I think we can all agree that dewy, lit-from-within skin is something to strive for. Of course, it’s possible to get a major glow from smoothing on serums and creams, but the easiest way to look impossibly glowy is by applying highlighter.
Highlighter may seem like the kind of product that you can pick out on a whim, but in reality, it’s like choosing a foundation—you should base it on your skin’s tone and needs for a flawless, illuminated finish. I reached out to makeup artists to learn more about how to choose the best highlighter plus which highlighters have a forever spot in their kits.
How can you choose the best highlighter for you?
“When looking for a highlighter, someone would want to select a product that is about two shades lighter than their skin,” says makeup artist Marsha Page. “You can also find the perfect highlighter by selecting a shade that complements your skin’s undertones.”
For the most natural-looking finish, makeup artist Judi Gabbay recommends staying away from highlighters with chunks of glitter in them and opting for subtler shimmers. “They tend to appear muddy or dirty on skin,” Gabbay says.
The best cream highlighters:
Cream highlighters are a great option for anyone who wants a natural, blendable finish. “Cream highlighters are great to use alone, under the skin before foundation, or over foundation for a dewy effect,” says Gabbay.
This is Gabbay's go-to cream highlighter. "I love RMS Beauty Living Luminizer highlighter for a natural, clean-girl-aesthetic glow," she says. With the addition of coconut oil, vitamin E, and castor-seed oil, this highlighter also doubles as skincare. The subtle shimmer gives you the ultimate reflective finish.
Customer review: "I live for this formula! The application is great and the color is natural. This is the true 'I just woke up like this' highlighter with the most natural, glowy finish I’ve come across."
With tons of warm shades, this multitasking stick can be used anywhere. For a natural-looking glow, Page always reaches for this cream highlighting stick. "It's natural and sheer and can be used on different areas of the face," she says.
Customer review: "What I find is that it brings luminosity to the face, a soft and natural glow. It captures the light in the way that young faces do naturally. The product lasted me about a year, and I wear makeup daily. So, while expensive to purchase, it was worth it to me."
Surratt never messes around in terms of quality makeup products. Its cream highlighter stick was inspired by the jewels in Place Vendôme in Paris. It's made with real diamond and gold dust, making it easily the most opulent option on the list. It imparts skin with an ethereal glow.
Customer review: "This is beautiful. I definitely recommend for an eye-catching glimpse of light."
Though it comes in three colors, this highlighting stick has undertones meant to flatter all skin tones. Your skin looks impossibly dewy after swiping it on. Plus, it's made with Vitis vita grape extract, which helps encourage collagen and hyaluronic acid production in skin.
Customer review: "I never wear highlighter because I feel like it always looks 'too much' no matter how little is used. I decided to try this because it looked more glossy than shimmery and it’s awesome. You don’t need too much, it’s very subtle and makes you look dewy, not blindingly sparkly. Love it."
The best part about this highlighter is that you can truly use it anywhere—swipe it on your cheekbones, your clavicles, your eyelids, you name it. It's sheer and delivers a glow rather than a shimmer.
Customer review: "This is a minimalist's dream product. I ordered the 'Transparent' and it adds a subtle sexy glow. I apply on freshly moisturized skin and it stays on for hours, even in the summer heat. It's expensive but it doesn't feel sticky or heavy. Worth it."
Fortified with almond-seed oil and Rosa rubiginosa oil, this highlighter also works to moisturize and hide imperfections. It delivers a sun-kissed glow to skin and builds easily. Plus, it's refillable and sustainable, so you can feel good about making it your go-to highlighter.
Customer review: "This cream highlighter is amazing. It’s so smooth and lovely to put on. Sometimes I wear it plain and sometimes I use a little blush under it. I usually go for a fairly natural look. Either way, it looks amazing. It is very subtle plain, but still beautiful. It lasts all day, too."
The best powder highlighters:
If you want a more dramatic finish, Page says that powder highlighters are the way to go. But they can also be a great option for anyone who has oily skin. “A powder highlighter is perfect for more oily skin, as it adds sheen to the skin without the dewiness from a cream or liquid highlighter,” says Gabbay.
Since this compact comes with four highlighter colors, it's endlessly customizable to fit your needs. "My favorite powder highlighter is Dior Backstage Glow palette," says Gabbay. "The palette has four shades for all areas of the face and is super-finely milled." This helps add a more dramatic glow to your skin.
Customer review: "This palette is so beautiful and wearable! The powders are finely milled, blend beautifully on the skin, and aren’t full of chunky glitter. They lend a stunning radiance to the face and can be sheered to a fine gossamer glow or built to a more intense and reflective shine."
For a subtler powder highlighter, don't sleep on these pressed compacts from Hourglass. With six different shades, these powders are made with all skin tones in mind. "Because of the variety of shades, [they] reflect light beautifully on most skin tones," says Page.
Customer review: "This finishing powder pulls it all together. It's meant to be one of the last steps of your makeup to add some oomph. I understand how some are saying this didn't do anything for them because it doesn't do anything dramatic. It plays with light to make the skin appear more smooth and glowy."
This highlighter is a great option for deeper skin tones. "It blends beautifully and comes in warm red tones," says Page. It comes in five swirled shades that help impart subtle radiance. Shea butter and vitamin E also work to soften skin.
Customer review: "The finish is perfect: it has no glitter and is not shiny or metallic, but it is not a flat matte either. It has a natural-looking satin finish that gives a just touch of glow."
Fenty's highlighters are perfect for anyone who loves experimenting with makeup. The shimmers range from subtle to otherworldly, with a few options imparting a shimmer to your face that you could probably see from outer space. Snag a single shade or opt for an expert-crafted duo.
Customer review: "This is one of the most stunning highlights I have the pleasure of owning."
If subtle shimmer is your preference but you prefer a pressed powder, this option from Tom Ford is your perfect match. It comes in a peachy tone that mimics sunlight on skin. The powder goes on super sheer but is easy to build.
Customer review: "Can’t stop using this. The formula is perfect and the colors are wonderful. It’s not very pigmented which I like in blush but can be built up. I mix both colors."
The best liquid highlighters:
Liquid highlighters are the most multipurpose options. “One of the best benefits of liquid highlighters is that you can mix it into your liquid foundation for an allover dewy look to the skin,” says Page. “If you are looking for a glow with a dewy wet finish, liquid highlighter is your best bet.” They’re also easy to blend out to your desired finish.
This TikTok-favorite highlighter is worth the hype. Gabbay shares that if she's reaching for a highlighter, she always goes for a liquid option first, and this is her holy grail. "Charlotte Tilbury's spotlight wand is a staple in my makeup bag," she says. "Its sponge tip makes it an easy application on the go."
Customer review: "Wonderful product to make your face glowing and have a perfect make-up finish. Love the the pink color and how lovely my cheeks look after using this product from Charlotte Tilbury.
Easy to use and with just a little goes a long way.Very kind to skin, not sticking or any other nasty feeling after application.
"Koh Gen Do Aqua Illuminator is great because it offers buildable coverage so that you can achieve your desired level of glow and sparkle," says Page. This innovative highlighter is also perfect for adding to your foundation for a boost of radiance. Formulated with the brand's signature T3 oil, which is a blend of jojoba oil, olive squalane, and shea butter, it also adds major moisture to skin.
Customer review: "Great product! It gives a beautiful, fresh, natural, and glowy effect for every day! It looks perfect all day inside and outside. You can use it as highlighter or you can mix it with your foundation."
This liquid highlighter blends into skin seamlessly and looks extremely natural. Though they often sell out, eight different shades give you tons of options for a glow that truly suits you. Pearl particles reflect light.
Customer review: "This stuff goes on like a dream, feels like there's nothing there, looks so natural on the skin, and it actually makes me excited to do my makeup which these days is saying a lot."
There are no rules for how best to wear this luminizer. Use it to highlight the high points of your face, mix it with foundation, use it as a dewy primer, or even wear it alone for a fresh-looking glow. Vitamin C, glycerin, and rose-hip oil also make sure it works overtime as skincare.
Customer review: "It melts into the skin and just leaves a beautiful natural glow. I love how diverse the shades are no matter what skin tone you are! I got so many compliments on my skin and had people move back and forth looking at the glow. It is not too shimmery. You can even use to for a more natural nose contour and to avoid the glittery look most highlighters have."
This Kevyn Aucoin highlighter is a classic. Perfect for both face and body, it will give you a multifaceted shimmer. Blend it with your foundation or dot it on to your face for tons of radiance. Bonus: A little goes a long way, so one bottle will last you for quite a while.
Customer review: "A dab of this strategically placed makes my skin appear so radiant. Turns back the hands of time!"
These glow drops are the highlighter-serum hybrid that you never knew you needed. Infused with polyglutamic acid, a powerful humectant, these hydrating serums give your skin an overall glow.
Customer review: "I have wanted to buy this product for a while but never got around to it until last month, and I absolutely love it! It gives a very natural glow but still remains subtle. A little goes a long way with this product."
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated.