If there’s a single makeup artist trick that’s impacted my day-to-day routine the most over the past year, it has to be highlighting and contouring. But mostly, highlighting…and especially in the bone-dry winter months. It's wiggled its way right up there alongside mascara on the won't-leave-home-without-it list.

It doesn’t have to be scary. And it doesn’t have to be sparkly. The best highlighters, to me, subtly catch and reflect the light in all the right spots:

Brow bone: your upper, upper eyelid, right underneath the eyebrow.

Inner corners of the eyes: Precisely that—just around the tear duct, in a V-shape.

Now, you can stop here and call it a day—check it out. Instant freshness. Kind of shocking/awesome.

BUT if you want to look extra gorgeous, or just more awake, continue on to the following areas:

Tops of cheekbones, down the bridge of the nose, on the center of chin, and along the Cupid’s bow (just above the upper lip).

I typically reach for highlighter after I’ve applied everything else, as a finishing touch, but you could follow Lily Aldridge’s lead and use RMS Living Luminizer on a bare face. Burberry’s Fresh Glow can be mixed into foundation but I’ve been too scared—I love it on its own; I don’t know how they did it, but it really is a liquid glow that dries onto skin…but manages to still look moist. A genius, genius product.

The most famous highlighter, of course, is the illusive Milanese Shiny Stick—Madina's "Chic & Shine"—Pat McGrath’s illuminator of choice. Mine finally arrived from Italy the other day and I’ve been playing with it all weekend. It’s pearlescent (another standout in the ivory family is NARS Copacobana) which works well with most skin tones, and stays put.

For a hint of golden warmth, Clinique’s Up-Lighting fluid in Natural can’t be beat, and CoverGirl’s Intense ShadowBlast in Beige Blaze multitasks as an allover highlighter with a velvet-y finish.

But the pièce de résistance in my highlighting stash, at the moment, has to be Tom Ford’s Shade & Illuminate palette. And, yes, you should buy the brush that goes with it. The brown shade contours under the cheekbones and the ivory goes along the top (and just about everywhere else). It may seem tricky but I promise, with a bit of practice, you’ll be sculpting like the pros.

These are all cream or liquid highlighters but you can also do double-duty with a pale, shimmery powder eye shadow. No matter the texture, in terms of application—Tom Ford indulgence aside—I think there’s no better way to apply an illuminator than with your fingers, and blend, blend, blend. Move your head around in the light so you can see where the product’s going. And remember, a little goes a long way.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Scheer

    Love it. Highlighters become a necessity once you're over 45 (ugh-I hate saying that). Right now I'm using Boots High Lights (I mix it in with my foundation or pat it over my face).

    I am absolutely checking out Madina's Chic & Shine and Burberry's Fresh Glow. And that's a great use for CG's ShadowBlast. I have it! Now I have a new use.

    I love your site. I think it's fantastic. Thank you so much!

    I end all posts the same way: Sofia Coppola?

    • Mrsnics

      I second the Sofia Coppola request!

  • http://intomind.wordpress.com/ Anuschka

    I always used to think highlighting is a lot of effort for not really much of a difference. But now I will always apply some on the inner corners of my eye, because I love how much more awake it makes me look

  • Lindsay Gliss

    I have been wanting to try Madina's stick FOREVER!!! Emily, how did you order yours?

    • Kaitlin

      you can buy it @ pircosmetics.com. thats where i got mine!

    • http://www.facebook.com/anna.dato Anna Dato

      you can buy directly from madina website http://www.madina.it/

  • StephK

    I've been hunting for the perfect highlighter for my pale skin. Thanks for the suggestions! I was leaning towards NARS copacobana or albatross- can't decide.

    lovely post as always emily

    • Anonymous

      I'm surprised Benefit's High Beam isn't on the list. I'm super-pale with pink undertones, and the High Beam is an ever-so-slightly pink pearl hue that works well with my skin tone.

  • Anonymous

    Just picked up NARS Albatross on Saturday to use as a highlighter. Thanks for the other suggestions!! Love Your Blog...

  • http://cjvzheartsyou.blogspot.com/ Chloe

    Great tips! I love highlighting and contouring it can make all of the difference in your face routine! Stila makes a great kit if you are just beginning in this area!

  • Marie-Thérèse

    RMS Luminizer is just the quick'n easy way to get into the high-lighting business. Dabbing it on the areas pointed out by you just takes a few moments and makes the face shine & vividly awake. Loving it!


  • Marcela Cristovao

    I must say that I have not delved into the highlight world much, but I am curious about it, I really liked the effect on the Burberry show this last season so I really want to try that one.
    gret post, always good to know what our options are.

  • truly

    What about ysl's touche eclat? Is it "over" by now? Or is that not a highlighter? I remember reading about it years ago, and it was always being touted as the secret to model beauty backstage. Months ago, my skin was finally clear enough, and I could finally afford the gold pen.

    • Ivana

      I have the touche eclat, but it was pitched by the sales lady as more an 'illuminating concealer' for under the eye area and imperfections. Having used it, I wouldn't really say it's a highlighter.

  • http://thesparkle.net/ erin

    highlighter can be so tricky. it's easy to go overboard and end up looking greasy. i always use the eye tricks you mentioned for sure! thanks for divulging pat's fave!


  • http://www.theblossomshed.blogspot.com The Blossom Shed Beauty Blog

    Ooh, thank you for this post, I adore highlighters - they're right after mascara for me too, a staple that I panic without! I'm trying out the new MUFE Uplights right now - they're nice and thin and light, but I really want to get my hands on the Becca one as well!

    The Blossom Shed Beauty Blog

  • noelle

    Will someone explain more how highlighters are much different than repurposing a concealer shade that turned out to be too light? I'm serious though.

    • Rachel T

      lighter concealer doesn't do much to catch the light in my experience, which is one of the main reasons highlighter is used. Catching the light allows highlighter to draw attention to your best features much more subtly than simply drawing a lighter color stripe on the face would, and ideally thats all it does: subtly draw attention, rather than broadcast "hello world, this woman is trying to contour her face!" On the other hand, I have reapportioned slightly too dark tinted moisturizer as a contour shade for the hollows of the cheeks/just under the jaw line, which works fairly well as long as it is a very sheer formula. Hope this helps!

      • noelle

        thanks RachelT. I think I have been afraid of looking like I'm at a disco when at work. I work with 95% men- blue collar men- and anything shimmery usually gets a " whoa someone thinks they're at a club" comment. Good natured teasing, but still...! I'll give these tips a try over the holidays though.

  • http://twitter.com/Citygirlinred anita rivas

    Try the highlighter/concealer by Luminess air - it's my current favorite. I agree, I carry mine in my makeup bag in case I need a touch-up and have been applying it every morning because I've been waking up with tired looking skin.

  • marisa

    I use the RMS living luminizer, but with those types of containers it always gets under my fingernails. I looked for the Madina stick in Milan but couldn't find it anywhere. I don't know the city well at and and wonder if there is someone that knows where to find it? I'm trying not to buy too many things online, it's a dangerous habit for me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/anna.dato Anna Dato

      hi! madina stores are in corso venezia 23, via meravigli 17, via tivoli 8
      if can find infos here!

  • http://caryrandolph.com Cary Randolph

    Add NARS' "Hollywoodland" eye shadow stick to your short list. No apologies for the melodrama: it has changed. my. life.

  • Jane S

    Add Becca's Shimmering Skin Perfector in Pearl, Shu Umera blush in light peach (it looks white and instantly creates cheekbones), Cargo's highlighter wand (that has one end for inner eye and the other end for under the brow bone) and for just $12, the Joe Fresh cream highlighter quad to your arsenal!

  • Mrsnics

    Thanks for this post! I use CoverGirl's Beige Blaze as a daily shadow (just a smidge to keep my eyeliner sticking mostly and to give the lid the slightest sheen) and always dot a tiny bit in the corners of my eye too. I will do the other areas if i have the time or inclination. I think that it really does give a fresh look and help make the face look younger and more awake. I always remember the great Kevyn Aucoin describing how he got the idea for his highlighter by gazing at the beauty of a sleeping child and noticing how and where the light bounced off the child's features. Genius. And don't we all want that Marilyn Monroe "lit from within" glow.

  • Laura

    I am also addicted to highlighters. For me it's mascara, concealer, highlighters and blush and off I go. My favorite is the rms highlighter. It's completely natural and does a great job. Thanks for the post.

  • Elly

    Thanks for your tips and instructions. I've never really liked highlighters; now I realise it's probably because I'm not using them properly.

    Do you think they're more of a Winter product, though? It's Summer here at the moment, and it seems odd to use them on darker, tanned skin when you could use a bronzer with reflective particles in it.

  • http://twitter.com/acme_c0 Chelsea

    I love Benefit's Girl Meets Pearl highlighter

  • Natalie

    I can't live without highlighter! My favorite is Benefit's HighBeam. It lasts a long time, too!

  • skigrl

    After trying many different brands Becca shimmering skin perfector (in pearl) is my favorite, and at a lower price range No7 High Lights illuminating lotion is pretty good too.
    Nars Copacabana is ok but Becca and No7 have a softer and more natural finish (which I personally prefer).
    Love your blog!

  • Vanessa

    I am in loveeee with highlighters too! I think they define my cheekbones much more. My essentials are eyebrow fillers, under-eye concealer, a little bit of lip balm and currently my new Bobbi Brown shimmer brick. I feel like I can wear it day or night since it does not ever overdo itself. Also helps that the casing is so elegant and simple.

    However, I've got a question. What do you think of highlighters being used on people who have acne scars? My sister has them and she wants to borrow my highlighter but I think it might not be a good idea because the reflection of the light might emphasize on the scars even more? But I don't know. What do you think?

  • Anonymous

    thanks so much for the tips!

  • http://glossandmagic.blogspot.com/ Gauri

    ♥ Burberry's Fresh Glow!!

  • Nada

    My fave is rms luminiser. I simply love it.

  • http://twelve52.blogspot.com/ Twelve52

    Have you tried the BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector? I think you'd love it - it's very special and lasts for an age even though it's a bit pricey. Most beautiful highlighter I've used, without a doubt. I don't work for them by the way! Love RMS products too - the un-cover up concealor is genius.

  • Hannah-Mae Hoare

    I really like Benefit's HighBeam, for night time, as it is little bit more pink-ish and looks great around the eyes, then MoonBeam for day for a more natural glow. I'm surprised Touche Eclat isn't included, I thought it was suposed to be the best of the best?? Not sure if I should invest in it now! xxx

    • skigrl

      Hannah as far as I know Touche Eclat is more of an illuminator (brighten shadows) than a highlighter (which gives your face a really radiant, luminous finish). Illuminators are usually to be used under your eyes, the sides of your nose, corners of your lips etc.

  • Angelina

    Great post. I am obsessed with highlighters! I have been using Benefit's WATT'S UP and it's pretty great.

  • http://younglington.wordpress.com/ Serdane

    nice advices as usual !!


  • http://www.MrAJBx3.com MrAJBx3

    I love!!! the Nars Illuminators they are amazing, great post xx

  • http://closetvanity.com Samantha

    I love using Benefit's Girl Meets Pearl highlighter. A little goes a long way so it's lasted me ages. After reading this I'm really interested in trying Burberry's Fresh Glow, too.

  • Christine

    Love highlighters! They're great to catch the light and brighten.

    I use a illumi... highlighter from Lancôme, its a really great product and liquid. It is a bit similar to burberry's.

  • Marty

    I havent pulled the trigger on highlighters yet. I worry because my skin isnt the best. But reading that it wakes up the skin, I want so badly for it to work for me!

  • Lou

    I love highlights, they work perfectly.

    Lou x

  • Arielle Kepler

    Benefit High Beam all the way!

  • Amanda

    Emily, dear, please disclose how to but the Madina stick. All of us are desperately hoping to try one yet they have no online ordering mechanism. Boo hoo....help!

    • Kaitlin

      pircosmetics.com. has it

  • Swervesome

    Excellent post! I think women underestimate the power of a good highlighter. Everywhere I go, inquiring ladies always ask where I get facials. Good skincare and my Clarisonic Mia 2 makes a difference, but they always comment on the glow. The glow that's brought on by proper use of highlighter. RMS Luminizer and Becca Shimmering Skin Perfecter are two of my favorites for that soft, subtle glow that can be layered for more oomph.

    Thanks for posting this,

    Rina (from http://swervesome.com/)

  • Miuccia0908

    Benefit high beam!! Gives my face a nice glow!

  • Alexis

    I am a HUGE fan of mixing either NARS Illuminator - Orgasm or Copacabana with my foundation, especially if I know I'll be taking pictures. I don't always remember to apply highlighter on a daily basis but I agree - it can make a HUGE difference.

    Subtle but just enough to make someone stop and think you look radiant when you really only had 4-5 hours of sleep because your daughter woke you up begging to sleep in bed with you...

  • http://prettyshinysparkly.com/ Pretty Shiny Sparkly

    I have NARS Copacabana but by far my HG highlighter is actually a powder...and cheap. It's Palladio and super hard to find, but if you can get your hands on a compact, it is seriously the BEST.

    • Katherine Phelan

      What is the product called and color for Palladio?

  • Claudia

    These are great reviews, and I am pretty much obsessed with every ITG entry, ever. But could you do a giveaway sometime soon? I mean, it's almost Christmas!

  • http://vvatima.livejournal.com/ murt

    I really like the RMS Luminizer too, but one caution is that if you have very oily skin, it might not work that well for you - I have dry skin - especially in winter - so I like it, but my mom has oily skin and it just slipped off her face very fast.

    Also, honestly I think it would be very easy to make yourself with some mineral makeup - the ingredients are mainly castor oil, coconut oil and beeswax with some mica. I might try that after my pot runs out.

  • Ivana

    Hey Emily, which highlighter would you say looks best with tanned skin? I've been coveting the Madina for a long while, but after your comments on its pearlescence, I'm thinking it might look too unnatural against my relatively tanned skin?

    • http://vvatima.livejournal.com/ murt

      I'm brown (South Asian) and I like the RMS despite it being fairly cool toned and having warm toned skin. It's very subtle.

  • Rachel Tag

    I think I've tried every highlighter under $20 and scoffed at spending the money on my NARS Luxor Multiple, but now I'll never be without it! It's just a subtle and pearly glow with a hint of pink, pretty undetectable - I use it sparingly on cheekbones, bridge of the nose, cupid's bow, brow area, and chin. No strange sparkly glitter bits, even under varying light sources.

  • http://www.cocowouldapprove.blogspot.com/ jenn

    i just purchased the tom ford palette. best highlighter/contour i've ever used. can't rave about it enough!

  • Lezli

    NARS The Multiple in Laguna is my shade of choice. Highlighting without the disco ball effect. J'adore!

  • Scheer

    I just received my Madina Chic & Shine via Amazon. :>

  • Maura McCormick



  • Anonymous

    Several of us on my forum for women over 40 like Cindy Joseph's Boomstick in Glimmer for a highlighter. It's a champagne gleam that works on all skin tones. (No, I'm not affiliated.)


  • http://mabelmatilda.blogspot.com/ Mabelmatilda

    Highlighters are an on and off thing for me, I get really oily sometimes so I only use them if I know I won't be outside in the heat or walking around to much (like the mall) as for the winter I always use a highlight because my face look sso dull!


  • http://www.natalienorthrup.com/ Natalie Northrup

    Hi Emily, question, as a pale person, can you still use shade and illuminate? or is it for more bronze-y, tan, beachy ladies? I am very pale and just wanted your advice!!! thanks!!!

  • http://crystallographyblog.blogspot.com.au/ Crystallography

    i am obsessed with the burberry one- just beautiful!

  • Jody

    I love the NARS Multiple sticks, however after making a conscious effort to streamline my makeup bag, I bought Napoleon Perdis Light Patrol Palette. It is a small, round colour wheel with cream blush, bronzer and three shades of highlighters. Much more travel-friendly and super blendable. They also do a great cream foundation stick.

  • http://twitter.com/beautydujour BEAUTY DU JOUR

    I LOVE Burberry Fresh Glow! I wear it under my foundation and it leave my face luminous, not flat. The pearlized sheen really shines through. http://www.beautydujour.com/2012/10/splurge-burberry-fresh-glow-luminous.html


RMS Living Luminizer
Burberry Beauty
Burberry Fresh Glow Luminous Fluid Base
NARS Illuminator
Clinique Up-Lighting Liquid Illuminator in Natural
CoverGirl Intense ShadowBlast
CoverGirl Intense ShadowBlast Eyeshadow in Beige Blaze
Tom Ford
Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate Palette
Tom Ford Beauty
Tom Ford Beauty Shade & Illuminate Brush