A couple months back I shared all my favorite bronzers, so of course I had to come back and share my favorite highlighters.
I actually used to not really care about highlighters at all because I had crazy oily skin up until well after I graduated college. It’s only in the last year or so that I feel like my skin has normalized and leans more combination instead of oily. When the glowy look started becoming popular a few years ago, I wanted nothing to do with it. I was all about the matte look until about 2 years ago when I started seeing how highlighters could make me look radiant without necessarily looking oily.
Since then I’ve been discovering more and more highlighters that I love, and have completely embraced the ultra glowy look. I’ve definitely built up a sizable highlighter collection and have tested a pretty good amount of liquid, cream, and powder highlighters to share with you.
My first highlighters – and still some of my favorite highlighters – are the old school MAC mineralized skin finish powders. These were like pokemon 8-10 years ago…I wanted to collect every.single.one. And I still have many that have lasted through the years, but I didn’t feature any of them because many of them were limited edition. Just know that if you have some laying around in your collection, they come with an endorsement from me and they still have a special place in my collection.
Naturally, the kind of highlighter I choose depends on whether I want a more natural or dramatic look.
Since this is such a big category, I’ve segmented out the powder highlighters from natural to most intense. Powder highlighters are the easiest to use for me, since I mostly stick to powder products for my other face products (other than foundation). And since there are such a wide variety of finishes, it’s easy to find something that will work for you.
One of the most natural looking highlighters I own is the Laura Mercier Matte Radiance Highlighter, which is what you should get if you just want a shimmerless lit from within glow. It is somehow intensely brightening and glowy without being a shimmery powder. For a drugstore dupe, the Essence Pure Nude Highlighter is a fantastic alternative that is only $3. It has a more of a champagne peach tone that would work for many skin tones, although I know they’ve also released a couple new lighter and deeper shades.
The next category of highlighters is slightly more intense and metallic, but still not overly frosted. They are all very buildable and can be used wet or dry, so I can apply a very sheer wash for the daytime and then use it wet and build it up if I want to.
The Laura Mercier Face Illuminator Powder in Indiscretion is a gorgeous and radiant rose gold shade. I love this formula because it feels almost like a cream and looks really smooth on the skin. The Tom Ford Sheer Highlighting Duo in Reflects Gilt has a similar gel-powder formula, though it is just a little more intense. The duo is great for any kind of look I want, and having both the gold shade and rose gold shade together makes it a super versatile duo.
The Stila Heaven’s Hue Highlighter is one of the more unique finishes I have. It’s has a bouncy gel texture that is so cool to feel and apply with, though I really only like to use my fingers for this. This is definitely a buildable highlighter with a little bit of shimmer and micro-glitter that I can use as a barely there glow or really build it up to a sparkling wet look. Because of the texture, it feels super light and refreshing on my skin.
I have quite a few ‘traditional’ powder highlighters that I like for various reasons. The Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector is probably one of the most well known and loved powder highlighters that played a big role into making highlighters such a popular product. These are ultra creamy powders that have really intense payoff. I usually apply these with a fan brush for a more subtle look, though I sometimes use a more dense brush to get a more dramatic look. I have a few shades of this powder, but Rose Gold and Smoky Quartz are my most used shades. Smoky Quartz is actually one of my most unique shades as it’s like a cool mauve shade that has a bit of actual taupe undertones. It sounds weird for a highlighter but on my olive skin it turns into some cool-toned glowy magic that doesn’t make me look ashy or washed out.
I recently started using the Bare Minerals Glow Highlighter in Joy, and the formula and finish really remind me of the Becca highlighters, but just a touch less creamy and intense. The shade Joy is a light peachy coral shade that just gives a beautiful glow with a little something extra that distinguishes it from all the champagne/gold highlighters I have.
Next up is one of the first highlighters I ever owned, and one of the first highlighters I knew of on the market before they were a popular item. The theBalm Mary Lou-manizer is what I consider one of the best highlighters that had an intense shimmery finish. It is pretty dramatic since it has a light champagne tone, but I still love how this just works with every look I want to do.
For another fantastic drugstore highlighter, the Wet N Wild MegaGlow Highlighting Powders remind me a lot of the finish of the theBalm highlighters, although these come in many more shades. I tend to use Precious Petal most often, and it’s a champagne-peach shade.
Nars highlighters were some of the first highlighters I knew about when I first got into makeup, when everyone seemed to be obsessed with the Albatross highlighter. Albatross was never quite the right shade for me, but when Nars reformulated their highlighters a few years ago they released a few more shades, including Fort de France, a light champagne gold. Although these do have shimmer in them, I find them to look very skin like and natural. The finish is somewhere between the Essence Pure Nude highlighter and theBalm’s Mary Lou-manizer.
If you’re looking for a clean beauty alternative, the PYT Beauty Upgrade Highlighter in Front Row is a beautiful shimmery light gold shade that packs a big punch. It’s not quite as metallic or intense as the Becca highlighters, but they definitely have a really brightening effect. I’ve already done a full review of this highlighter here.
I generally like to mix in liquid highlighters with my foundations to sheer out the coverage, although I occasionally like to dab just a little bit on the tops of my cheekbones. I find liquid highlighters a little more fussy to use on their own, but they do add just a bit of extra glow and can sometimes settle into my skin a little better.
Liquid highlighters on their own have such a wide variety of finishes. They can be very sheer and subtle, like the Tom Ford Skin Illuminator or Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer in #11 or very very intense like the Kevyn Aucoin Glass Glow Liquid Highlighter. I usually use the Tom Ford and Armani highlighters mixed in with my foundation for a very subtle glow, and the Glass Glow is something that I dab very lightly on my cheekbones because it has such an intense finish. It can get greasy if you use to much since it’s like a face gloss, but I usually less than half a pea size on the tops of my cheekbones for a super glowy look.
The Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter (shade 5) is somewhere between the two finishes, as it has a very glowy look when applied all over the face, but doesn’t have visible shimmer or glitter. I can use this mixed into foundation or on its own, though my favorite way to apply it is over my foundation, a little more liberally than I would apply shimmery highlighters. The effect is a very fresh faced radiant look without looking like I added highlighter all over my face. I consider this more of a base product than a highlighter.
Another Charlotte Tilbury product I love is the Beauty Light Wand in Peachgasm. It has more pigment than most highlighters and I use it more as a blush topper. It has a very intense peachy shine that is perfect for a sunkissed look.
Rounding out the liquid highlighters category is the Kaleido Cosmetics Astrolight (gifted), which is an ultra metallic and pigmented highlighter that I use only on my cheekbones. A little goes a long way, though the effect is gorgeous.
I used to be so intimidated by cream highlighters, believing that they would just slide off my skin and make me look greasy. However, I’ve found a few formulas that have worked really well for my skin type while giving me the finish that I want.
The Rituel de Fille Rare Light Luminizers are my cream highlighters of choice, because they actually have a drier cream texture that isn’t too sticky or dewy. They still are very creamy, but take a few seconds of warming up with your fingers. The shades range includes Anthelion, a traditional peachy-champagne shade, and Solaris and Lunaris, duochrome highlighters that have a pink (Solaris) and blue (Lunaris) shift. They are also very buildable so you can get a very subtle sheen and then build it up to a more reflective glow.
So..that was a LOT of highlighters that I just went through. And these are just the ones that I use more frequently than some other highlighters in my collection. If I had to choose the top 5 of all of these that I reach for most frequently, they would be:
- Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Rose Gold
- Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter
- Rituel de Fille Rare Light Luminizer
- Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Light Wand Peachgasm
- Nars Fort de France
Have you tried any of these highlighters? I’d also love to know what your favorite highlighters are!
As always, thanks for reading.