Light Up Your Life: Highlighter 101


Ever wonder how celebrities get such glowing, ethereal skin? It’s not all fancy facials and expensive aesthetician visits. With the right highlighter and proper know-how, you can fake it!

Sometimes called “luminizer,” highlighter comes in many forms, from cream to liquid to powder. While you use darker colors for contouring, highlighting brings your features forward and makes skin look younger and more dewy. Because you can find it in so many different shades and finishes, deciding which highlighter is right for you can be daunting. We consulted celebrity makeup artist Julianne Kaye, the official Maybelline Beauty Expert on the NBC series Fashion Star, to learn all about highlighting techniques and how to find the perfect product for you.

Choosing a shade: gold- or silver-based?

When it comes to highlighter, one size doesn’t fit all. To select the right shade for yourself, keep your undertones in mind. “When I’m working with a darker skin tone, like my client Tia Mowry, or someone of Latin descent, I tend to go with more of a gold-based shimmer that’s on the warmer side,” says Julianne. One of our favorites is NARS Illuminator in Laguna. For lighter skin, Julianne recommends a silvery or champagne colored tone, like RMS Beauty Living Luminizer. MAC Strobe Cream works for a wide range of skin tones, because it’s a mica pearl pigment that’s multi-colored.

“Sometimes in a pinch I’ll use a shimmering shadow if I can’t find something in my kit,” says Julianne. Eyeshadows from a line with a wide range of colors, such as Inglot Freedom System, work great for those seeking a custom shade to use as a highlighter.

For an everyday, natural application

According to Julianne, some tend to overdo highlighting, and it can end up looking silly. “The whole point of highlighter is to look like you’re naturally glowing and have a perfect complexion,” she says. So how does she wear it herself? Lately, simply by mixing it into her tinted moisturizer: “For a consumer in everyday life—like for me, I’m pushing 40 and my skin’s not looking so radiant—all I do is wear a tinted moisturizer and a little bit of the luminizer in it to get the glow and it looks beautiful in person.” The technique is great for everyday, especially if you want people to think you have beautiful skin and look gorgeous and dewy.

Red-carpet-ready technique

When Julianne is doing a client for the red carpet, she avoids highlighting all over, because that tends to look really shiny in photographs. If you're going to be photographed, Julianne suggests placing luminizer anywhere that protrudes: the high planes of the cheeks, down the bridge of the nose, and the cupid’s bow to give the illusion of a fuller lip. Another great trick is to apply a stick highlighter (like Nars The Multiple) over foundation, and then go over it with a powder highlighter. “You’ll have that lit-from-within beautiful glow!” she says.

If Julianne could choose only one highlighting product...

… she’d pick Ambient Lighting Powders from Hourglass. “There are seven options for mood lighting, candlelight, dim light, and they’re so, so, so gorgeous—different ranges of golds, silvers, and bronzes. Hourglass is just an amazing brand, and the powder is super finely milled, and not full of chunky mica as some highlighting powders can be,” she says.