The Best Highlighters


This week, when the heat came on in our apartments, and we swapped our unbuttoned-down-to-there chambray shirts in favor of up-to-our-ears wool sweaters, we thought of Tom Pecheux, who once told us that when wearing such “dry… matte fabrics, it’s important to have a glow.” Not that every season isn’t highlighter season at ITG, but we take special care to appear well-lit when we don’t have the help of the blazing sun—the consumptive vibe isn’t for everyone. And while there will always be a place atop our cheeks and in our hearts for RMS Living Luminizer, Nars Copacobana, and the Pat-McGrath-favored Madina Chic & Shine, here are the best light catchers that have caught our attention since we last discussed them with you:

White Light/White Heat: Among white highlighters, MAC Strobe Cream lends the subtlest the-light-just-finds-me glow. Trusted by Aaron de Mey to give “‘watery’ reflections” to the models at Kenzo's Spring 2014 show, and editor Azza Yousif to “attract light” to everywhere from her eyelids to her collarbone, the pearly liquid gives an instant pick-me-up to tired, dull skin. Tom Ford Illuminating Highlight Pen in Lavender Voile is another icy option. The vaguely purple highlighter pen's brush allows exacting application, and its shimmer-concentrated formula creates a more metallic finish.

Is It About Pink?: Warming up, the ever-so-pink Chanel Le Blanc in Rosée is an office favorite for making your skin smell incredible and look plumped and well-rested, even when it’s really, really not—it's a lift for your face and mood. Suggested as a makeup base, it can also be dabbed on under-eye circles for a no-makeup-makeup optical illusion, or applied in all the right places underneath the rest of your makeup for an understated but apparent effet lumière. For those in search of higher wattage, Benefit High Beam's precision-granting brush and ultra-shimmery liquid create cheekbone-popping and eye-widening results.

Golden Girls: There’s nothing wrong with a little golden glow come summer, fall, or dead of winter. Chanel’s Soleil Tan de Chanel is a whisper of bronzer wrapped in a faintly gold illuminator that is used around these parts to look, as we say, “alive.” Best doled out to the entire cheekbone, Soleil Tan de Chanel is the kind of highlighter you wear when that's all you're wearing. Of equal importance is RiRi Hearts MAC Diamonds, because, well, it goes without saying that no one knows how to shine bright quite like badgalriri. Diamonds is best for topping off your makeup, with a touch on your cupid's bow, down the center of your nose, on your brow bone, and anywhere else you want to catch All of the Lights.

Get Matte About It: Remember when Wayne Goss blew our minds by revealing that Yves Saint Laurent’s cult-favorite concealer Touche Éclat was actually a highlighter? Yes, it turns out you don’t even need shimmer to reap the benefits of highlighting. This, dear readers, is magician-worthy contouring. We’ve also applied Goss’ rules to our beloved Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer. Used in a shade or two lighter than your skin tone, and following Goss' tutorial, either one of these concealers-cum-highlighters will deliver extra-pouty lips, erased laugh lines, "lifted" eyes, and an overall brighter complexion. Expert tip: apply a swipe just under your cheekbones to make them look Aymeline-Valade extra sharp.

Full Face Reflector: For those of you seeking all-over incandescence, Buxom Divine Goddess Luminizer is the faintest of the full-face illuminators, imparting the look of a full day of freshly Embryolisse-d skin, rather than a full-blown J. Lo in "Waiting for Tonight" shimmer fest. Conversely, Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer is here for the occasions when you want to look like a member of the Cullen family caught in low-morning light (believe us, there are times). And then, of course, there are powders. Dipping a big kabuki brush in Guerlain’s holiday offering Crazy Pearls, which are not as crazy as they sound, will give a rosy, blood-pumping flush to your face. And Jane Cosmetics—P.S. Jane is back!!—offers an Ever After-type luster for the mere price of lunch with its Multi-Colored Illuminating Powder.

As for technique, you can really apply highlighter anywhere you want to create depth or draw light—again, let Goss be your guide.

Photos by Mathea Millman.

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  • Lilly

    The RMS Beauty living luminizer is my favorite. So glossy, so moisturizing, so easy to apply, and can look very subtle or very strong depending on the application. I love it!

    • Georgie

      for me Ilia Illuminator Stick (in Polka Dots and Moonbeams) > RMS Living Luminizer. It's worth a try if you're after a slightly warmer shade.

  • juliuslove

    No mention of Becca - Skin Perfector?

    • softy

      yes! i was wondering the same.

      • ITGMackenzie

        Thank you for the tip! You guys are right, what a lovely finish. Skin Perfector in Moonstone is a a great, subtle, build-able golden shimmer. I just put a little on my cheeks and they look really well moisturized--not sparkly.

        You guys are too good.


        • Jane T.

          My favorite is Opal! In addition to using it as a highlighter, I dab some on my eyelids as a shadow when I do a bolder lip and it's wonderful! Similar effect with Laura Mercier Primer with Radiance -- a nice glowy, healthy look.

        • softy

          do you put it on bare skin or over foundation? i feel like it works better on top of foundation, but i don't wear foundation that often so i haven't really been using my becca ssp as much as i'd like to.

          • Blackbunny73

            over or under foundation, mix with foundation or use as spot highlighter

  • Alice Porter

    Highlighters are my favourite! I love the Nars Multiple too and MAC Cream Colour base in Hush is just lovely!


  • Kenzie Woods

    I love highlighters! My all time favorite would have to be Dior Amber Diamonds. It's good stuff.

  • swervesome

    RMS luminizer and BECCA Skin Perfector in White Pearl are my personal go-tos. I also reach for NARS Copacabana for going out at night.

  • Sally Lyndley

    I am also obsessed with W3LL People Universalist Stick in 1, it's silicone free, and organic, good for your skin, Equally obsessed with the RMS Living Luminizer too…

  • catherine

    No love for Becca shimmering skin perfector? It's better than a few you've listed.

  • Reliably Allison

    I just discovered highlighters and I am absolutely in love, it really brightens the face!

  • Leslie

    High Beam is my absolute favorite! I've been using it for years!

  • Eliza

    RMS Living Luminizer is by faaaaar the best highlighter I've ever used. I have dry skin, and every other highligher just looked like showgirl sparkles on dry skin--RMS's gives a glossy sheen. Amaze.

  • Billie Alexandra

    the balm mary-loumanizer is also amazing! love RMS too

  • merredee

    I love highlighter! Although I strongly believe it should be strategically placed and not an all-over product to prevent from looking like you set your makeup with straight up glitter. Lovely post!

  • Annie Lindsay

    I'm a big fan of TheBalm's Mary Lou-manizer. Such a beautiful sheen and a little goes a looooonnng way. Haven't even made a dent in mine and it's been months!

  • hayley durrant

    Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer is incredible, ha and yes I'd be chuffed if i had Edward Cullen's glowing complexion!!

  • Vivi

    great post :)

    xx Vivi

  • Bella

    I recently got the Hourglass Ambient Lighting palette. I use all 3 shades and they've become my highlighters and glow-givers of choice.
    On the other hand, I have invested in Charlotte Tilbury's Flimstar Bronze and Glow and the megawatt highlighter included therein is not for me...nor for the fainthearted. The perils of the internet lust-and-shop..

  • Nomadic D.

    So true that the highlighter gains a huge amount of importance come wintertime. In the summer my somewhat oily skin will sort of take care of that on its own, but some colder temps and central heating, I need help. My favorites would be Armani's Light Master Primer, used as a highlighter on top of makeup though, not necessarily an all over primer (though it's good for that too!), and for sheen with a touch of healthy color, Nars illuminator in Orgasm is amazing. Never really understood how people can use High Beam, to me it just looks too crazy/thick/pale/sparkly/over the top. The MAC Strobe Cream intrigues me though, as I have heard so many good things about it.

    • Krunce

      I am here to vouch for MAC strobe cream...

      I've been desperately trying to find a highlighter to nullify matte make up look, which sometimes, a powdery highlighter can just exacerbate rather than improve. So I've been mixing MAC strobe liquid (exact same as strobe cream but I bit more... liquidy and less creamy) in with my tinted moisturizer, and have been concentrating on the center of the face. And then I go back in wtih my foundation brush and a tiny bit of the strobe liquid into the apples of my cheeks, cheek bones, bridge of my nose, chin and brow bone, a la Pat McGrath. And I really really really like it.

      It not only kills a matte look, makes you look dewy, and is not at all sparkly. It's also really moisturizing, and my skin texture has felt great since I started mixing it in with my tinted moisturizer. I can still dust on some finishing powder without killing the glow.

      In other words: yes, check it out.

  • Guest

    If you have brown skin, you really MUST try NYX Born to Glow Liquid Illuminator in shade LI02. This is a Holy Grail product for me, and it's only $7! If they ever discontinue it, I'm ready: I have a small stockpile.

  • Chrissabella

    Great post and the RMS one looks amazing!

    Greetings from London,

  • Addison Cain

    Physician's Formula Mineral Glow in Beige Pearl is surprisingly incredible as well... and cheap!

  • PeonyandPeach

    Benefit Sun Beam is brilliant too.

  • Rachel

    High beam is my go-to

  • Miss Y.

    The Body Shop radiant highlighter does the trick for me... Mixed with foundation or just on the top of my cheeks

  • Sabrina C.

    I'm excited to try so many new products! Thanks for the article.

  • Harlowrose

    I mix Boots High Lights lotion in with long wearing foundations. It gives a glow that also lasts, and it's luminous without being shimmery.

  • Vanessa • With Great Heart Cre

    I keep coming close to trying High Beam and then I back out


RMS Living Luminizer
NARS The Multiple Stick
MAC Strobe Cream
Tom Ford
Tom Ford Illuminating Highlight Pen Lavender Voile
Chanel – Le Blanc Light Revealing Whitening Make Up Base SPF 35 – #10 Rosee
Benefit High Beam Highlighter
Chanel Soleil Tan de Chanel Sheer Illuminating Fluid
Rihanna for MAC 'RiRi Hearts MAC' Cream Color Base (Limited Edition)
Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat
Buxom Divine Goddess Luminizer
Giorgio Armani
Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer No 11
Guerlain 'Crazy Paris – Meteorites' Pearls Illuminating Powder (Limited Edition)
Stila Cosmetics
Jane Multi-Colored Illuminating Powder