Thanks to the rise of beauty trends like contouring and strobing, illuminating powder or liquid highlighters are becoming a mainstay of makeup kits across the country. But with an ever-increasing range of products all promising to deliver the best results, cosmetics can be notoriously difficult to choose between.
Whether you're a beginner or you just want to try something different, we're confident our go-to guide on highlighter basics for olive, dark, and pale skin tones will help you out. Read on until the end for our top 10 ranked products too, from Becca's Shimmering Skin Perfector to Shiseido's Aura Dew for mature skin, plus Benefit, NARS, and everything in between! And of course, all of them are available from Amazon, eBay, John Lewis and Boots.
A qualified Beauty Therapist and Makeup Artist. I provide professional makeup services for all occasions, whether it be for a bride on their wedding day or backstage at a photo shoot. I also enjoy teaching through hosting live talks on my social media, masterclass events, and 1-1 training. My favourite style of makeup is most definitely vibrant. I love a colourful eyeshadow palette... or 10!
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Claire is a qualified Beauty Therapist and Makeup Artist; she provides professional makeup services for all occasions, from bridal to backstage at photoshoots. Claire also teaches masterclass events as well as 1-1 training. She's a big fan of the vibrant style and loves a colourful palette... or 10!
For those with fairer skin tones, picking the wrong shade can leave you looking washed out like a ghostly apparition – something we’re sure you’d like to avoid, unless it’s Halloween! So similar to when picking a foundation, choosing the right shade is very important.
Therefore, when choosing a highlighter for pale skin, go for pearlescent silver and lilac shades which will brighten the complexion without washing you out. These colours will complement the tones in your skin whilst helping to create dimension in the face. It is also best to avoid more warmer and dark shades if you have pale skin.
Choosing a highlighter when your skin is of fair complexion can be understandably confusing. Select a colour that compliments the tone of your skin, not one to overpower it.
If the colour is too deep, it can appear more of a blush or bronzing product and will automatically look positioned incorrectly. White gold, pearlescent pink, lavender and silver are ideal shades to partner with fairer skin undertones for a complimentary glow and flush of colour.
While it’s important to avoid going too dark, cool tones and silver shades will appear harsh or frosty on medium skin. Instead, seek out peach- or rose-toned golden shades. Such colours beautifully complement warmer undertones.
Such colours will enhance naturally tanned skin and create a youthful appearance. Those with deeper-toned or olive skin may find a bronze highlighter is best for providing a subtle sun-kissed glow. Thus, it may be good to think about what type of look you are trying to achieve; something more glam? or something more natural?
Complexions with golden or olive tones are often suitably paired with a form of light to medium gold, champagne or peach, as they magnify the warmth in the skin. When the tone of a highlighter is uncomplimentary, it can reverse the radiant, sculpted effect that is desired. Neutral skin has a mix of cool and warm undertones and tends to have free range when choosing a colour.
Warm highlighter shades are best for complementing deep skin tones. Colours show up the most vibrantly on dark complexions too, so opalescent and cool tones can leave you looking glittery or even grubby if you pick the wrong shade! Golds, richer rose gold shades and bronzes look radiant on dark skin tones, lifting the complexion without appearing too pale.
Eliminate unsuitable tones for your skin by pairing your highlighter with the undertone of your skin. Bronze and warm gold shades are favourable on darker tones. They radiate the skin giving the illusion of a sun-kissed glow. Whereas fair or cool shades can create an unwanted chalkiness, we would much rather avoid them.
Powders are best for oily skin types as they absorb excess moisture, rather than drier skin types that they can end up parching even further. Powder compacts come in a wide range of different sizes too, making them useful for when you want to cover larger surface areas of the body such as the clavicle.
A good option for beginners, powders can be layered gradually to build from sheer to heavier coverage, depending on the effect you wish to achieve. Another great thing about powders is that they are great for on-the-go since they leave less mess than liquid highlighters and are easy to apply when you are in a hurry.
Want to learn more about the best brushes for powders? See our guide for the best bronzer brushes!
Powder highlighter is ideal for a fuss free application. Simply dip your brush into the highlight, tap off any excess product from the bristles and then dust gently over the skin. Take care not to overload the brush with the product, else the outcome could be more intense than anticipated.
It is easier to layer than it is to remove without disrupting the makeup applied underneath. It is highly recommended for oilier skin types, makeup beginners, and those who favour a quick routine.
Liquid highlighters are ideal for achieving seamless application and are suitable for all skin types including mature and combination skin. Their downside is that they can be a little tricky to apply straight onto the face, so if you tend to go a bit heavy-handed, add a few drops to your foundation and blend out with fingers or a buffing brush in a circular motion.
For precision application, look for liquid highlighters that come in the form of a pen or sponge tip applicator rather than a dropper. If you do purchase one with a dropper, you may want to purchase a separate sponge to use for application. If you are wanting to achieve a more dewy look, then a liquid highlighter is the perfect choice for you.
Highlighters in the form of liquid are compatible with dry, textured or mature skin. The formula makes for a smoother application where these skin conditions are concerned.
The product is applied in a light tapping motion using a damp sponge or simply just your fingers (body temperature increases flexibility to melt the product into the skin). These techniques enable accurate product placement and achieve a seamless sheen to the high points of the face.
Unfortunately, highlighters have been known to emphasise the appearance of texture on your skin, which can be an issue for those with dryness. But there is a solution! Cream-based highlighters!
Not only are they the most moisturising, but the soft, whipped consistency means they can be massaged into the skin rather than sitting on its surface, thus minimising any texture-magnifying effects. As well a spotted creams, you'll also find cream-stick applicators, which look a bit like giant crayons and are ideal for contouring. The cream melts upon contact with the skin, so all you need to do is sweep it on where you want it and blend out.
The cream is another consistency that works in harmony with textured skin. It is easily managed by massaging the product onto the palm until warm, sampling a small amount and pressing it into the skin using just the fingertips. Opt for a cream highlighter if you prefer a natural, sheer finish.
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Anastasia Beverly Hills
Glow Kit Sugar Glow
A Cult Favourite Highlighter Palette, Suitable For All Skin Tones
Prismatic Pigments for a Three-Dimensional Shine
Born To Glow Liquid Illuminator
A Drugstore Bargain in Four Flattering Shades
A Luxurious Golden Powder for Dark Skin Tones
Hollywood Beauty Light Wand
A Soft-Focus Highlighter That Gives an Airbrushed Finish
Aura Dew Highlighter
A Multi-Dimensional Glitter for Glamorous Evening Looks
Yves Saint Laurent
Touche Éclat Complexion Highlighter
A Designer Favourite for Precision Application
A Simple Product for a Youthful, Dewy Appearance
Liquid Killawatt Fluid Freestyle Highlighter
A Shimmery Liquid Highlighter Which Provides An Endless Glow
Chubby Stick Sculpting Highlighter
The Best Highlighter for Minimal Makeup Wearers
Anastasia Beverly Hills has gained a bit of a cult following in recent years. In fact, the brand's Sugar Glow Kit has become one of the beauty industries' most loved palettes due to the versatility of its shimmers.
A product that certainly lives up to the hype, this highlighter is comprised of 4 pink-toned luminescent pearls which can be used on the eyes, face and body. Another bonus is that each shimmer is on a removable magnetic pan, meaning that you can customise your palette!
Laura Mercier is known for their ‘undetectable’ makeup, and the Face Illuminator highlighter is no exception! The finely-milled metallic pressed powder is infused with prismatic pigments for multi-directional light dispersion, which creates a three-dimensional shine.
With an exceptionally high quality you can detect in both the process and the product, the powder compact feels silky smooth to the touch and never chalky or dry. And with a range of 7 different shades to choose from, there’s a colour for everyone!
If you want an all-over flattering luminous glow, then this is the highlighter for you. This highlighter gives you a soft and subtle glow, for those no make-up, make-up days. It's also available in 4 shades, so there is something for a vareity of skin tones, from light to dark.
It has a quick drying and vegan formula, which you can use as a glowing base under your foundation or the classic way on top to highlight your cheeksbones, nose, cupids bow or even your decolleté.
Available in three rich and luxurious golden shades, Bobbi Brown’s Highlighting Powder is our top pick for dark skin. Pearl pigments gently reflect light for a shimmering effect that’s ideal for strobing. And not only can you skip over the bronzer, but you’ll be able to define the high points of the face while avoiding harsh lines.
Be aware that Bobbi Brown products are highly pigmented so you’ll want to start off fairly light and build up gradually. As well as this being a worthy investment, this means you'll also be able to use this highlighter as a metallic eyeshadow!
Charlotte Tilbury's Hollywood Beauty Light Wand uses an ingenious cushion-tip applicator that dispenses the product evenly for flawless all-in-one application and blending. It's designed to mimic candlelight for a flattering, soft-focus finish à la Hollywood’s golden age.
Another convenient product suitable for both daytime and evening, the Beauty Light Wand comes as part of a range including bronzer and blusher shades, the likes of which you may wish to try together.
Shiseido’s Aura Dew Highlighter is one of the best products for glamorous, evening looks. Inspired by the twinkling lights of Tokyo’s skyline, multi-dimensional glittering pigment pearls are suspended in a transparent base to keep you sparkling for up to 12 hours.
Despite only coming in three shades, it’s one of the better options for highlighting medium and dark skin tones. Best of all, a little goes a long way, and we love that this product won’t sit in fine lines or cake, so it's great for mature skin, too.
Yves Saint Laurent’s Touche Éclat Complexion Highlighter is our favourite product for precision application. The soft, brush-tipped pen is incredibly easy to use and great for brightening the corners of the eyes, or contouring along the cupid’s bow for a delicate, lip-plumping effect!
While it’s perhaps not ideal for larger areas, such as the forehead or cheekbones, it’s perfect to take with you for a quick touch up during the day. It is also the perfect size, to slip into your bag.
With the tagline ‘Supermodel in a Bottle’ the High Beam highlighter is one of Benefit’s most beloved flagship products. A good choice for a wide range of long-lasting daytime looks, it’s best used for achieving a youthful, dewy appearance. It’s compact, simple to apply and a little goes a long way.
Disappointingly, this particular product is only available in one universal shade – a light pinkish hue – that makes it only really suited to certain pale and medium skin tones. So if you have a darker skin tone, you may want to have a browse of our other recommendations.
Fenty Beauty's Killawatt Fluid Freestyle Highlighter is available in five different shades and is designed to create a high-shine and radiant finish. Apply directly to bare skin underneath your foundation for a healthy glow, or on top for more intense radiance.
This highlighter has plenty of pigmentation so you won't need much to achieve a radiant glow. It also is a buildable shimmer which makes this product perfect for anyone who is looking to achieve a subtle glow or wants to create a more full glam look.
Clinique’s Chubby Stick Sculpting Highlighter is a great option for bare-faced beauty – if you’re not a fan of foundation, you can use this cream stick highlighter to add depth and dimension to the face without it feeling heavy or overly made-up.
Despite the baby pink hue, this highlighter appears sheer when applied making it suitable for both fair and some medium skin tones. While it may be a little too unassuming for some tastes, it’s hydrating, blendable and lasts all day.
Essentially the opposite of a bronzer, highlighters are products designed to reflect light, with the aim of accentuating facial features and giving a luminous glow to the skin. Applied as a sheer layer over your base makeup, highlighters can be used to brighten your complexion, achieve a youthful, dewy look or help define areas of the face such as the nose bridge or cheekbones.
Written and researched by Wren Mann
No. 1: Anastasia Beverly Hills ｜Glow Kit Sugar Glow
No. 2: Laura Mercier｜Face Illuminator
No. 3: NYX｜Born To Glow Liquid Illuminator
No. 4: Bobbi Brown｜ Highlighter Powder
No. 5: Charlotte Tilbury｜ Hollywood Beauty Light Wand
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