A Comprehensive Guide To Highlighter
A Comprehensive Guide To Highlighter

A Comprehensive Guide To Highlighter

From the different formulas to expert-approved application tips – plus five of our favourite products – here’s our guide to getting highlighter right.
By Sapna Rao

All products on this page have been selected by our editorial team, however we may make commission on some products.


Know Your Skin Type

“On combination skin, I prefer to use a liquid highlighter that’s then set with a powder highlighter. This technique ensures longevity and real colour pay-off. However, if your skin type is dry, a liquid will deliver more of a glossy, fresh look. If you're on the oilier side, opt for a powder to avoid excess shine.” – make-up artist Cat Parnell

Consider Your Undertones

“If your skin is fairer with cooler undertones, you don't want anything too warm as this will bring down the complexion, rather than lift it. Instead, opt for a champagne or pearly pink as these create more luminescence. For medium-toned skin with yellow undertones, a peachy shade will look beautiful. Deeper skin tones should avoid anything that will give off an ashy look – so highlighters with a golden undertone work best.” – Cat

Keep Shimmer To A Minimum

“If you have oily skin and therefore tend to glow naturally, you probably don’t need a highlighter. However, you can use it on your brow bone or on the very high point of your cheekbones. If your skin texture is uneven, highlighters can sometimes pick up on imperfections, so it’s better to highlight with ‘light’ instead of shimmer. Cream, liquids and powders are all great, but it’s good to invest in those with smaller shimmer particles. This will make it look like you’re lit from within, rather than appearing cakey or thick.” – make-up artist Valeria Ferreira

Don’t Confuse Highlighter With Gloss

“A lot of people think the wet-skin look can be achieved with highlighter, but really you want to look for clear textures to do this. Think of these more like ‘dew enhancers’ – or glosses for the skin. They are clear and can be used to give instant luminosity without any colour, shimmer or sheen. The application technique is like that of a normal highlighter.” – Valeria


Apply It Before Your Base

“If you’re aiming for overall glow, apply your highlighter before your foundation. This may sound odd, but it’s a make-up artist trick that works every time – your dewy highlighter breathes through your base more naturally. It’s also worth mixing your highlighter in with your base if you’re after general radiance that doesn’t need too much thought. But remember, using the latter technique will give you an overall glow, not a targeted highlighting effect. Try formulas like Crème de la Mer’s Hydrating Illuminator if you want a pretty sheen that blends well with the rest of your make-up.” – Valeria

Know Which Areas To Avoid

“The best places to apply your highlighter are the areas where you want to enhance volume – so  your cheekbones, forehead and cupid’s bow. Avoid highlighting an area where the pores are enlarged or where texture is uneven because you’ll only draw attention to this. If you’re someone with rough skin, highlight with a brightening concealer instead. Look for a product that’s matte to distract from problematic skin.” – Valeria

Invest In A Fan Brush

“If you do apply highlighter after your base make-up is already on, I like using a small fan brush to avoid stripping away the rest of your make-up. They’re incredibly lightweight, so they glide over your skin without disturbing any of your make-up underneath. Also, be sure to apply your highlighter in thin layers for the most natural-looking finish. You can always go back in with a bit more to build things up and intensify the glow if needed.” – Cat

Remember Size Matters

“If a fan brush isn’t for you, try a regular powder brush. Opt for a smaller size so you can precisely navigate the product to the correct place and avoid getting shimmer all over the face. The BareMinerals Diffused Highlight Brush is perfect for this, as is a small blending brush like the M·A·C 221S Mini Tapered Blending Brush if you’re working on the areas around the brow bone and eyes. Also, don't be afraid to spray your brushes with a bit of setting spray to allow for a more precise and intense application. Regardless of whether you’re using a liquid, cream or powder highlight, this step really helps with blending out the pigment. It allows the product to melt into the rest of your make-up for that glass-like finish.” – Cat

Mix It With Your Blusher

“If you want to tint your highlighter, mix it with a liquid blush or bronzer before buffing it into your skin. The Armani A-Blush is great for this as it’s so sheer and buildable. Another trick is to use a cream blusher, then apply a powder over it. This will boost the volume of your cheeks and add both colour and shine.” – Valeria

Don't Forget The Smaller Areas

“This really makes such a huge difference in brightening up the face. It creates a bit of an optical illusion too. Don’t forget to apply it under the brow bone either, as it’s also a lovely spot for creating depth. Additionally, the cupid’s bow and down the centre of the nose can also lift the complexion.” – Cat



Super Glowy Gel, £22 | Saie

If you want to achieve that subtle, flattering lit-from-within look, make this your go-to. Sheer and buildable, this primer-highlighter hybrid can be worked into the skin pre-foundation or mixed in with your base make-up for light-reflecting luminosity. It contains minimal shimmer – just a beautiful pearly gleam.

Available at CultBeauty.co.uk


Solar Radiance Hydrating Cream Highlighter, £23 | Rose Inc

It’s rare to find a good highlighter which won’t slip or slide – but these highlighters from Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s line are exactly that. Choose from several shades depending on whether you want pearlescent radiance or something with a deeper, more bronzed tone. The formula is creamy and highly blendable, so it can be applied after the rest of your make-up with ease.

Available at LibertyLondon.com


Ambient Lighting Infinity Powder, £52 | Hourglass

Make-up artists, industry insiders and the SL beauty team all swear by this finely milled powder highlighter – and for good reason. No matter your skin tone, there's a flattering shade on offer. Plus, the multi-dimensional sheen creates the kind of blurred effect that enhances any make-up look.

Available at NET-A-PORTER.com

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