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How to Use Highlighter in Cream, Stick or Powder Form

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No makeup was truly complete without the perfect highlighter finish. Thanks to our favorite beauty vloggers and makeup-loving celebrities like the Kardashian-Jenner clan, contouring and highlighting have become Olympic disciplines among beauty lovers. While these illuminating strokes have the power to put facial features in a totally different light, mastering the perfect technique isn’t always so easy. Neither does finding the perfect formula for your highlighting needs, because beauty brands are spoiled for choice. Whether you’re looking for a soft summer glow or full Hollywood glam, here’s everything you need to know about using a highlighter in cream, stick or powder form.

How to use a highlighter

Highlighting can be a tricky business. Too much in the wrong place will give you an unnatural glow that could bring on an Iron Man resemblance – not a look anyone should go for outside of Halloween. The trick is to use the product sparingly and only on targeted areas to emphasize your skin’s natural luminosity. To make sure you don’t have to learn it the hard way, here are some tips and tricks for mastering the perfect highlighting technique.

Tools you will need

In addition to your usual makeup essentials, you’ll need a concealer one shade lighter than your skin tone, a makeup sponge, a fluffy eyeshadow brush, and your choice of one or several highlighters in cream, stick or powder form.

Highlighter Tools You'll Need


Start prepping your face as you normally would before applying full makeup. This means applying moisturizer and primer to support an airbrushed finish. Then use your foundation of choice for an even canvas. Sidenote: Liquid foundation tends to have a smoother finish than powder foundation. Contouring your features with a slightly darker shade than yours will frame your face and really emphasize the highlighted parts. Now is the time to apply the concealer. Dab horizontally placed dots on your forehead, under your eyes and chin and blend well with a damp makeup sponge. The next step will be to start the enlightenment process.

highlighter preparation

Areas to highlight

For a natural glow, the areas you want to highlight are those that naturally catch the light. A few strokes along the top of your cheekbones and just above and below the arch of your eyebrows will give these spots visual appeal. A fine line along the bridge of the nose can not only make it look slimmer but also give you the pixie tip of your dreams. For a fuller pout, dab some highlighter on your cupid’s bow, just above your upper lip. A little product on your chin will accentuate your lower lip. Highlighter also has a way of making late nights disappear; two small spots in the inner corners of your eyes and in the center of your eyelids will open your eyes and make you look more awake.

Areas to highlight

How to use highlighter stick

A highlighter stick is a perfect tool when you need a quick touch-up on the go. Not only is it incredibly compact, but the twisted tubing makes the application process easy. After completing your foundation and contouring rituals, use a little translucent powder to set the product. This will also help the cream-based highlighter stay on your skin better. Mark the areas of the face you want to highlight with the stick, then blend the formula into your skin with a traditional makeup blender, soft brush, or even your fingertips. Most highlighter sticks are also great for “strobe,” which is basically an extreme version of highlighting.

how to use highlighter stick

How to use highlighter powder

Pressed powder highlighter is a great choice if you’re looking to add a more subtle glow to your everyday look. Once you’ve applied your foundation as you normally would, you can use a brush to dust some highlighter onto your cheekbones, chin, nose, and forehead. The key here is to start light and build product slowly through the layers, as the strength of the lighting is easier to control that way. Since it’s a softer way to accentuate your features, a powder highlighter is also great when you’re going for barely-there makeup. Its soft texture will contribute to a fresh face all around.

How to use highlighter powder

What brushes to use for highlighter

There are a few choices to consider when choosing a makeup brush to apply your powder highlighter. A standard, medium-sized powder brush will provide light, even coverage, while an angled kabuki brush can allow for more precise strokes. Some pros, on the other hand, prefer a fan-shaped powder brush because its shape can cover larger areas, like the forehead and cheekbones, in one stroke. However, it can also be used for the finer lines needed to highlight your nose and eyebrows.

What brush to use for highlighter

How to use cream highlighter

A cream highlighter is an ideal choice for a complete glam look. The concentrated formula contains more pigment than other highlighters, making it perfect for bolder accents. However, be careful not to apply too much as it will look too drastic and extremely unnatural. With wet highlighters like this, you’ll want to try using your fingers or a blending sponge to layer the product gradually until the desired luminosity is achieved. It’s also great to use alongside other highlighters to finish specific spots with a little extra glow.

How to use cream highlighter


What is the highlighter used for?

Highlighter is often used in conjunction with contouring to create depth, dimension, and shape. It’s also designed to reflect light, giving you a beautiful sun-kissed look.

Can you just wear a highlighter?

You can definitely wear highlighter without any other makeup. It’s a great way to brighten up your face while keeping it looking effortless and natural. Apply it the same way you would wear it with foundation, but start with a lighter hand and build up as needed. It should go to the high points of your face where the sun would naturally hit, such as your nose, cheekbones, brow bones, and cupid’s bow.

Do you wear highlighter before or after foundation?

Typically, highlighter is applied after your foundation, although some liquid formulas work best when applied before.


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