As beauty editors, we know better than just about anyone about the power of a good highlight. This glistening accent can breathe new life into a minimally made-up face or be the cherry on top of a full beat. Either way, it’s a must-do step in any routine. With a vast array of pressed powder, liquid, and cream options on the market, you’d think selecting the right highlighter would be as simple as plucking your formula of choice off the shelf at your favorite beauty haunt. But for those of us with deeper skin tones, the burden of choice is a heavy one, because a highlight can go awry if not handled properly.
We know a thing or two about a thing or two (you trust us, right?), but we thought it best to call in the experts on this one. That’s why we tapped the most celebrated makeup artists in the game right now to weigh in on the best highlighters for darker skin tones.
This talented lot work with black and brown stars such as Lupita Nyong’o, America Ferrera, Gabrielle Union, and more of our faves, and they gave us all the intel on the highlighters that best complement deeper complexions. Oh, and don’t worry—they also spilled the tea on which ones we should avoid at all costs. Check out their tips and red carpet–approved picks ahead.
Allan Avendaño, Celebrity Makeup Artist
Celebrity clients: Jodie Turner-Smith, Kerry Washington, Liza Koshy, Maya Rudolph
“I love the Tom Ford Skin Illuminating Powder because it applies like butter. It almost gives the look of a liquid highlighter. It comes with a highlighter and bronzer, but depending on your skin tone, you can use both as highlighters. They give a natural glow but can also be buildable without looking chalky.”
“The Dior palette is also a staple in my kit because it has a variety of colors and it’s a compact quad palette. You can apply a single shade or mix them to your liking. The highlighter gives a glossy wet look without looking unnatural. It’s a healthy glow without sparkle and glitter. I would say it’s a strong highlight, but you can totally go super light-handed if you want a subtle glow.”
“I like liquid highlighters because they are versatile. You can pump some of the product and mix it in with your foundation for a full dewy look, or you can just apply it on the high points of your face.”
“Liquid highlighter it gives off a very natural and radiant glow. It soaks into your skin and gives off an effortless lit-from-within look.”
Nick Barose, Celebrity Makeup Artist
Celebrity clients: Lupita Nyong’o, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Willow Smith
“Darker skin already has its own highlight, so anything too frosty or shimmery will just be too much. I prefer liquid highlighters that set to a velvety finish with a gentle sheen. They make skin look luminous by reflecting light but without being frosty or metallic, which is extra obvious on darker skin and makes it look dry—not glossy.”
“Avoid highlighters that are too light. Pick it according to your undertone so it matches your foundation. People tend to pick ones that are too light because it looks obvious, but a good highlight is gentler and doesn’t scream frosty from across the room.”
Tasha Reiko Brown, Celebrity Makeup Artist
Celebrity clients: Logan Browning, Alicia Keys, Regina Hall, Letitia Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross
“For extra-deep skin tones, this is my go-to. The color has a touch of red-bronze to really pull out and showcase the warmth in the red undertones. The texture is so smooth you can skip a brush and use your fingers pressed right into the powder.”
“This color is ideal for true medium brown shades. It’s the perfect bronze tone. The stick texture is smooth and buttery, so blending is easy—even for unsure hands.”
“For lighter caramel tones, this one gives you a sunkissed glow that’s believable. It’s the perfect pinkish-gold that’s bright yet doesn’t tip over into a frosty, unflattering pearl. This powder can be applied dry for a subtle glow or applied wet for an amped-up sheen.”
Nina Park, Chanel Makeup Artist
Celebrity clients: Laura Harrier, Naomi Scott, Lily-Rose Depp
“When I want to create a lit-within-glow on my clients, I like to use this Flesh Beauty liquid highlighter on the highpoints under foundation. The reason I do this is once the foundation is blended on top, there is a subtle hint of radiance that peaks through without being overpowering. I also love to mix a few drops into the foundation if I want an all-over glow to the face or body.”
“When I want the skin to have a dewy sheen, I always reach for Chanel Baume Essentiel in Transparent. Many times, highlighters can be too metallic or bright. I love this particular one, as it subtly highlights to mimic skin.”
“If I want to create a bronzy glow, the shade Golden Light is the perfect warm highlighter for a radiant sun-kissed effect. I place this balm on the tops of the cheeks, above the arch of the brow, and bridge of the nose with my fingers. This is usually my last step when applying makeup so I can accentuate certain features like the cheekbones or eyelids.”
“If I want a subdued, diffused highlight, I reach for a powder highlighter. Recently, I’ve been loving the Makeup Forever Pro Light Fusion Highlighter in Golden. I like to use a tapered blending face brush and lightly sweep this across the sides of the forehead, cheekbones, and chin. For a more concentrated glow, I use a small tapered eye shadow blending brush and build the intensity. This powder highlighter also looks amazing on the collarbone, wrists, and forearms for any red carpet.”
Neil Scibelli, Celebrity Makeup Artist
Celebrity clients: Yvette Noel-Schure, Teni Panosian, Elle Macpherson, Larsen Thompson
“For those with deeper skin tones, I would recommend looking for highlighters that contain warm undertones, like golds and deep orange to red tones. I would suggest steering away from any highlighters that are too icy or frosty, which can oftentimes cast a grey finish on deeper skin. I really love Milani’s Baked Highlighters because they’re all warm-toned and offer a range of deep tones. They’re also super finely milled so there’s no chalky, powdery buildup on the skin.”
Fiona Stiles, Celebrity Makeup Artist
Celebrity clients: Gabrielle Union, America Ferrera, Lilly Singh, Katherine Langford
“Highlighters on darker skin tones should have a gold or bronze tone to them. Anything cool-toned will look ashy on the skin. I prefer my highlighters to either have a satiny sheen or to be a very smooth highlighter. Anything with big obvious particles of shine or glitter makes me crazy, as they don’t feel seamless on the skin. Even if makeup is bold or even borderline theatrical, it should still feel integrated into the skin and like a part of the face.”
When going in with powder highlighters, Stiles notes that placement is key. She suggests sweeping this Beautycounter highlighter along the tops of the cheekbones to catch the light.
More Editor-Approved Highlighters
Barose told us he stays away from any metallic, frosty powders when working with darker skin since they look too harsh and not at all like real skin. We love a soft option for deep tones so it blends right into the skin.
This champagne-hued highlighting gel is on the lighter end of the highlighting spectrum, but it’s the soft, golden undertone that makes it a match for darker skin tones. As Brown puts it, “I avoid highlighters with opal or pearl sheens, as it’s not a natural or complementary shade that appears in deeper tones and can read very false. It’s literally on the opposite end of the color wheel.”
Avendaño warns against powder highlighters with any dense glitter in them. Not only does he say they’re unnatural looking, but they also tend to have fallout throughout the day. Brown agrees, stating that “the perfect texture of the product to me is when the pearl particles are finely milled, so it’s an elegant sheen and not a glittery one.”
“In general, the perfect highlighter for deep tones should have golden and warm undertones. Shades of caramel, bronze, and chocolate with a gold pearl are ideal,” Brown told us. This liquid highlighter by Nyx hits all the marks.
This fool-proof highlighter stick can be applied anywhere, any time. Simply stamp the smooth, glossy sheen onto your skin and blend with the attached brush or your fingers. This shade is truly stunning on brown girls.