Your essential guide to highlighting

You’ve seen what it can do for you, so here’s how to get it right

Beauty Crew Editor / June 08 2017

Strobing, highlighting, illuminating – whatever you want to call it, it’s become one of the biggest beauty trends of the last few years. 

And while there have been a few celebrities who have definitely helped spark the movement, its popularity is largely due to the fact that some well-placed highlighter can give you that healthy, luminous glow that takes your beauty look to the next level.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely

Jessica Alba

Kate Bosworth

We spoke to some of Australia’s top makeup experts to help you figure out how to pick your highlighter, when and where to apply it, and their tricks for getting it right every time. 

Picking the right colour highlighter

You may love the look of that shimmery gold powder, but if you’ve got fair skin, it’s not going to do anything for your complexion. 

“Choose a highlighter colour that mostly fits with your skin tone. Very fair skin can use pale pearl highlighters, medium-fair to medium can use champagne hues, while darker skin tones can go for bronzed gold colours,” says celebrity makeup artist Liz Kelsh. 

Bobbi Brown’s Pro Artist Alphie Sadsad has a clever trick for checking which shade would be best for you: “The easiest way to check is to swatch the highlighter on your skin. If it appears grey or ashy rather than radiant, you need something warmer with a more bronze or gold undertone.” 

Try Benefit High Beam if you have fair skin, Revlon PhotoReady Insta-Fix™ Highlighting Stick in Gold on medium skin, and Bobbi Brown Highlighting Powder in Afternoon Glow on darker skin tones.

Best for fair skin tones

Best for medium skin tones

Best for darker skin tones

Picking the right formulation of highlighter

These days, you’ll be able to find highlighters and illuminators in cream, powder and liquid formulations, and while picking one is mostly personal preference, there are a few factors that may have you picking one over another. 

In terms of your finish, Kelsh suggests, “For a natural look opt for a liquid with very little sparkle, as this will give you a lit-from-within look. For a more intense finish try a powder with a high reflective finish. 

When it comes to your skin type, Sadsad has this to say, “Someone with normal/combination skin can generally use any texture but oily skins often prefer a powder finish while dry skin will like the feel of a cream highlighter.” 

If you’re into powders and are looking for a bronzing and highlighting multitasking palette, you can try Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate, Rimmel London Kate Sculpting Palette, or Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow.

Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate

Rimmel London Kate Sculpt Palette

Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow

When highlighter fits into your makeup routine

There are a few options when it comes to when you should apply your highlighter, depending on the effect you’re after and the types of products you’re using before and after. 

“For a natural glow to the skin, I would apply it under a light foundation, if you want your highlighting to be noticed I would apply after foundation,” says Revlon’s Makeup Director in Australia Melanie Burnicle.

TOP TIP: You can try mixing your foundation and highlighter together for a subtle, radiant finish.

Now when it comes to mixing mediums (powders, creams, and liquids), you need to be careful of the order. Burnicle says, “Remember when working with the different mediums that once you have powdered to set your makeup don’t go back and apply creams. Use creams and liquids together, then once you’ve set your makeup with a powder use your powder highlighters.” 

Basically, if you’re using liquid or cream highlighters with liquid foundations, you can work it in before or after, but if either your foundation or highlighter is a powder, it needs to come last, as a cream on top can separate the powder. 

Where to apply your highlighter

Charlotte Tilbury’s wise words? Brush on to the top of cheekbones, temples, down the centre of the nose and on to the cupid’s bow to enhance the lip size and shape. Also apply a little in the corner of the eyes and across the eyelids to make the eyes pop.”

You basically want to get the areas where the light naturally hits, but just remember you don’t want to overdo it!

“Remember less is more.”
Melanie Burnicle
Makeup Director in Australia

Where you should never apply your highlighter

“Try to avoid applying highlighter to areas that are textured, so large pores, acne scarring or pitting, and fine lines and wrinkles. Any product that is reflective will only accentuate texture. Matte finishes on those parts of the skin are much more flattering and less likely to draw attention,” says jane iredale’s makeup expert Martina Williams.

How to apply your highlighter

This all depends on the formulation that you’re using.

When it comes to creams and liquids, you can get away with gently dabbing in the product with your fingers, but you can also use a brush with synthetic fibres to help blend the highlighter into your skin. Both Kelsh and Burnicle recommend foundation brushes for creams and liquids.

For powders, you should use a natural-fibred brush, as this will give a polished, airbrushed effect on skin, according to Williams. They also help build intensity, which helps create a natural effect. For a very soft, subtle highlight, use a fan brush, but for a more impactful finish, use a powder brush.

Try Manicare Retractable Foundation Brush to apply your cream or liquid highlighter, and for your powders, you can use the Smashbox Fan Brush for a light finish, or jane iredale Dome Brush for a heavier application.

Manicare Retractable Foundation Brush

Smashbox Fan Brush

jane iredale Dome Brush

How much highlighter you should apply

“Don’t get carried away with highlighter. Applying too much all over the face can make you appear oily rather than glowing. Remember, it’s easy to add a little more, not so easy to take it off,” says Sadsad. 

It’s also a smart idea to apply your highlighter in good lighting so that you can gauge just how much you’re applying and when to stop. As Sadsad says, “You want to look radiant and luminous with a natural-looking glow, not like a disco ball.” If you're not quite sure how much is too much, this blogger's highlighting tutorial should give you a good indication.

Do you have a go-to highlighter? Let us know what it is in the comment section below.

Main image photography: Edward Urrutia

Carli was BEAUTYcrew’s Editor from launch in 2016 until May 2020. You can find her words right here on BEAUTYcrew, and previously on beautyheaven.