Do you remember the last time you didn’t put on
highlighter? I don’t, because I never forget. I feel more naked without it than I would if I absentmindedly got on the subway just like I do every morning, but forgot my pants at home. Nothing — nothing! — rivals my love for a really good highlighter.
But with so many in the world — in all shapes, sizes, and formulas (liquids, creams, powders, gels…) — how am I to really know which ones are the best? I set out to find the answer by trying some of the best-selling highlighters from both drugstore and prestige beauty brands, testing formulas as budget-friendly as $10 to ones that are pushing a $50 price tag.
The result? A ton of winners I’d recommend to a friend… and some less-impressive options I might skip the next time around. My honest opinion, ahead.
The Highlighter: Milk Makeup Highlighter in Lit
The Claims: An everyday highlighter that’s not too much — but not too little — for a natural, dewy glow. Milk Makeup, $24, available at Milk Makeup
The Verdict: I do enjoy a natural — kind of oily — glow, so this really hit every mark. Granted, the sheen is hard to catch on camera (again, “natural”), but it made me feel sexy and sweaty in all the right ways.
The Highlighter: Fenty Beauty Match Stix Shimmer Skinstick in Confetti and Starstruck
The Claims: Long-wear formulas packed inside a lightweight, shimmery highlighting stick. FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA, $24, available at Sephora
The Verdict: I always thought that if I used Fenty Beauty, I’d turn into Rihanna. Obviously, I did not, and sadly, these sticks aren’t my favorite of the bunch. I had to use both, one on top of the other, to get the kind of Bad-Gal glow I had been expecting. But while the formula itself is a bit dry for my personal tastes, the color options are downright hypnotizing. Every last one looks like a piece of sweet, sugary candy, and frankly, that’s exactly why I’d spend almost $30 on most of them (although, if you have to get one over the other, go for Starstruck or Yacht Lyfe).
The Highlighter: L’Oréal Paris Infallible Longwear Shaping Highlighter Stick in Slay in Rose/Gold Is Cold
The Claims: A sheer, long-lasting highlighting stick fit for every skin tone (there are two shades in the line). L’Oreal Paris, $10.99, available at Target
The Verdict: This is… sheer. Yes, I knew it would be, but I was still slightly disappointed by how sheer it really was. Don’t be fooled by the bright gold and rosy colors in the actual stick, because on skin, the finish is somewhat like the RMS Living Luminizer: glossy and virtually colorless. Still, the glow was nice enough, and probably more fit for a highlighter novice.
The Highlighter: Stila Heaven’s Hue Highlighter in Luminescence
The Claims: A buttery highlighter (with a bit of bounce) that leaves behind a “gossamer-light” glow. Stila, $32, available at Sephora
The Verdict: I have a friend who adores these highlighters. Because of that, I had high hopes. “How do I use this?!” I texted my friend the morning I decided to try it out. “Do I use my fingers or a brush?!” I had no idea why the pigment was not immediately beaming from my cheekbone. Now I know: This is what Stila means by “gossamer-light.” The result is a delicate highlight that looks super natural, in a pretty array of colors. (Now that I’m looking at my selfie, I’d give this a nine out of 10.)
The Highlighter: Hourglass Vanish Flash Highlighting Stick in Bronze Flash
The Claims: A weightless, soft-focus highlighter with a formula that adjusts to body temperature to blend with your skin. Hourglass, $42, available at Sephora
The Verdict: I’ve been a fan of these highlighting sticks for a while now because of the unique triangular shape, which allows for a more precise application of the product. Speaking of the product, it goes on incredibly creamy (like butter, as they say) and leaves behind a believable glow that isn’t blinding, but is still visible enough that the person next to you on the subway will be impressed.
The Highlighter: Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highligter in Moonstone
The Claims: A high-impact pressed highlighter that adjusts to your skin tone for a seamless glow. Becca, $38, available at Sephora
The Verdict: I wanted to hate this highlighter just because everyone — and I mean everyone — adores it. But I hopped on the bandwagon the second I swept the first layer of powder across my cheekbones, down my nose, and all over my temples. I loved it so much, I got carried away and put another layer on. When I die, I want to be buried with this highlighter.
The Highlighter: Glamglow Glowpowder Hyaluronic Acid Infused Glow Palette
The Claims: Infused with hyaluronic acid and Brazilian golden clay, this highlighter adds shine and smooths fine lines. GlamGlow, $42, available at Sephora
The Verdict: As one of the first makeup products to ever come from GlamGlow, I was skeptical at first. But I ended up enjoying the intense highlighter so much, I skipped a few days of the challenge just to use a combo of these three shades over and over again. Speaking of, the formula is very pigmented — and proves to be just as ‘grammable as the brand’s popular face masks.
The Highlighter: Maybelline Master Strobing Stick in Medium Nude Glow
The Claims: An illuminating highlighter that brightens and adds dimension, but won’t clog your pores. Maybelline, $7.99, available at Target
The Highlighter: Tarte Amazonian Clay 12 Hour Highlighter in Exposed
The Claims: A buildable highlighter that lasts up to 12 hours. Tarte, $29, available at Sephora
The Verdict: Truth be told, I’ve been wearing this highlighter on and off for about three years. It’s one of those long-lasting formulas that really does stay put from morning ’til night without melting or adding to the gleam of T-zone grease. The glow is noticeable, but not overwhelming, making this powder fit for beginners and experts alike.
The Verdict: I was immediately drawn to this highlighter because of its compact size (it’s cute, right?), but was saddened when I realized it’s not quite as pigmented as I hoped. The finish is similar to that of L’Oréal’s, and while it certainly strobes your cheekbones, it doesn’t offer a very impactful sort of glow in the process. In my humble opinion, the liquid version of this highlighter is better.
The Highlighter: Nyx Away We Glow in Glazed Donuts
The Claims: A concentrated dose of highlighter that works just as well alone as it does mixed with a base product. NYX Professional Makeup, $16.99, available at Target
The Verdict: The same friend who told me she loved the Stila highlighter also told me this is one of her new favorites, specifically because it looks expensive for a relatively affordable price. Unlike the former, this liquid highlighter is as concentrated as they say, and just a tiiiiiny dab on the top of my cheekbone went a long way. Oh, and it stayed on forever and a day during a New York City heat wave. The next time I wear it, I plan on diluting the intensity of the glitter with a liquid base because, wow, this is bright.
The Highlighter: L’Oréal True Match Lumi Drops in Daybreak
The Claims: Buildable glow-boosting highlighter drops that can be worn alone or mixed with other products. L’Oreal Paris, $11.99, available at Target
The Verdict: Since I was disappointed by the other L’Oréal highlighter, I decided to give this other one a fair try. I didn’t mix these liquid drops with my foundation or a lotion, but I did pat them on with my fingertip to the high points of my face and was left with a pretty pink glow. Unlike the Nyx drops, these didn’t grip my skin the second the product touched my face, so I had some time to blend the color around for a less striking highlight. These were so good, they made up for my disappointment in the Infallible stick.
The Highlighter: Marc Jacobs Dew Drops in Coconut Fantasy
The Claims: A lightweight, coconut-infused gel highlighter in a universally-flattering shade. Marc Jacobs Beauty, $44, available at Sephora
The Verdict: I’m already a faithful wearer of the golden version of this highlighter that launched last summer, so it was no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this one, too. Unlike other liquid highlighters on the market, this one blends right into the skin, so you’re not left with an obvious line between your foundation and your highlighter. It’s also the perfect option for summer, because nothing goes better with this rich, warm hue than a sun-kissed glow.
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