not a professional. just crazy.

The 12 Best Highlighters I Use to Brighten Sad Winter Skin

See the light. Photo: Rio Viera-Newton

I am unapologetically addicted to highlighter, especially in fall and winter months when my skin is duller than usual. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I practically face-plant into my highlighters when I’m doing my makeup and stand by that application technique. When I’m able to control myself, I’ve found that the best way to utilize highlighter is to treat it like an enhancer — on my cheekbones (to make them look higher), brow bones (to make them look sharper), and cupid’s bow (to make my lips look slightly fuller).

With a lot of makeup tricks, like contouring or creating bold brows, the stakes are high (a bad contour is a really, really bad contour), and mastering the craft can feel incredibly daunting. Highlighter, on the other hand, is subtle — which makes it pretty difficult to make a tragic mistake as you’re walking out the door to work. So if you’re not yet in the highlighter game (crazy), let me help you jump in by walking you through the products currently in my makeup bag.

This was the first highlighter I ever truly loved. Instead of straightforward shimmer, this highlighter provides a sort of subtle, opal-y pigment, so it’s super pretty for both day and night looks. If you’re new to the highlighter game and you’re looking for something you can play around with — a highlighter that can be subtle or beaming, depending on how much you put on — then this is definitely worth purchasing. This is a really reliable highlighter that I throw in my bag for touch-ups if I know I’ll be going out after work.

A beauty peer of mine deeply judged me for having not tried this, and now I understand why. If you’re into the dewy look and don’t mind a subtle shimmer, this highlighter is an absolute must-have. Integrating a dewier, glossier highlighter during the fall can sometimes be a challenge, as no one really has naturally wet-looking skin when it’s cold out, but anytime there’s a little bit of sun out, I throw this on (my shade is Glow). This is a great daytime highlighter — it’s subtle but does a great job of adding a little bit of extra radiance and shine to your skin. This highlighter is my newest obsession, and I actually can’t believe I once lived without it.


A less dewy but still creamy highlighter option would be this one from Glossier — I’ve written about it before. When it comes to daytime makeup, this product is one of my go-tos and certainly one of my most-used “natural” highlighters. Kind of like a Ben & Jerry’s core ice cream, this highlighter has a moisturizing center in the middle of the pigment, which provides a hydrated but not totally dewy effect.

Another incredible daytime highlighter recommended by one of my trusted peers, this highlighter pot from RMS has recently become a real favorite of mine. Not too intense and super easy to apply, this highlighter provides my skin with a perfectly glowy but not too shimmery appearance. I use this for both daytime and nighttime looks — it’s super buildable, so depending on your application, can appear either subtle or beaming.

This isn’t a traditional highlighter, but I felt it was worth mentioning. If you want an all-over highlight, rather than just a lift on the high points of the face, this priming product from Charlotte Tilbury is, frankly, out of this world. I love applying this all over right after I’ve moisturized, and then spot concealing or applying my foundation over it. It creates this amazing, glowy base that makes your entire skin look super radiant. I almost never use this during the day because its sparkle is a bit intense in the bright light.

Out of the Fenty beauty collection, I’ve found the Match Stix shade Starstruck to be the most natural on my skin tone — it’s a peachy, warm shade that you can bring over to the apples of your cheeks for a blushlike effect. But there’s a whole range of really fun shades to choose from — the applicator and blendability of the product makes it actually pretty easy to try a color that you might not typically reach for.

A question I get a lot from friends of mine is, “How do I get a highlighter that has absolutely no shimmer in it?” And truth be told, this is hard to find. Even products that claim there’s no shimmer in it — like Glossier’s Haloscope for example — do have little shimmery particles that will reflect in the light. So I present to you a mode of achieving a dewy, high-lit effect with absolutely no shimmer. This face gloss looks and feels almost like Vaseline — which makes it perfect for days when I’m trying to wear as little makeup as possible, but still want to achieve that glowy look.

In my opinion, Charlotte Tilbury makeup is some of the best when it comes to achieving that fun, more-glam-than-usual look without appearing too dramatic or cakey. And I almost always get compliments on my skin when I wear this. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a subtle highlight, but it’s not aggressive or unrealistic, either. My favorite part of this product is the applicator: It has a twist bottom and a circular sponge top that the product bleeds out of, which makes it super easy to bounce it across cheekbones and the brow bone. I warm this product up on my ring finger and buff it out.

This is probably the most intense, beaming highlight I ever integrate into my makeup rotation. It’s not overwhelmingly shimmery, but it’s definitely a strobelike experience. If you like an intense highlight, then you could totally wear this out during the day, but I personally tend to save it for glammed-up evenings.

This is one of my favorite highlighters to use with foundation — there’s something about the liquidy consistency of it that allows it to blend so seamlessly into makeup. Applying this can be a little tricky — after putting on foundation, I tend to drop two or three drops of it onto the back of my hand, pat a beauty blender in it, and then bounce it across the high points of my face.

I’m sorry about the price. Try to forgive me because, you guys, this product is everything. It comes as a pair, so you really feel like you’re getting the most for your money. This highlighter is super creamy and blendable, so even if you’re not an expert in highlighting, it’s a great product to learn with. I would probably only use the contour from this set at night, but this highlighter is good for all hours of the day. It’s not too extreme, but it will definitely leave you looking bright and well-rested.

I’m not really a powder girl, but on those rare occasions where I am having a powder moment, I’ll use the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder. I don’t know her too well, but she’s cute and I’m glad she’s there.

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The 12 Highlighters I Use to Brighten Sad Winter Skin