10 best highlighters
Calling all glow-getters: we’ve got you covered, from liquids to powders
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Can any makeup-lover remember a world where highlighters didn’t exist? We certainly can’t. It seems sacrilege to forget this illuminating step in our daily routine, especially as the contouring trend continues its reign – it’s essential to highlight as well as sculpt.
A good highlighter will help accentuate the highest points of your face, adding radiance to your complexion while defining features with an extra pop of glow. To help decide where to place the product, use natural light and apply where it hits your face naturally; cheekbones, the bridge of your nose, your cupid's bow, and the brow bone are the popular sweet spots.
Things to watch out for are products which contain glitters that are just too chunky (even the most avid glow lover doesn’t want to walk around looking like a disco ball), liquids that seep through your matte base, powders that come up chalky, and shades that look great in the pan but appear dull on the skin.
Your applicator depends on which formula you’re using, powders are applied best with a fan brush, but liquids and creams are better with a sponge. Another trusted technique is applying non-powders with your fingertips, as this will naturally warm up the product and help it blend effortlessly into the skin, or on top of your base.
If you want a more intense glow, spray your brush with a setting spray before applying – this will not only brighten your highlight but will also help set the product for long wear. Whether you’re into products that offer a sheer, healthy glow, an iridescent sheen or a full on blinding highlight, our roundup has them all – we tested liquids, powders, cushion highlighters (yes, they exist) and creams to give you our verdict.
Stila Heaven’s Hue Highlighter: £29, Feel Unique
Stila’s offering lives up to its name with its heavenly finish, effortless application and buildability. The unique cushion formula is the perfect balance between a powder and a cream: it’s bouncy to the touch meaning it’s best applied with your fingertips, but the creamy consistency gives you more control than a powder when you apply it to the high points of your face. Our tester describes the finish as a wet-look sheen without the dewiness of a liquid. She loved how it immediately melted into the skin without breaking down her foundation as many liquids do.
The highlighter contains light-diffusing particles to help intensify the glow, but isn’t too glittery. Heaven's Hue adds extra radiance to the skin while still looking natural, but is also buildable enough to create a serious pop of highlight for a night out. It lasts all day, too. Our favourite shade was Brilliance, a multi-dimensional gold, which we think will turn heads.
TheBalm Bonnie-Lou Manizer: £20, Beauty Bay
TheBalm holds a special place in our hearts for creating one of the OG highlighters, the Mary-Lou Manizer, before the strobing trend really took off. We’ve chosen Mary’s golden counterpart – Bonnie-Lou – in our roundup, a darker shade that looks incredible on warmer skin tones. The powder formula is creamy and blends like a dream, and scores up top for longevity – the subtle shine stayed all day. This claims to also double up as an eyeshadow. We particularly loved to apply it on the brow bone for that extra pop and found it blended well with our eyeshadow.
We’d recommend applying with a fan brush for optimum results. The high-quality kitsch packaging is also a bonus. If you’re pale, opt for cult buy Mary Lou.
Huda Beauty 3D Highlighter Palette: £40, Cult Beauty
Makeup mogul Huda Kattan built her billion dollar business Huda Beauty through Instagram and every product from the brand is highly anticipated. Huda’s line is renowned for high coverage and long wear, and this palette didn’t disappoint. The four shades consist of three powders and one cream, which is a perfect base to apply before powder for an intense glow. We loved the cream on its own too, but would recommend warming up the product on your fingertips before applying to help blend.
The pan sizes are generous, which makes the price justifiable, but if you’re not into gold-based highlighters and prefer cooler shades, this isn’t for you. The brand recommends each shade for different highlighting stages: the cream for prep, the light powder to set, the darker bronze to sculpt and the pink for blush. Each formula delivers intense coverage without chalkiness. This is an ideal product for nights out.
BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter in Opal: £30, Cult Beauty
Another cult classic, BECCA’s highlighters are renowned for their buttery formula that blends effortlessly. We especially love the shade Opal, a universally flattering white gold that looks gorgeous on all skin tones. Less is more with this. We recommend applying lightly with a brush and building until you achieve your desired finish. This product lasts for ever and will become a staple in your makeup bag; our tester reaches for it daily. The buildable formula means you can create both a subtle everyday shine, or an intense, wet-look glow for an evening.
Fenty Beauty Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter Duo: £26, Harvey Nichols
Rihanna expanded her legacy to the world of cosmetics last year, launching her makeup line that has since been championed for its diverse shade ranges and product quality. Her yellow-gold highlighter shade Trophy Wife took Instagram by storm, but we particularly love the Killawatt duo palette, which includes the shades Mean Money and Hu$tla Baby.
The pink-toned colours are rich and creamy in consistency, the paler shimmer provides a more muted shine which we loved as a brow highlight – but our favourite is Hu$tla Baby, an gorgeous champagne gold that gives an intense shine to your cheekbones. After blending like butter and lasting all day, our tester thought this to be one of her new favourite formulas. Plus, who wouldn’t want to glow like Rihanna, the goddess herself?
Doll Beauty Pretty Little Glow Highlighter: £15, Pretty Little Thing
Another brand that has taken the Instagram world by storm, Doll Beauty is run by two makeup artists who were inspired by a lack of high-quality products at affordable prices. Their brand is as about as pretty and pink as things get, but we were impressed with their highlighter formula at such a modest price. It’s creamy and blends easily, without compensating on shine intensity.
Our tester described the shade Pretty Little Glow as a pink-toned, duo chrome highlight with yellow gold undertones. It reflects beautifully when light hits the skin. To really make this shade pop, we’d suggest laying down a cream highlighter as a base, or spraying your brush with setting spray before applying.
Mac Extra Dimension Skinfinish Whisper of Gilt: £25.50, Look Fantastic
Mac were ahead of the curve when it came to the highlighting trend, they pioneered strobing with their liquid highlighters and powders, a cult favourite of ours is Soft & Gentle. They had gone off the radar on the highlighter trend before releasing their Extra Dimension Skinfinishes, but this true white gold failed to disappoint.
Scoring up top for coverage, Whisper of Gilt looks just as gold on the skin as it does in the pan. Its multidimensional, liquid to powder formula delivers just the right amount of shimmer without too much glitter and blends like butter. We think this shade is really versatile considering it’s such a true gold. It would truly pop on darker skin tones.
Maybelline Face Studio Chrome Extreme Highlighter: £8.99, Boots
This is hands down the best drugstore highlighter we’ve tried; it scored just as well on colour payoff, blendability and long wear as most of its pricier counterparts. Maybelline’s Chrome Extreme highlighter line has an impressive shade range that caters for all skin tones. Our glow didn’t fade throughout the day like we’ve experienced with other affordable products, and it blended well on top of our tester’s foundation. These feature light-reflecting pigments that offer a high shine, metallic finish. The colour payoff is truly impressive at such a reasonable price. If you’re on a budget, look no further.
Iconic London Illuminator Drops: £30, Iconic London
If you haven’t seen these highlighter drops in action all over Instagram, then you’ve been living under a rock. Iconic London’s classic illuminators have been sported by the Khloe Kardashian, inspiring other brands to follow suit on the liquid hype. These aren’t for the faint-hearted and definitely deliver the most intense glow on our list.
What we love about the illuminator drops is how versatile they are; not only do they give the glossiest, wet-look sheen to your cheekbones, but you can also add an extra pop of radiance to your body if you’re dressing up. We applied it to our shins, shoulders and collarbones before a night out and loved the extra healthy glow it gave our skin.
Unlike many other liquid highlighters, these drops didn’t break through our powder or foundation when applied to a matte base. We warmed the product up with our fingertips and dabbed onto the skin gently, a little goes a long way. Still not convinced? It’s also vegan, there are other shades to suit all skin tones and Iconic’s whole range is cruelty-free.
Illamasqua Beyond Powder Highlighter: £28.90, Look Fantastic
A brand renowned for high-end quality, Illamasqua’s offering is the most traditional powder formula we’ve tried, yet it delivered the most unique finish on our skin. We were sceptical of how chalky the powder seemed at first, but it gives a frosted, iridescent finish that we loved. We were particularly impressed with the shade Dazed for paler skin tones, its pearlescent hue has purple undertones that shift beautifully in the light.
If you’re looking to intensify its finish, spray your brush with setting spray before applying. Illamasqua’s packaging was our favourite out of all the products we tested, it feels truly luxury. The brand has also always stood firm on its stance on animal testing and all its products are 100 per cent cruelty-free.
The Verdict: Best highlighters
We loved Stila’s Heaven’s Hue highlighter for its creamy formula, colour and shine pay-off and longevity on the skin. If you are a fan of theBalm’s cult classic, you will want to invest in Bonnie-Lou Manizer. If you’re looking for an expensive glow without having to break the bank, Maybelline’s Face Studio Chrome Extreme highlighters are real winners.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.