The Right Way to Apply Highlighter

If you’re not interested in learning how to literally make your face seem like it’s glowing from within, that’s fine. But you’ll be missing out on the makeup miracle that is highlighter.

Aside from the fact that highlighter is pretty much universally flattering (something no makeup product in the history of makeup products has been able to do since mascara IMHO), its ability to instantly make dull skin light up and accentuate your facial features makes it a must-have.

That said, it only works this magic if you’re using it correctly. There isn’t much of a learning curve here — highlighter is pretty simple to use once you get the hang of it — but a few tips and tricks will go a long way in making your face look like it’s perpetually bathed in the most flatter Instagram filters out there.

What’s the point of highlighter?

Highlighter 101 says that the whole point of the product is the accentuate and emphasize your features by catching light. When light reflects off the makeup, it creates dimension by brightening the area of the face you’ve applied it, allowing you to play up certain features and create a glow-y aura.

What kind of highlighter should I use?

You’ve got three options when it comes to highlighter formulas: cream, powder and liquid.

Cream highlighters come in pots or sticks and can be applied with your finger, a brush or sponge. True to their name, cream formulas tend to be the most blendable and buildable, creating a natural, dewey look.

Powder highlighters are infinitely buildable — you can add as many layers as you’d like for a more opaque finish — and are best used when the look you’re going for is an intense one. Be careful with powders, though: you want a lightweight, not-too-glittery formula that won’t settle into fine lines on your face or sit too obviously on top of skin.

Liquid highlighters are the most versatile of the bunch since you can use them in the standard way on your face — mix a pump or two into your moisturizer for a full-body glow or add some to your foundation or tinted moisturizer for something really subtle-yet-beautiful. Liquid formulas are the most subtle so if you’re unsure whether highlighter is for you (IT’S FOR EVERYONE, promise!), this is a good place to start. It’s also the most foolproof to apply since you can control exactly how much you’re dabbing in with your fingers and where.

Do I need special tools?

Short answer: no. You can use a makeup sponge for some serious blending horsepower or a fan brush for powder, but my preferred method is always my fingers. Not only can you control how much product you pick up, but the heat from your fingerpads helps melt the highlighter into your skin for a much more natural look.

Where should I put it?

ANYWHERE YOU WANT! Seriously. Highlighter is like the little black dress of makeup: it goes with everything, anywhere. But if you want to get strategic, aim for the high points of your face — cheekbones, brow bones, the bridge of your nose, etc. — as these are the places sun would hit and naturally reflect off of.

Want to make your eyes appear bigger and more awake? Dab some highlighter on the inner corner of each eye and the center of your eyelids. Then swipe some along your browbone, just underneath each eyebrow. The shimmer will catch the light and brighten up an often-dark area of the face.

Trying to create the illusion of a thinner face? Aim your highlighter directly down your nose. As the highest point on your face, the bridge of your nose is the first thing light will hit.

Interested in faking fuller lips without messy lip liner? A blended dot of highlighter on the Cupid’s Bow (that little depression between your nose and upper lip) equals a seriously enviably pout.

In search of a way to define (or fake) cheekbones? Sweep highlighter along your cheekbones in a diagonal, toward your temple. Be sure to blend well and layer if necessary. Then stand back and check yourself out in the mirror. Bellissima!


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Thanks for the tips! Love the photo too!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog