Whether you prefer the best drugstore highlighter or you opt for an investment highlighter from a beauty retailer or private brand, we all know that the important part is that shine. For most of us, highlighter is a fairly new addition to our makeup routine; this extra step is collectively agreed upon to be well worth the trouble, however, as it provides the appearance of perfect lighting, all day long.
Highlighter is often applied to the arch of the brow bone, the top of the cheekbones, and strategically down the center of the face (think: space between brows, centerline down the nose, and a bit of the chin’s center). Some people even use their highlighter, or a body-specific highlighter product, to create dimension and angles down through their neck and décolletage.
Application processes and techniques are fairly standard throughout the beauty community and are showcased daily in Youtube videos by top makeup gurus like NikkieTutorials, Tati Westbrook, Jeffree Star, and so on. Still, there are different types of highlighter products, so it’s important to be sure that you’re learning how to work with your product type to create the best results. The most expensive makeup in the world can still look unflattering when poorly applied.
THE TYPES & WHAT TO DO
Assuming you have moisturized and primed your face, built your preferred foundation, and applied any other makeup or skincare products you would like beneath your icy shine, these are the best application technique guidelines for the three types of highlighter products forms: cream, liquid, and powder.
1. Cream highlighters. These beauties usually come in a stick-like tube, or in a small pot, and have a similar consistency to other facial creams you may have used. They are also great for creating a highlight that reads more like an inside-out glow (as opposed to a subtle, “natural” highlight, or a stunning high-shine finish). You can utilize your clean fingers for application with a cream highlighter, though some formulas apply just as well with a Beautyblender or preferred sponge.
Creams are also often best recommended for dry skin types; these can be applied before foundation or after, depending on your desired look and intensity of shine, and will help keep skin looking moist and rejuvenated, whereas a powder may increase a dry look.
2. Liquid highlighters. These are by far the easiest to blend into the skin and are best applied with a Beautyblender. Only a few drops are necessary to create an all-around dewy finish, making this a go-to option for those who are aiming for the au naturel look. You can also add a liquid highlighter to your base foundation, rather than applying them separately. Unlike with a cream or powder highlighter (both of which better create a shine in specific areas), a liquid highlighter helps to create that all-around JLo Glow that we have all been obsessed with for years now.
3. Powder highlighters. Currently, these are the most popular highlighters in the beauty game. Powder highlighter is the ideal way to ice up certain areas of your face in a very intense, noticeable way that really adds an incredible amount of dimension to a full-face makeup look. A fan brush is typically the applicator to use, allowing for very precise layering and feather-light strokes that keep the product from looking like it is sitting on top of your existing makeup, rather than blending in and shining out.
Powders are also often best recommended for skin types that run on the oily side. Cream and liquid highlighters can sit poorly on top of very oily skin, while powder rests gently without adding more oil or grease to the mix. Preferably, if using a powder highlighter, application should be done last in your routine for maximum staying power.
MAKE THE MOST OF IT
Trying new makeup techniques and products is just fun when it comes down to it. Regardless of our size, shapes, skin differences, ethnic backgrounds, and long-standing gender expectations, we are all becoming much more open to the adventure, confidence, or playfulness that makeup affords us. This temporary form of body modification is an artistic outlet, a hobby, a passion, and a healer. The absolutely booming, billion-dollar makeup industry is continuing to grow, showing just how many people are finding their own silver lining, interest, or happiness in this world.
The silveriest lining of them all is our highlighter, of course, so it is important to have some stabilizing ideas about why we buy and use it. When it comes down to it, applying makeup is a lot like other art forms, such as painting or drawing. Skills can improve over time, but in order to get there, we need to first learn the rules behind them.
THEORY BEFORE PRACTICE
The way we perceive things we see, including the human face, has a lot to do with its exposure to light. The very same view can look immensely different under changed lighting conditions; shadows can make things disappear, and conversely, brightness draws attention to things we may not have seen at all, or the same, before.
Prior to the massive popularization of highlighters, makeup addicts would focus more on creating shadows (now often called contouring) with darker shades of makeup, to sink or minimize the areas they wanted to appear smaller. While this is still done, far less makeup needs to be used thanks to highlighters, and blending to create a more natural finish is much easier, since highlighters are generally pretty light, even as a cream or a liquid. They also don’t need any help in creating luminescence.
When drawing or painting, dark colors are often used to reveal light edges, corners, and lines where desired. With highlighter, we can create those desired light spots that make our skin look radiant, our cheekbones look higher, and our noses look skinny and snatched—all without any other help. These shadows and highlights can very effectively change the look of our faces, if we want them to (just like with a drawing, or with changing a view’s lighting).
Of course, the most experienced and full-coverage makeup artists may still use a combination of both dark and light to create a dramatic or highly sculpted look, but highlighter products have made fierce, shimmering, glowing skin attainable even for those of us who are still learning and working our way up to an air-brushed look. Truthfully, you can highlight right onto your bare skin, if you want! This is a great starter technique for practicing application, even on days that we don’t have enough time to knock-out a full look.