, potted highlighters are the easiest way to press light into your skin without a base color. Tata Harper’s familiar green glass houses an organic and flower packed pot of magic, Very Illuminating, and its subtle shimmer is translucent and therefore works on every skin tone.

Ramy Cosmetics Pure Nude comes with a lovely soft bronze that isn't gold or silver, and with just a dab Under brow arches and on the bridge of your nose can be just enough to convert a mascara-only person. Elizabeth Arden's newest highlighter uses a mesh-sponge dispenser to help out finger users, you get the perfect amount of product with one press.

And in line with the consistently above and beyond excellence of Becca's selection, they also have a pot version of Champagne Pop. This would be my ideal tropical vacay highlighter: no spilling, powder can’t break, and you honestly don’t even need a mirror.

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Choosing which of the highlighters is best for you is a personal preference, but knowing which things play nicely helps the process significantly. Selecting pink, peach, gold, or silver can be the difference between natural and Tinker Bell. Some of us are going for that look, though, in which case, I say embrace that sparkle!

Photos: Maria Penaloza

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