How to Apply Highlighter Like a Makeup Artist

woman with natural looking highlight


Makeup trends are fleeting, but a glowy complexion will always be en vogue—and chances are, highlighter is your secret weapon of choice for faking that ethereal, lit-from-within glow. Regardless of your skin tone, the perfect shade instantly boosts dull skin's radiance and accentuates your best features, making it easy to see why it's a makeup staple for pro artists far and wide.

However, with the rise of holographic highlighters and high-pigment strobing flooding our Instagram feeds, it seems like we've forgotten what contouring's counterpart is really all about—including how to apply it. Whether it's misplacement or caking on one too many layers, makeup artists agree that proper application is essential for getting the most out of your product of choice. Remember, the key here is to make it look as believable as possible. So we chatted with a pro makeup artist to get her tips for using every kind of formula, her product picks, and of course, a few highlighter hacks to make our lives even easier. Ahead, celebrity makeup artist Tobi Henney shares exactly how to apply highlighter for a glassy, glossy, ethereal finish.

Meet the Expert

Tobi Henney is a makeup artist based in New York City. Her client roster includes the likes of Ashley Graham, Barbara Palvin, Charlotte Lawrence, and more. She previously served as L'Oréal Paris Makeup Director for Australia.

Step One: Tap Cream Highlighter Onto the Cheekbones

chanel baume
Chanel Baume Essential $45.00

Makeup artists love a versatile product, and a cream highlighter is just that. A cream stick is compact, can be applied with a brush or fingers and of course, can be used for more than just highlighting (more on that later). This step is fairly straightforward. Using the Chanel Baume Essential Multi-Use Glow Stick, "You can simply tap it onto your cheekbones," says Henney. "And then what I like to do is just blend it in my fingers."

Only apply cream highlight to the cheekbones during this step, as Henney recommends using powder to highlight other areas of the face (more on that in the next step).

Step Two: On Your Cheekbones, Layer Powder Highlight Over the Cream

tom ford duo
Tom Ford Sheer Highlighting Duo $84.00

As a second step, we'll be layering powder highlight over the cream highlight we just applied to our cheekbones for an intense pop of champagne in those areas. "This is my absolute favorite—I can't live without this product," says Henney of the Tom Ford Sheer Highlighting Duo. "On the red carpet, I find this photographs so beautifully. I like to mix the two shades together, this is a golden in a bronze shade." For this step, simply pick up your favorite fan brush and "Fan [the powder] over the areas where we've just put the Chanel [cream highlight]," says Henney. While the cream highlight from step one offers a dewy, lit-from-within glow, it's also a great base for powder. Layering powder highlight over the cream makes the cheekbone highlight pop on your skin, while simultaneously preventing the cream from sliding around on your face throughout the day.

Traditionally when we think of highlighter, a shimmery champagne-hued compact comes to mind, and rightfully so. A powder highlighter is a universally flattering formula that can go on as sheer or opaque as you please.

Step Three: Fan Powder Highlight Down the Bridge of Your Nose

mac fan brush
MAC 184 Synthetic Duo Fibre Fan Brush $25.00

Once you've layered your powder formula of choice, "Go in a forwards and backwards motion down the center of the nose, and make sure it's nice and blended." If you're still fine tuning what the right amount of product is for you, you can take your MAC 184 Synthetic Fibre Fan Brush straight from your cheekbones to your nose without picking up more product (which helps create a more natural appearance).

Step Four: Add Powder to Your Inner Eyes, Cupid's Bow, and Under the Brow Bone

mac pencil brush
MAC 219 Synthetic Pencil Brush $27.00

This final step is all about details. Using a pencil brush like the one Henney uses in the video, Henney says to apply powder highlight "Under the brow bone, on the Cupid's bow [where your top lip takes a dip directly under your nose], and then just a little bit on that inner eye."

  • Inner Eyes: Using a tapping motion, gently pat a small pop of highlight into the inner corners of your eyes. You can use a sweeping motion to blend if you go a little too heavy-handed on your first go.
  • Cupid's Bow: Your Cupid's bow is the area where your top lip takes a slight dip, typically directly underneath the center of your nose. Add a small pop of powder highlight here that doesn't exceed the boundaries of your bow.
  • Brows: Follow the natural arch of your brow, adding highlight under the highest point of your brow, sweeping ever so slightly in each direction of this focal point.

It's important to ditch your fan brush during this step and pick up a smaller brush, which is crucial for applying product in these tiny, detailed, curved areas. Remember that these areas are much smaller than the cheekbones, which means you'll need significantly less product. When in doubt, start with less than you think you need and build more from there.

Related Stories