Highlighters & Illuminators: Get Glowing The Right Way
Curious about the shimmery world of highlighters and illuminators, but not sure which one to use where? The glow-givers are similar, but not the same. In short, highlighter is for specific, concentrated areas of light, while illuminator casts light more generally over the entire face. We’ll break down the difference between highlighter and illuminator in detail and give you a quick how-to lesson on each one.
What is a highlighter and what is an illuminator?
Face highlighter is the finishing touch to your lit look. It’s usually the last thing you want to apply after foundation and concealer. Unlike illuminators, highlighters don’t just come in liquid form. Highlighter makeup can be a powder or cream, too, and is often available as a highlighter stick, pen, or even a palette if you’re into strobing (an amped-up version of contouring focused exclusively on highlighting).
Face illuminator is used to enhance your complexion’s overall radiance and give it that softer, lit-from-within look. Especially during the winter months, illuminator makeup is ideal for imbuing your skin with a healthy-looking vitality and warmth. Although liquid illuminators are more common, many cream formulas also have illuminating benefits, especially those used to brighten the under-eye area.
How to apply highlighter / illuminator?
Whether you’re applying a highlighter powder with a brush or directly blending a highlighter pen, you want to place the product on the same areas of your face. Focus on the high points that would naturally catch the light—like on the cheekbones, under the brow bones, down the bridge of the nose, and a dab on your Cupid’s bow. Make sure to blend thoroughly with a brush, sponge, or your fingertips to get the most natural light-catching dimension possible.
When it comes to where to apply illuminator, the simplest answer is everywhere. To do this, layer your illuminator under your foundation or try mixing it with your foundation to soften the effect. Some illuminators are more intense than others and better for specific areas that need additional brightening, like under the eyes, along the brow bone, or in the hollow of the chin.
Try These Highlighter Looks
- Sunlight: Give your skin a sun-bathed look – think soft definition that mimics the effect of natural light. Go for the gold with radiant, sun-kissed shades in golden tones that caste a bright spotlight on your best features. Eyes: Create warm-toned eyes with a metallic bronze shade on the lids, a raspberry shade in the crease and a pop of gold at the center. Cheeks: Sweep bronzer around the perimeter of the face, then add a peach blush and a champagne highlight for a golden sheen. Lips: Swipe on a coral lip shade, pat a gloss onto the center of the lips and brush a highlighter across the top of the cupid’s bow.
- Prismatic Light: Give you skin a holographic look – think pastel, rainbow, and otherworldly shades for dramatic definition. Embark in otherworldly glamour with extreme highlight and glow using multi-coloured, holographic shades in metallic finishes. Any one of Becca Shimmering Skin Perfectors should do the trick. Eyes: Sweep an iridescent turquoise shadow across the lids. Add an ethereal pink to the inner corners, and finish with blue mascara. Cheeks: Layer a holographic amethyst highlighter across cheekbones, and add a touch of petal pink blush to the cheeks. Lips: Apply balm and a pastel lilac lipstick. Pat gloss onto the center of the lips, and brush a pearlescent highlighter along the cupid’s bow.
- Candlelight: Set the mood with warm tones and highlighters that have incandescent blurring properties. Pair them with amber-hued contour shades for a full look. Try Benefit High Beam, a shimmering pink highlighter that’s both demure and fashion-forward.
- Night Light: Own the night with cool-toned highlighters that blur imperfection and pair with gray-to-blue hued contour shades. The results are pearly opalescence.
- Rose Quartz Radiance: Discover the Rose Quartz Radiance look, inspired by pearlescent pastel hues like soft pink and rose gold present in rose quartz crystals. Flaunt an ethereal, lit-from-within glow with pinkish hues on the eyes, cheeks and lips. Finish the look with natural-looking lashes and loose curls for a trendy K-beauty vibe.
- Citrine Glow: Inspired by yellow gold citrine crystals, the luminous look is all about glistening gilded hues. Go full glam and opt for shades of champagne gold and warm gold on your eyelids, cheekbones, nose bridge and pout. For a head-turnin’ finish, choose supercharged, high-intensity highlighters that catch the light at every angle.
- Opal Iridescence: Much like holographic highlighters, opal stones flash iridescent hues when viewed from different angles. This opal-inspired look is all about getting an otherworldly sheen with shimmery and holographic highlighters in lavender, violet and blue hues.
Both highlighters and illuminators can give your skin angelic light-catching dimension, but the application and end results are different. Learn more about how to apply highlighters in our Highlighters Makeup Guide or discover the best highlighters in our Best Highlighters Buying Guide. Find your perfect glow with the best highlighter and best illuminators when you shop online at Sephora.