How to Use Highlighter Makeup (Advanced Tips and Tricks)

Highlighter makeup has become the go-to technique for bringing dimension to your face and giving it a warm and even sparkly glow. Unlike contouring, which is hard to understand and difficult to do, highlighting is easy. Once you have identified the highpoints of your face, all you have to do is apply highlighter to them.

The only question that remains is how to use highlighters to the greatest effect on your face. Should you use powders or creams? What about mixing a liquid highlighter with a powder foundation? Check out these tips for a complete look at how to use highlighter makeup.

Where Should You Apply Highlighter?

Applying highlighter successfully is all about knowing where to apply it on your face. Once you have a handle on the basic locations to place highlighter, the only thing you have to do is:

  • Finesse your technique
  • Understand some product basics
  • Decide which colors and tones of highlighter looks best on your skin

For now, you need to know where to put the highlighter. The good news is that, even though everyone’s face is different, everyone has facial features that work with highlighters. You do not need to spend a lot of time figuring out where the best place on your face is to use highlighters. Everyone can use highlighter on the:

  • Brow bone
  • Nose bridge
  • Cupid’s bow
  • Cheekbones

As you may have guessed from the name, highlighter is designed to highlight the prominent features to give your face a sense of depth. Also, when smoothed in over prominent areas, it can give your skin a heavenly glow.

Other Places to Highlight

One hard and fast rule to highlight is this: less is more. You do not want to smear highlighter all over your face and end up looking like someone wrapped you in saran wrap. When in doubt, stick to the places listed above.

As you become more expert in applying the basics, then you can move on to using it more creatively. There are times when highlighting other areas of your body could be helpful, especially if you are going out to an event or a glamorous date night.

For example, depending on the outfit, for a fancy event, you could:

  • Highlight your collar bone
  • Highlight the front of your arms
  • Highlight the center of your legs

Remember, you do not need a lot. Just use a little to make these areas pop. Just like the word, highlighter makeup is best used in small, judicious amounts. You want these features to stand out, not to be in everyone’s face.

When to Apply Highlighter

One thing to keep in mind is that what is good for the evening is not always good for the day. In other words, the way you would use highlighter for that gala event is not the way you would use highlighter for a Monday at the office.

If you are going out and want to look like you just stepped off the runway, make full use of the places listed above, including your Cupid’s bow and the bridge of your nose. To these, you can also add:

  • The bottom of your chin
  • The middle of your forehead
  • The decolletage

These applications will look great in all the glitz and glamour of a big evening.

But for a day at the office, try something a little more toned down. Simple is better, so stick with highlighting your cheeks and maybe your brow bone.

What Kind of Highlighter to Use

There are many different kinds of highlighters. The most common and popular highlighters come in the following forms.

  • Pressed powder
  • Loose powder
  • Liquid
  • Cream

The question then becomes, what is the best form to use? Mostly the preference comes down to your personal style and how you want to use them. Each one has benefits that are worth considering depending on what type of skin you have and how you want your makeup routine to go every morning.

Powders are good for bringing out skin pigment tones, and powders are buildable. They also do not add oils, making them a good choice if you have oily skin. However, cream and liquid highlighters have their place, especially if you have dry skin. Also, like highlighters, they tend to create a more dramatic, sheer kind of look.

You can choose which kind works best for you, or you can go with different types depending on the effect you want to bring out (and if your skin can handle it, of course). Just remember, when it comes to highlighter and foundation, it is best not to mix types. Powder goes with powder, and liquid goes with liquid.

What Color Highlighter to Use

This is an area of personal preference. What color you use depends on how creative you want to be. You can go with something that is simply complimentary or something that makes a bold statement. If you want to go with a more natural look, then knowing something about your skin tone will help you choose the right highlighter.

Generally speaking, you want to use a highlighter that is a couple of shades lighter than your skin. If you have:

  • Light or fair skin, then you want to stick with a lighter colored highlighter, like silver or pearl
  • Medium skin tone, you would want to stick with warmer colors that use tones in the range of pink or peach
  • Deep or dark skin tones, you will probably want to use tones of gold or copper for your highlighting

However, these approaches can be switched out or mixed up. For example, if you have a deep skin tone and you want to bring out a futuristic look, you can use silver-colored highlighters to create it. You can even use a light on deep approach more subtly. It just depends on how you want to play with it.

Also, stay away from highlighters that are super dark or super light. They tend not to look good no matter what skin type you put them on.

What Applicators to Use

The applicator you will want to use depends in part on the kind of highlighter that you are applying: powder, liquid, or cream. Still, once again, personal preference comes into play here. You can use your finger if that is what you are most comfortable with. In general, though:

  • Use a brush for powder
  • Use a sponge for liquid
  • Use a pencil brush or your finger for cream

If you prefer a powder highlighter, use a small brush with some fluff to it, or you can use a fan brush. The idea is that you want something small that can enable you to focus on details, not broad application.

If you want to use a liquid highlighter, your finger is going to be one of the best easy-to-use tools that are readily available. But you can also use a sponge. With a sponge, you can sponge the liquid highlighter into the areas you want and smooth it out with your trusty fingertips.

Lastly, there are pencil brush applicators that you can use for cream highlighters. They can be handy because they are portable and easy to use.

How to Apply Highlighter

One of the most important things to remember about applying highlighter is that you need to stay consistent with the type of product that you are using for your foundation. If you use a powder foundation, then use a powder highlighter. If you use a liquid foundation, then use a liquid highlighter, and so on.

The other thing to keep in mind is to practice restraint when applying highlighter. A little goes a long way. Remember, you want pops, not punches. Finally, keep the order of when you apply highlighter in mind:

  • Apply your foundation and concealer first
  • Then apply powder, bronzer, blush, and contour (if you do contour)
  • Lastly, apply highlighter

The easy way to remember this is that highlighter is the last thing you put on. There are exceptions to this rule, but it is a good one to follow generally.

How to Apply Powder Highlighter

Keeping the general rule in mind of using like-kind products, if you do happen to use a liquid foundation and need to apply a powder highlighter, you first need to set the foundation with a translucent powder. This helps the powder highlighter go on smoothly and not cake or crack.

Ideally, though, you are applying powder to powder. That being the case:

  • Put your applicator brush into your powder highlighter
  • Knock off the excess so that you do not get too much on your face
  • With a smooth, sweeping motion, dust the highlighter across the areas you want to highlight

With this dusting motion, you can highlight the areas that were mentioned above: a sweep across the cheekbones, under the brows, and down the nose, and a dab on the Cupid’s bow.

How to Apply Liquid Highlighter

You want to apply liquid highlighter a little differently than mentioned above. Keeping the rule for liquid on liquid, apply the liquid highlighter right after applying your liquid foundation and before you brush on any powders or blush.

You will want to apply the liquid highlighter a little differently. Dab some on the area that you want to highlight, then smooth it out with a sponge or your finger to cover the whole area that you want highlighted.

So, if you want to highlight your cheeks, for example, dab some on the top area of your cheekbone and then smooth it out across your cheek.

How to Apply Cream Highlighter

The same approach applies to cream highlighter as to liquid. To keep it cream on cream, apply the highlighter right after applying the foundation.

In this case, if you do not have a pencil highlighter, using your finger is a good method for applying the cream. Swirling your finger in the cream highlighter warms it up so that it blends easier with your other makeup.

Once you have the cream ready to go:

  • Dab it on the areas you want to highlight
  • Smooth it out with your finger or a sponge

What to Do When You Apply too Much Highlighter

Sometimes highlighter gets out of control. Either you realize you have put on too much, or you enthusiastically highlight your entire face before stopping to take a look. Assuming you will do what most people do when playing around with highlighter, here are a couple of ways to minimize the problem.

First, you can take a brush that does not have anything on it and dust off the excess in highlighted areas or the highlighter in areas you did not want highlighted. This can help reduce some of the glow.

The second thing you can do is dip your brush in contour and run over the areas that you have accidentally highlighted or over-highlighted. This can reduce the sheen to a level that is tolerable.

One of the addicting things about highlighters is that they make your skin look super moisturized, as if you have actually been taking excellent spa-quality care of it. So if a little is good, a lot is better right? Wrong. Too much highlighter can backfire on you, so as you begin to play around with it, try to keep it under control.

A Fail-Safe Beginner Approach

If you are new to highlighting and need a way to start doing that is easy and will not make you feel like you are brushing against the brink of makeup disaster, you can try this approach. Brush your highlighter on in a V-shape:

  • Start applying at your upper temple
  • Go around your eye
  • Brush or sponge down across your cheekbone

With this approach, you can rest assured that you will highlight areas in a quick and reliable fashion.

Decide Which Parts of the Face to Highlight

There are a lot of opinions on what to highlight and what not to highlight. Many of the areas listed above would find disagreement with some people. So what are some of the areas in contention?

  • Temple
  • Forehead
  • Chin

Some makeup artists are adamant that the areas listed above should not be touched with a highlighter. They have their reasons. Called the T-zone, the forehead, middle cheek, and chin area can be very oily. This, together with the highlighter, can make those areas shine a little too much.

Others will say that you can highlight anything you want to. In other words, you can highlight small areas of any part of your face, but only those small areas. How do you determine which is right?

The Best Approach to Parts

Some of this has to do with learning the principles of highlighting and using those correctly, as opposed to learning a rule book of which parts you can put highlighter on and which parts you cannot. But some of it has to do with personal preference.

Just be sure you stick to using highlighter to accent small, specific areas. A good rule of thumb is to highlight those areas on your face that light would illuminate without any highlighter at all.

These areas tend to be along the bone structure of the face, which people normally recommend that you highlight. Also, be aware that some areas of your face may not show highlighter well because of oils and things like that.

Highlighter Styles

You can use highlighter to create or emphasize different looks depending on how you use it. You can make a whole look out of certain highlighter applications, or you can use it to bring other looks to the foreground:

  • You can highlight for the club
  • You can highlight for life on the go

Whatever you decide to do, not only can highlighter can be the difference between a look that pops and one that fizzles, it can be the pop and fizzle in and of itself.

Consider going a little lighter on the highlighter during the day because natural light makes heavy highlighter look distinctly unnatural. You can always take some with you and apply a deeper shade when night comes.

Highlighter on the Eyes

There are a couple of things to be aware of about using highlighter in connection with your eyes:

  • Do not use highlighter on the outside edge of your eyes
  • Do use highlighter on the inside corner of your eyes

If you apply highlighter around your eyes, particularly the outside edge, it tends only to emphasize how many lines you have in that area. Whether you call them smile lines or crow’s feet, most people do not want those emphasized.

However, if you dab a small amount of highlighter on the interior corner of your eye, that can draw attention to the color of your eyes rather than the lines that may be around them. Or, you can use highlighter on your eyelids the way you would use eyeshadow. It gives you that wide-eyed look.

Another cool thing you can do with highlighter is to make your smokey eye look pop. Take just a smidge of highlighter on your finger and dab it onto your eyelid after you have put the rest of the smokey eye look together.

A Modern Highlighting Style

One way to look modern with highlighting is to break with traditional views of it and highlight some areas that you may not otherwise want to highlight. This look involves highlighting above the eyebrow instead of below it.

In most highlighting applications, you will want to highlight the brow bone below the eyebrows. But one way to get a modern sheen to your makeup routine is to highlight above the eyebrows, starting at your temple and brushing it or smoothing it across your upper eyebrows.

Other Highlighting Techniques

While this article has drilled in the rule about powder on powder and liquid on liquid, etc., in terms of putting highlighter on foundation, it is worth noting that some highlighter techniques blend both cream or liquid highlighter and powder highlighter to create a special look.

These looks can give you a great red carpet look or make playful use of sparkly iridescence. Sparkle and shine have become perhaps a bit overused in the recent past, but the looks are still fun to play with.

Cream Base on Cheekbones

In this look, you start with the cheekbones and apply a cream highlighter just onto the cheekbones themselves by rubbing it in with your finger. The cream highlighter will act as a base for powder on the cheekbones. Then use a two shade combination powder highlighter:

  • Brush the powder highlighter over the cream highlighter on your cheekbones
  • Use a fan brush to apply the powder highlighter down your nose
  • Use a pencil brush to apply the powder highlighter under your brow bone, on your inner eye, and on your Cupid’s bow

The combination of cream and powder creates a great look that stabilizes the highlighter for long days, and just the right combination of shades in your powder highlighter can make for a really striking look.

Iridescent Eyes

In this look, you apply a cream highlighter more broadly as a base for the powder highlighter. This is how it works.

  • Use a cream highlighter and your finger to highlight your nose bridge, brow bone, and the tops of your cheekbones by tapping the highlighter onto those areas.
  • Use a pencil brush to apply cream highlighter to your inner eye and Cupid’s eyebrow.
  • Finally, use a brush to apply a powder highlighter that is iridescent around the outer eye area, going from the brow bone down to the cheekbones.

This look has a young flair to it but is not super over the top. It can follow you into the club or the grocery store without too much dissonance.

Highlighter and the No Makeup Look

Yes, you can add highlighter if you are going for a no or minimal makeup look. Just because you put a highlighter on after foundation does not mean that you have to have it there.

Rules of applying are generally the same. Put the highlighter on the areas of your face that you want to highlight, the nose, under the brow bone, Cupid’s bow, the cheekbones. Highlighting these without makeup will enhance the no-makeup look.

Just be sure you choose a shade that goes well with your own. If you pick a highlighter to stand out as a highlighter, then you may as well do the whole makeup routine.

Special Highlighting Techniques

If you are into highlighting, or even if you are just a beginner, there are still more tricks that you can have up your highlighting sleeve. Interested in unique looks? Want to save time? Out highlighting and need a way to improvise?

There is a surprising amount that you can do with highlighter and a lot of ways that you can improvise highlighter if you are currently out of it. Check out these tips below.

The Foundation Glow

Sometimes highlighting is not quite enough. You want a glow that covers your whole face. If you are searching for a look that gives your skin an overall glow, then try this trick:

  • Blend a little bit of your liquid highlighter with your liquid foundation
  • Apply the mixture with a makeup blender

Using this concoction gives your skin a moisturized glow that is hard to beat. Just keep in mind that you sacrifice the effect of the highlighter in its normal use (to highlight certain parts of your face) for a look that makes your whole face shine.

Homemade Highlighter

You woke late, and now you have to speed up your morning routine to get to work on time. This means that when you see the empty highlighter, you do not have time to get some on the way into the office. What do you do?

Grab your:

  • Facial Oil
  • Concealer
  • Makeup blender

Start by highlighting your cheekbones and all the other normal places with your concealer. Then when you are done with that, put a little bit of facial oil on your make blender and blend it into the concealer on your face. It works as a highlighter in a pinch.

The Special Glaze

If you want to give your highlighter a glazed look that shimmers, you can try this technique:

  • Dip your makeup brush in your highlighter
  • Then spray it with a face mist

With this technique, you can spread on highlighter with a gloss that gives your face an extra moist look without going overboard on the shine.

The Lip Boost

If you want to give your highlighter a little extra kick, then you have just found the right trick. It involves something that is readily at hand.

  • Apply your favorite highlighter
  • Rub in a little bit of lip gloss

Properly and conservatively applied, the lip gloss gives your highlighter just enough of a sheen that it pops more than it otherwise would.

Highlighter as Contour

For every rule, there is an exception that proves it. Contouring can be a complicated makeup art to master, but if you can achieve it, then you can get a sculpted look that really brings out the definition of your face.

So what if you could get that sculpted look using highlighter? Great question. And the answer is that yes, you can. It is a counterintuitive idea that can work if you play around with it.

The basic idea is to use highlighter in the same places you would use contour and contour in the same places you would use highlighter. You swap them and use the same idea to create contour, just with an approach that is the reverse of normal.