There's no makeup product on the market that can make your face look instantly dewier, healthier, and far more awake than highlighter.
And there’s also no easier product to get very, very wrong.
Highlighters can make or break your entire look, so nailing your technique is crucial. Whether you’re going for a subtle flush or full-on shimmer that can be seen from outer space (and there’s no wrong answer here), we’ve curated the definitive step-by-step guide to learn how to apply highlighter in five super easy, makeup artist-approved steps.
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Step 1: Find the Right Highlighter Shade
Similar to how you would choose a foundation, you’ll definitely want to consider your skin’s undertones. Warm undertones (think peach or yellow) generally suit bronze and gold highlighter hues, while cooler skin tones go well with stronger pearly white or silver shades. If you’re a medium to medium-dark tone, go for a peach or coral highlighter.
If you aren’t sure about your undertone, opt for a nearly universally flattering gold-base highlighter.
Step 2: Pick the Right Highlighter Applicator
This is where highlighter journeys tend to veer off course. How you apply highlighter will vary depending on the type you choose. That's why celebrity makeup artist Katey Denno, whose celeb clientele includes Naomi Watts and Amber Heard, says to go with what you’re most comfortable with.
Powder highlighters work wonders on oilier skin types, while a creamy stick or potted gel highlighter gives dry skin an extra dose of moisture. This is perfect for creating a dewy look.
As for highlighter newbies, Anna Kendrick’s makeup artist Lisa Aharon says it's best to go with a highlighter stick, because it can be applied easily and strategically — without any surprises.
Step 3: Prep Your Skin
Start by patting a thin layer of primer on your face after cleansing and moisturizing to keep the makeup from budging. If you're using a liquid highlighter, Aharo says they work best when mixed with your foundation “to amp up the all-over glow.” So opt to use it in conjunction with your coverage products.
VIDEO: How To Get A Bronzy Glow Like Jennifer Lopez
Step 4: Strategically Apply Highlighter
You’ll want to apply highlighter to four key areas: slightly above the apple of the cheek, outer brow bone, cupid’s bow, and the inner corner of the eye. Make sure to avoid your T-zone at all costs, since it’s prone to excess shine. And contrary to popular belief, skip highlighting down your nose, cautions Denno. "What looks cute in a facetuned IG post doesn’t often look great outside in the daytime with your friends," she says.
To apply a powder highlighter, use a fluffy brush to lightly sweep your highlighter slightly above the apples of the cheeks toward your ear and from there, follow the shape of the letter C from your outer cheekbone up to the orbital bone, ending above the side of your eye. Pat a bit of powder highlighter right above the cupid’s bow, with a small pointed brush, to make your lips appear fuller, then finish the look by pressing the highlighter into the eye’s inner corner. Anastasia Beverly Hills' Sun Dipped Glow Kit is a great option that works across a variety of skin tones.
To buy: $40; Sephora.com
To use a stick highlighter, swipe directly onto your skin, and using your fingers in an outward patting motion, blend, baby, blend. You can also use your fingers or a brush to dab the creamy highlighter stick into the corners of the eye and above the cupid’s bow. But make sure to do one last look in the mirror before you head out to make sure you have no strong lines of shimmer. We're a fan of ILIA's Illuminator stick because of it's clean formula and brilliant shimmery payoff.
To buy: $34; Sephora.com
Liquid highlighter is super easy to apply with a damp beauty blender or sponge for a more diffused look. Charlotte Tilbury's Beauty Highlighter Wand comes with its own built-in brush for easy application.
To buy: $38; Sephora.com
Step 5: How to Use Bronzer and Highlighter Together
“Bronzer is the contour to your highlight,” says Aharon, who likes to apply the bronzer first in the hollows of the cheeks. “Then I pat and blend the highlight into the cheekbone above the bronzer. You can always mix them together for a tanned, glowing complexion too.”
However, a word of caution: If you're aiming for a more subtle finish, make sure only one product — bronzer or highlighter — has shimmer. But if your goal is to glisten, then shine on.
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