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How to apply highlighter for a sophisticated glow

Unsure about how to use highlighter? The key to a grown-up glow is in both the formulation and the application.

Can everyone wear highlighter?


One of the most common responses our makeup artists hear when talking about highlighter is, “my daughter wears that, so I can’t”. Now, it’s each to their own when they come to their makeup bag, but highlighter as a category shouldn’t be dismissed on the basis of its reputation for being super sparkly and excessively shiny.


The aim of a highlighter is to create a lit-from-within glow, enhancing the parts of the face that naturally catch the light when you move. A good highlighter will be almost undetectable as product, blending seamlessly into the skin to make your complexion appear dewy and more radiant. This is the grown-up take on highlighter, offering a more elegant, elevated way to wear it.


What form of highlighter is best?


Weighing up your options when it comes to powder or cream highlighter? If it’s a sophisticated glow you’re after, then cream has the upper hand. “If you use a cream highlighter, it’s going to look more natural,” explains Maryam Ahmed, Pro Makeup Artist at Trinny London. “With powders, unless they’re very, very finely milled, there tends to be chunky glitter in them and you can see the highlighter sitting on the skin. Instead of blending in, it will look like you have product on. Cream highlight, however, is designed for your skin to look amazing rather than your makeup looking amazing. Use it to create a glowy, natural vibe.”


There are also pros when it comes to simple, fuss-free application too. “Cream highlighter is a very easy product to use, compared to powder which needs to be applied with a brush. So, for on the go and travelling, it's a lot easier.”


Where to apply highlighter for a grown-up look


Sitting at your dressing table mirror with no idea where to begin when it comes to where to apply highlighter? “I would suggest that someone who doesn’t know where to apply highlighter looks in the mirror and moves their face to see where the light naturally hits,” says Maryam. “That’s exactly where you want to place the highlighter.” The light will bounce off of the “high points” of your face, which include your cheekbones, brow bones and just above the arch of your brow. “Use your ring finger (which has the lightest touch) to trace and apply the highlighter in those areas.”


Highlighter can also be used to add brightness and depth to other areas. “Just putting a dot of highlighter in the inner corner of your eyes is going to make you look instantly more awake,” says Maryam. “If you wanted a fuller lip, especially if you’re wearing a bold colour like a red, you could highlight on the top of the cupid's bow,” she adds. “You could also place some on top of your lip colour in the centre of your bottom lip.”


For an enhanced glow, you might also want to mix a little of your cream highlight in with your foundation. This will add a subtle shimmer to your base, giving your complexion a fresh-faced feel. If you’re wearing a scoop, low or strappy top, you could even take this down to your decolletage and across your shoulders.


Where not to apply highlighter


The key to subtle and sophisticated highlighter makeup is keeping your placement selective. Steer clear of the following spots:


  • Tip of the nose: “I would avoid putting highlighter on the tip of the nose,” says Maryam. “It feels quite Gen Z and Millennial. If you do want to highlight in that area, I would say bring it across the bridge of the nose very lightly. Then, when someone looks at you, their eye is instantly drawn to the centre of your face and your eye area.”

  • Chin: When talking about products like bronzer, the chin would be incorporated as a “high point of your face”. But, in the case of highlighter, it’s best avoided. “It can look a bit sweaty,” advises Maryam.

  • Upper lip: Same as with the chin, applying highlighter to your upper lip can quickly side-step into shiny territory. When applying highlighter to your cupid’s bow, take care not to stray above the lip line. Using a brush, or your little finger, to place the product onto the lips can help.

  • Under eyes: “Highlighter brings focus to elements of your face, while concealer is trying to hide and blur,” saya Maryam. “If you put highlighter over your under eye concealer then all you will do is defeat its purpose by attracting attention to any dark circles or puffiness. It’s also adding more unnecessary product to the area and making it more likely to crease.”


Does wearing highlighter mean you have to change your other makeup?


Worried that applying highlighter will throw a spanner into your makeup routine? Don’t be. Highlighter is compatible with all elements of your makeup.


How to contour and highlight together


Contour and highlighter play completely different roles, so there’s no need to worry about one treading on the toes of the other. While highlighter works to shine a spotlight on the “high points” of your face, contour works in the “low points” to amplify and deepen shadows. Wearing both together will allow you to really carve out your features for a sculpted, lifted look.


How to use bronzer and highlighter together


The advice on where to apply bronzer is very similar to the placement of highlighter. Bronzer looks most convincing when worn on the places the sun would naturally hit – again, those high points. One key difference is that you might want to apply bronzer to your nose and chin, whereas highlighter can look unnatural in these areas. On the cheekbones, where you’d ideally like to use both products, it’s important to stick to cream textures to stop the product rolling or caking. “If you wanted to layer, I would go bronzer than highlight,” says Maryam. “Or, you could mix them together using your finger for a brush and apply at once.” Half the time, double the glow.


How to wear blush and highlighter together


If you’re hoping to bring life and vibrancy to your complexion, blusher and highlighter make for the perfect glow-giving duo. Blusher is your chance to enhance or bring back any of your skin’s natural flush and colouring that may have been flattened or dampened by applying your base. So, by pairing it with highlighter, you’ll further enhance the appearance of fresh, healthy skin. Blusher will typically go slightly lower than your highlighter, but don’t stress if it overlaps slightly at the cheekbones. Applying your highlighter after your blusher will ensure both are visible.