The good news is that it’s easy to fake a fresh-faced glow this summer; all you need is a good highlighter to bounce the light off your skin and add a healthy luminosity to your complexion. The technique is known in modern make-up artistry circles as strobing – and if you get it right, it’s like having your own personal lighting team wherever you go.
The bad news is it’s all too easy to end up looking as glittery as a disco ball. As professional make-up artist Jessica Scantlin (blushington.com) puts it: ‘You want to have a glow, but not look like you owned Studio 54.’
So how do we get it right? ‘The trick is to apply little by little, and avoid highlighting products that have chunks of glitter,’ says Jessica.
Celebrity make-up artist Kira Nasrat adds: ‘Less is more. Highlighting certain areas shouldn’t look heavy – it should be the complete opposite. Most people make the mistake of putting too much shimmery powder on, and it looks frosty, instead of a subtle sheen. It should reflect light and look fresh, not dull.’
The truth is that not all highlighters are created equal – and just like foundation, finding the right one for our skin tone is an important part of the process. As is knowing where and how to apply it, of course. A common mistake, for example, is applying highlighter all over the face.
‘This will not only make you glow too much, it will also make you look oily,’ says make-up artist Daniel Chinchilla. ‘Shiny all over isn’t good. Make sure you’re applying it only to the cheekbones, the bridge of the nose, and right above the lips on the Cupid’s bow.’
Tempted to give it a try? Hold up, as we’ve chatted to a panel of experts to find out the dos and don’ts, alongside the best products for the job so you can show off your complexion in style. Here are the rules for picking and applying highlighter in a very adult way this summer…
Take your skin shade into consideration
With most highlighters packed with gold, bronze, silver or pearl shimmer, the first thing to consider is the shade of your skin. This ensures the product flatters your complexion, rather than giving the appearance of you having dunked your head in a vat of glitter (we exaggerate, but you get the gist).
Celebrity make-up artist Niki M’nray advises, ‘If you’re medium- or dark-skinned, make sure you use highlighters that range from peachy golden shades to bronzy tones so the highlighter blends in, as opposed to clashing with your skin tone. People with pale skin should go with more translucent, ivory tones.’
An easy way to work out the hue of the highlighter that will suit you is to consider the colour of jewellery that flatters your skin tone. If gold jewellery is your norm, go for highlighters with warm gold or bronze bases. If silver looks better, go for creamy shades of silver or pearly white.
For a soft gold highlighter that flatters darker skin tones, The Balm Cindy-Lou Highlighter and Shimmer (Dh140, Paris Gallery) is a good choice to perk up your complexion. For very pale skin tones, Benefit High Beam (Dh130, Wojooh.com) has a soft, pearly sheen that will flatter your skin, blend easily, and give a long-lasting finish.
Pay attention to formulas
With a plenitude of cream, powder, and liquid highlighters available on shelves, how do you choose the best product for your skin to ensure it looks natural, but also performs?
According to New-York based make-up artist Kristine Cruz, it’s all to do with the cosmetics you wear underneath. She says, ‘Applying a liquid-based highlighter on top of your powder foundation will move the foundation during application, causing it to look uneven. Use a powder-based highlighter instead.’ A high-quality choice is Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed (Dh174, Sephora), which comes in a variety of different shades to suit every skin tone and works beautifully at bouncing light off the complexion.
If you use a liquid foundation, however, you can opt for a liquid highlighter to wear on top – and you’ll have lots of choice, as they are the most common form of illuminator. They blend very easily to look like a second skin – and they also have the benefit of feeling very lightweight for a barely-there finish. Alongside Benefit Highbeam as recommended previously (opt for the gold-hued Benefit Sun Beam at Dh130 if you have darker skin) another great choice is Wow by Wojooh Liquid Gems (Dh90 each, Wojooh.com), which comes in Gold and Amber for medium-to-dark skin tones, and Precious Pinks for paler complexions.
Just one word of warning if you are a liquid foundation kind of girl: make sure you let the foundation dry before applying the liquid highlighter on top. Patience will ensure you get the result you want – and if you are looking for the ultimate longevity, you can set it all with a powder foundation when everything is dry.
What about cream and balm highlighters (the kind that often come in a stick to apply straight to skin)? These will be your friends if you prefer a matte finish with limited shimmer. With a thicker, stickier base, they also have the benefit of staying in place for longer, making them ideal if you want a finish that you know will last. Marc Jacobs Glow Stick Spotlight (Dh195, Sephora) is a great choice and comes in shades for every skin tone, from the warmest golds to the frostiest silvers.
Apply sparingly and carefully
The first rule to applying highlighter subtly and effectively is to go easy, as less is definitely more. Apply too much and your skin will look at best glittery and at worst oily – so where should we be applying it?
Celebrity make-up artist Stella Kae says: ‘The ideal places to highlight are underneath the arch of the brow, in the inner corner of the eyes, the bridge of the nose just between the eyes, on the high points of the cheeks, and right above the lips at the Cupid’s bow. For a look that is more natural or uses light/neutral eyeshadow shades, you can also highlight just in the centre of the eyelid.’
To put it simply, make-up artist Nico Guilis adds, ‘You want to carve out where the shine would naturally be if the sun was hitting your face.’
Blend using the right tools
Powder highlighters tend to come with their own applicator sponges, but you will find blending even easier and more effective if you invest in a large powder brush, such as Lottie London Kabuki Babe Brush (Dh69, Glamazle.com).
When it comes to liquid and cream products, a combination of finger application and brush blending tends to work best. Catwalk make-up artist Susie Sobol says, ‘I use my finger to apply and then a small fluffy eyeshadow brush to blend and buff. Make sure you are in the most natural light possible and use a smaller amount than you think you’ll need.’ The Morphe Fluffy Crease Brush (Dh39, Glamazle.com) is the ideal tool for the job and will give you a professional-quality finish.
Finally, make sure you check your handiwork. Susie says, ‘When you’ve finished, turn your head from side to side to catch the light and see if anything looks streaky.’ This will give you the chance to re-blend the product until the look is beautifully natural whenever you step into the light.