Let us be clear that the first step to glowing skin is an excellent skincare regime and faithful hydration of the skin inside and out. That said, I like to glow much, much more than that. Enter highlighters.
Highlighters and blushers are my favorite face products, and the ones I most consistently wear. They are my desert island categories, the first things I reach for if I don’t have the time or the inclination to do more. Even if I am wearing nothing else, I am usually wearing these two things (and chapstick. Then brow gel, then lipstick, then mascara). And, just as I—and my oily skin—slightly prefer cream blush to powder, I slightly prefer cream and liquid highlighters to their powder counterparts. They are capable of an extremely sheer, seamless look on the skin, nearly undetectable with the right formula (also sublimely detectable with the right formula). I like the glossy, gleaming finish they provide and how effortless it is to apply them.
Looking for some glow inspiration? Don’t miss Lisa Eldridge’s definitive glowing skin tutorial.
In honor of summer, here are my top 10 cream and liquid highlighters.
Gold tones first, obviously my favorites:
Pat McGrath Skin Fetish in Golden, Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Opal, Josie Maran Argan Enlightenment Illuminizer, Chantecaille Liquid Lumiere in Brilliance, Benefit Watts Up
Pat McGrath Skin Fetish in Golden— The most golden of these options and the most natural on my skin. This has a firm, balm-like texture and leaves a sheer, even film of gold shimmer. I absolutely love this. The other side of the stick is a clear balm, great for giving a dewy, ultra natural look (Vaseline is also good for this, but a bit stickier). Totally effortless to apply, I just swipe it on my cheekbones and down my nose and pat a little around the edges. This will look yellow on very fair skin tones. Sadly limited edition.
Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Opal— I recommend getting a travel size of this as I can’t imagine getting through the whole thing. This has a moisturizer-like texture and is great to add to sunscreen/moisturizer to give an overall natural glow. Pat it on the high points of the face for a beautiful glow. This is a peachy gold (the other colors in this line are nice as well, the beauty community has been raving about these for years) that I can imagine flattering most skin tones. You only need a drop and the finish is lovely, grown up shimmer.
Josie Maran Argan Enlightenment Illuminizer— This is what I reach for when I want a more conspicuous glow. This is the thickest consistency of the group, and the most opaque. This is not especially subtle but it is stunning. This is a slightly rosy but still true gold with serious impact. Use sparingly, a little goes a long way. Also cannot imagine needing the full size of this, I picked up a travel size on eBay. Perfect for high summer.
Chantecaille Liquid Lumiere in Brilliance— Most similar to the Josie Maran in consistency though a bit thinner. Excellent for mixing with moisturizer or foundation to add a general glow. Like the Josie Maran this gold shade is stunning on darker skin tones. I like a lot of the highlighters offered by brands that focus primarily on skincare, they tend to have lovely textures. I would say Josie Maran is in this camp as well, along with Lancome and the other luxury brands offering full skincare and makeup collections (Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, etc). I didn’t include the Dior Glow Maximizer Primer here but it can be used alone as a lovely, subtle highlighter as well, as can the Becca Backlight Priming Filter, both most similar in texture to the Lancome below.
Benefit Watts Up— Again, get the travel size if you can, this thing will last ages. This is a firm, stick formula, a little drier than the Pat McGrath but similarly effortless to apply and blend. I find these stick formulas the easiest to use in that you don’t have to worry about them moving around much on you. The more liquid formulas can start to take over your face if you aren’t attentive with your blending, which I usually do with fingers. They are also the kind of formula you can spend the least amount on and still get great results. Sonia Kashuk has a great little glow stick, and the LE Wet N Wild ones are surprisingly nice, too. Where the higher end ones tend to stand out is in the fineness of the shimmer particles and their uniform consistency (less patchy). The Benefit one is what I keep in my bag as it is so tiny, and so quick and easy to use.
The pearl tones:
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate Intensity One, rms Beauty Living Luminzer, MAC Strobe Cream, Lancome Eclat Miracle, Homeoplasmine
Alas, I couldn’t capture these at all, despite heavy swatches. Really it’s a testament to how subtle they can be on the skin.
Tom Ford Shade and Illuminate Intensity One— True white pearl color. This gives a lovely dewy finish, probably the best balance of natural yet difference-making in the bunch. That said, I’d say not worth the price unless you had definite plans for both products here given how many great alternatives there are.
rms Beauty Living Luminzer—A coconut oil base with great skincare ingredients, note that some skintypes won’t like coconut oil. Super sheer and natural, also a true white pearl shade, very pretty. Not my favorite packaging.
MAC Strobe Cream— A cult favorite for good reason, a thin cream great for mixing with moisturizers and foundations. A slightly pink tinged pearl color that is really pretty on fair skin tones. The most holographic of these options. Not especially natural but in a good no-doubt-about-it-we-are-glowing way. Get the travel size.
Lancome Eclat Miracle—My latest acquisition, a classic that was recently re-launched when Lisa Eldrige became creative director at Lancome, picked up entirely because of her strobing tutorial using it. Another one that is great to dilute with moisturizers/foundations and nearly undetectable on the skin. The luminous finish is really similar to the Tom Ford despite the consistency being much more fluid.
Homeoplasmine— The French pharmacy classic, essentially an all-purpose salve similar to Vaseline but a bit firmer. Endless beauty uses, including patting on the cheeks (or eyelids) either alone or on top of existing products to give a dewy finish, pinching onto the eyelashes so they catch the light, wearing as chapstick, rubbing into dry patches of skin, etc. Seems like every makeup artist has this in their kit.
Have you tried any of these? It seems like the whole world wants to glow at the moment, one of those trends I find a bit annoying because: yeah, obviously! I’ve been doing this for years. Psh. What I appreciate about a trend, though, if I happen to like it, is that it usually means a nice new selection of products to meet the demand.
This is rather a lot…but acquired over years of glow-preoccupation. I reach for different textures and colors to meet the demands of a given context and have them spread out over various bags and stations for convenience. And after all, I do have a blogthing…
One I am definitely going to try, too, is the stick highlighter Glossier just launched, Haloscope.
Going to have to give powder highlighters their own post. Really I love both, and layering.