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When choosing a highlighter, the world is your oyster. Do you want a liquid formula with a molten metal-like gleam? There's a product for that. A clear balm that makes your complexion look effortlessly dewy? There's a product for that, too. You get the point—there are more highlighters on the market than ever before, and in every possible formula and finish you can think of.
With that being said, the overload of options can often feel intimidating and leave you wondering what is the right highlighter for your skin—and when you do find it, how best to use it. Enter New York City-based makeup artist Joseph Carillo. Carillo believes that highlighters can brighten up the skin and literally give a glow from within. "These make us appear more angelic or in some cases more sultry," Carillo says. He recommends applying a highlighter on the cheekbones, the bridge of the nose, the cupid's bow, and as a finishing touch, the center of the mobile eyelids, depending on the formula.
So, let the below be your highlighter handbook, a helpful compilation of our top picks. Read on to get glowing.
Best Overall: RMS Beauty Living Luminizer
This long-beloved pick (Byrdie’s Senior Editor Hallie Gould is just one of a legion of devoted fans) is more about leaving skin with a natural-looking glow, rather than coating it with glitter. It strikes that perfect balance, offering plenty of radiance without veering into disco ball territory.
The satin-y finish offers a gorgeous wash of incandescent color—it comes in five shades—while the base is rich in skin-loving hydrators such as coconut oil and vitamin E. Plus, it works equally as well dabbed on your cheekbones as it does on spots like your collarbone, chest, or even shins.
Best Stick: Glossier Haloscope
We’re big fans of any and every kind of stick product, largely for the ease of use—juts swipe and go. This highlighter is no different. In true Glossier fashion, the glow factor is noticeable, yet subtle; credit genuine crystal extracts. And that white center you see? It’s an oil-based core that imparts hydration and helps the stick glide on super smoothly.
Best Liquid: Armani Beauty Neo Nude A-Line Liquid Highlighter
If you love a liquid highlighter, Byrdie Associate Editor Holly Rhue recommends this one. It feels undetectable, and the glow factor is wearable, buildable, and totally believable. Sephora shoppers praise it for exactly that, noting that it’s perfect for every day. We also appreciate the doe-foot applicator, which makes it easy to dot the perfect amount onto the strategic spots you want to highlight.
Best Cream: Rituel de Fille Rare Light Crème Luminizer
Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue can’t get enough of this highlighter, repeatedly singing its praises and sharing how many compliments she gets when wearing it (daily). The velvety consistency melts beautifully into the skin creating what Xue describes as, “a cosmic baby angel glow.” There’s an impressive array of six shades, all of which boast a non-toxic formula on top of all the other attributes.
Best Powder: Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow Contour Duo
Prefer powders? Xue suggests this convenient palette, which houses a bronzer and highlighter, both in a silky pressed powder form. While the two work totally fine separately, they pair beautifully together, the perfect way to define and highlight all of your features. Throw this and a foundation stick in your purse and you have everything you need to score flawless skin anytime, anywhere.
Best Drugstore: Maybelline New York Facestudio Master Strobing Stick Illuminating Highlighter
If you associate drugstore highlighters with full-on, unicorn-style glitter you’re not entirely wrong. Once upon a time, not so long ago, that was pretty much what you got. But times have changed, and now there are plenty of amazing drugstore highlighters that will make your skin look stunning, without doing a number on your wallet.
This stick, a favorite of Xue’s, is proof-positive of just that. Micro-fine pearls add the perfect amount of glow—enough that you can see it, but not so much that you run the aforementioned unicorn risk. The chunky size is easy to swipe on, and it comes in two equally pretty shades, a pale pink and nude champagne.
Best Luxury: Chanel Baume Essential Multi-Use Glow Stick
If you can’t treat yourself to a Chanel bag, go ahead and treat yourself to this highlighter, another one of Gould’s favorites. Silky and smooth, any of the three shades look equally gorgeous swiped onto cheeks, lips, or lids. While one layer offers a more sheer, dewy finish, you can also build it up for more impact. Bonus points for the fact that it comes in a twist-up stick.
Best Clear: Kevyn Aucoin Beauty Glass Glow Face and Body Gloss
You can find highlighters in all kinds of pretty shades, but if you want to keep it simple and just let your natural skin really shine through, opt for a clear variant, like this one. It’s a go-to for Karli Bendlin, Byrdie’s Email Editor, for both the lightweight feel and beautifully glossy finish it offers. And no, it’s not in the least bit sticky or tacky, just nice and hydrating, thanks to a combo of passion fruit and marula oils.
Best Shades: Saie Dew Balm
With this pick, it’s not about the quantity of the shades, it’s about the quality. There are three to choose from: the standard rose gold and bronze options, as well as a more unexpected cool lilac that looks particularly pretty on deeper complexions. Hyaluronic acid in the formula moisturizes and plumps skin (always a good thing). Warm a dab in between your fingers or on the back of your hand before applying, and the bouncy, cushiony texture will blend in even more seamlessly into skin.
Best Natural Look: Honest Beauty Magic Beauty Balm
Rhue vouches for this multi-tasker, a must for fans of the ‘no-makeup makeup’ look. Technically speaking, it’s actually not really considered a highlighter at all; the hydrating balm boasts of a combo of natural oils plus shea butter to help moisturize dry spots from head to toe. That being said, the unintended side effect of said hydration is a beautiful, dewy finish, so go ahead and load it onto cheekbones with reckless abandon.
Try dabbing it onto lids to create a very on-trend glossy eye.
Best for Dark Skin: Fenty Beauty Match Stix Shimmer Skinstick
Leave it to Rihanna to come up with more highlighter colors than we’ve ever seen before. Since the more traditional champagne or bronzy tones most similar products come in can often disappear on darker skin, we greatly appreciate that this one comes in, wait for it, 15 different colors. That includes vibrant pinks and yellows and oranges, all of which pop on deeper skin tones.
Best Multi-Tasker: UOMA Beauty Double Take Contour Stick
As any professional makeup artist will tell you, the key to creating a natural-looking contour is to pair it with a strategically-placed highlighter. Enter this dual-ended stick, which makes it easier than ever to do just that. The contour end is made with 30% pure pigments, so just a little bit delivers the right amount of color to help sculpt and define your features. Then flip it over and using the shimmery side, which imparts buildable glow that can easily be more subtle or full-on strobe-like.
Best Organic: NOTO Botanics Hydra Highlighter Stick
No matter whether you seek out clean formulas, or, like us, love a good stick product, this option is sure to please. It’s another one Xue’s favorites, a vegan find filled with good-for-your-skin organic ingredients; think coconut, jojoba oil, and shea butter, among others. While it only comes in one tone—a subdued bronze—it works well on most skin tones, imparting a sheer wash of glimmery shine.
What to Look For in a Highlighter
Choosing the right formula is the first step in finding the perfect highlighter for you. Whether a balm, stick, powder, or liquid, there's something for everyone (and every look).
Your preferred finish will largely depend on the look you're after. Dewy, satin, and glossy finishes are often the top choices for fans of "no-makeup makeup." Those going for high glam often opt for pigmented, slightly glittery highlighters that impart a megawatt glow.
Just like any other makeup product, seek highlighters with ingredients that are kind to the skin. Moisturizing, hydrating ingredients that do not dry out or irritate the skin are important in any makeup product, and a highlighter is no different.
Where should you apply highlighter on the face?
Are there non-shimmer highlighters?
What is best way to apply highlighter?
For powder highlights, opt for a fan brush that can lightly dust highlighter on the high points of the face. For a liquid, balm, or stick, opt for the best tool of them all—your fingers.