While in the back seat of an Uber, with the sun just right, I seized an opportunity to check out how the liquid shimmer I’d mixed into my moisturizer fared in natural light. I snapped a selfie, took a quick look, then jumped over to Instagram to check how a story of mine was performing (abysmally, alas). Just then I’d arrived at my meeting, so I put my phone to sleep and hopped out of the car.
Next thing I knew, my notifications were blowing up: “Gorg!” “Stunning!” DM’d my friends. I even got a few fire emoji. I had apparently — accidentally — posted a selfie to my Stories. No caption, no hashtags, not even my go-to, line-smoothing Paris filter. But my blue eyes were popping against my surgical mask and the skin (that you could see) was gloriously glowy from Iconic London’s Illuminator Liquid Highlight.
This isn’t my first radiance rodeo: In my 20s, I learned how to dot a little shimmer just at the inner corners of my eyes to make them twinkle. In my 30s, it was all about achieving the J.Lo Glow, swiping brushfuls of shimmery bronzer on top of self-tanner. But in my 40s, face makeup took a turn for the complicated: First came contouring and its counterpart, highlighting. Suddenly we were all applying war paint in an attempt to look perfectly sculpted. Then came strobing, which was all highlight, no contour, and shimmer settling into every fine line on my face. It was followed by baking, which meant brushes and blenders, a kilo of loose powder, and me passed out on the couch while YouTube played tutorial after tutorial. I was over it.
I remember not-so-fondly the last time I let loose with the shimmer, at a photo shoot in my early 40s. I felt pretty freaking fabulous on set, and when the pics came in, I showed them to my parents. My father’s words: “You look great for a 50-something local-news anchor.” Ouch, Dad.
My 50s started simply, with “natural finish” foundation, a little bronzer on the cheeks, and a pop of pink blush on the apples. I let a ring light do the heavy lifting any time I needed to appear on screen. But then a particularly charming publicist told me I had to consider Iconic London’s Illuminator. “It’s their best seller because it’s so versatile,” she told me. “You can put it everywhere.” I didn’t want to put it anywhere. The only thing I’d found highlighter highlights are lines, wrinkles, and crinkles. She started naming the product’s celeb fans: the Kardashians (shocker); Gigi Hadid (so what); Michelle Obama (okay, I’m listening); Jennifer Lopez. Still a sucker for a J.Lo glow, I asked her to send me a bottle. It never arrived, but I was curious enough to go to Sephora and shell out $40.
The Illuminator comes in four shades: Shine, with a bit of pink; Blush, a warm peachy-rose; Glow, a bronzy-terracotta color; and the Original, with champagne tones (the one I bought). Straight out of the bottle, this stuff is intimidatingly intense, with a foil-like finish. But the directions told me I could mix it with my foundation, primer, or moisturizer, which sounded less scary. Sitting in front of my lighted vanity, I mixed a few pumps of SkinMedica HA5 (the moisturizer I use as a primer) with a drop of the Illuminator, smushed it around, smoothed it into my skin, and looked in the mirror. My skin didn’t look at all like a wrinkled disco ball; more like I’d been lightly grazed by Tinker Bell. The formula is very concentrated, but it’s also so thin that one drop was actually too subtle for me. I took out my foundation, added two more drops to that, and applied it all over. To my surprise, my skin looked more natural, more alive, than without the Illuminator. Feeling bold, I applied it — undiluted — to all the places you’re supposed to highlight: across the tops of my cheekbones, under my brow bones, down the center of my nose, and onto my cupid’s bow. I looked like J.Lo (’s much older sister, but still, I was feeling myself). I checked in with makeup artist Yolonda Frederick-Thompson to find out why the Illuminator worked wonders when so many others had failed. The formula’s ability to warm and melt into the skin and its super fine reflective particles were the secret sauce. While other highlighters might sit on top of the skin, this one looks like it is your skin.
Instead of making my makeup routine more complicated, the Illuminator has made it easier. Recently I ran out of my fave foundation and had to mix some random stuff on the fly: a squirt of heavily pigmented, too-dark CC cream, a dribble from a drugstore foundation sample tube, a pump of HA5, and two drops of Illuminator. You’d have thought I was color-matched at the department-store counter the way it seamlessly blended into my skin. Whether I’m going nearly naturale or for the full glow-up, the Iconic London Illuminator makes it all work, every time.
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