Remember when highlighter first became a thing (one could even call it a craze) and we would put so much on our cheekbones that you could practically see them from outer space? Those days are over, but highlighter has certainly stuck around. However, it’s not the cheeks we’re brushing and swirling it onto—but we’re using it pretty much everywhere else. Highlighter has taken over our eyes, lips, and nails for high-shine, shimmery finishes that are absolute perfection.
“I think people are always looking for new innovative ways to use makeup,” says Julia Sohn, Nars Cosmetics senior makeup artist. “Matte makeup had its time for a while, and now glowy everything is having its time in the spotlight, pun intended. And with social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, we’re able to share and show off new ideas with such a wide audience. The demand for new techniques and ideas is high, and people want to try them out.”
Another reason highlighter everywhere is trending is simply because it’s so complementary. “Highlighter is so flattering on everyone because it gives the skin a youthful, fresh glow,” says Sofia Schwarzkopf-Tilbury, celebrity makeup artist for Charlotte Tilbury. “At this time of year, the weather can make us look dull, tired, and dehydrated, so glowing textures and light play on the eyes, lips, and cheekbones have that effect of bathing the complexion in flattering light and making us look healthy and lit from within!”
Read on for everything you need to know about wearing highlighter and shimmery finishes on your eyes, lips, and nails.
Choosing the Right Highlighter Format
Something that makes the “highlighter everywhere” trend a little easier is that you don’t need a different formula for each area of the face. “I would actually say that the type of formula comes down to more personal preference and skin texture rather than placement,” Sohn says. “Typically, powder highlights achieve a glow using more shimmer, whereas cream highlighters can achieve a glow both through texture and shimmer. Anyone applying highlighter to an area of more textured skin should opt for a cream highlighter with a dewy texture and less actual shimmer.”
Ultimately, selecting a highlighter formula comes down to your skin type and desired finish. “Oilier skins tend to work best with a soft-focusing powder highlighter to smooth over pores, whereas drier complexions look fresh, hydrated, and glowing with a liquid formula that won’t settle into fine lines,” Tilbury says.
How to Wear Highlighter on Your Eyes
A sheer wash of shimmer or glitter is Gen Z’s method of choice for wearing “highlighted” eyes—think Hailey Bieber’s subtle shimmer at Coachella last year or Makeup by Mario’s viral crystal reflectors. But Sohn points out that this is nothing new. “Highlighter on and around the eyes has been around for a long time, mostly in the inner corner [of] the eyes and under the brow bone,” she says.
Sohn’s go-to for wearing highlighter on the eyes is using Nars Cosmetics The Multiple Cream Blush, Lip and Eye Stick ($39) in Copacabana (or South Beach for deeper skin tones) on the eyes, as it is meant to be a multiuse product. You can use it to open up the eyes by placing a small amount on the lid right above your pupil as well as on the lower lash line in the same placement. “This draws the light and focus to the center of the eye,” she explains. “You can do this on a bare eye or even a dramatic smoky eye, and [it] looks good on everyone. I also love using highlighter with a high-gloss texture on the lid for that ‘wet’ eye look. This will break down eye makeup, so for non–photo shoot purposes, I recommend wearing a lighter eye makeup look with minimal liner and a waterproof mascara and not taking the highlighter too close to the lash line.”
For a minimal look, Tilbury recommends sweeping powder highlighter all over your eyelids using a fluffy blender brush for a fresh, minimal look or using a smaller, dense smudger brush to highlight the inner corners of the eyes, brow bone, and center of the lid. “I love the Charlotte Tilbury Glow Glide Face Architect Highlighter in Champagne Glow ($48) to add a touch of spotlit sparkle to any eye look,” she says.
How to Wear Highlighter on Your Lips
The key to high-wattage lips is starting out with a moisturized pucker. That’s why Tilbury recommends beginning with the Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte's Magic Lip Oil Crystal Elixir ($40) to prime and hydrate the lips. Next, use your fingers to press the Charlotte Tilbury Beauty Highlighter Wand in Spotlight ($42) over the center of the lips. Top with gloss or alternatively, apply highlighter just to the fullest point of your lips and along the Cupid’s bow for a plumper, poutier look, she advises. Of course, you can also just opt for a shimmering lip gloss for a similar effect or try TikTok’s “diamond lips” trend for DIY sparkle.
“For wearing highlighter on the lips, we know that applying it to your Cupid’s bow is a great way to make your lips look a little fuller,” Sohn says. “A new way to achieve a full pout with highlighter is to use it on a finished lip look. After you’ve applied your lip color of choice, take a precision liner brush and highlight down the sloping edges of the top lip line, more so at the center of each side. Do the same to the center of the lower lip line. You want to do it right along the lip line to catch the most light and really emphasize the pout. I would recommend using a powder highlighter for this or if it’s a bolder tone of lipstick, you could even use a coordinating metallic eye shadow. This technique works better on satin or matte finishes, but if you want a glossy finish, concentrate the gloss to the center of the lip, avoiding the lip line.”
How to Wear Highlighter on Your Nails
When it comes to nails, opaque, matte shades are out, and it’s all about sheer, glimmering finishes. There are plenty of options to choose from—think frosted nails, pearly nails, or fairy nails—but the mother of all “highlighted” nails is the glazed donut manicure. “The chrome nail trend is the look of highly reflective chrome finishes on either the entire nail or used as an accent for nail art—think French tips with a chrome finish or a minimal design with a chrome finish,” Brittney Boyce, celebrity nail artist and founder of Nails of LA, previously told Byrdie. “It looks very futuristic and cool on everyone but can also be easily customized by pairing the effect with different base colors.” A true glazed mani requires a trip to the salon, but you can get a similar shiny effect with a pearly topcoat or this DIY trick.
What makes this mani even more fun is the fact that you don’t have to stick with just nail polish to get the effect—you can experiment with what’s in your makeup bag. “The new trend of wearing highlighter around the nails, or ‘cuticle shadow’, is so pretty and whimsical,” Sohn says. “I love using the Nars Cosmetics Hardwired Eyeshadows ($22) for this purpose. They have high glitter with less pigment, and there are so many colors to choose from. I would recommend taking a fluffy eye shadow blending brush to dust it along your cuticles and down along the finger. I love mixing and matching the colors to coordinate or contrast with my manicure.”