Everyone who has an interest in makeup and beauty usually has one non-negotiable. Some people won’t step out of the house without a filled-in brow, while others won’t even get on a Skype call until they’ve got their red lipstick on. For me, it’s all about the that highlighter action, and as I always say when getting ready for any event, if I’m not glowing, I’m not going.
It’s a good time to be a highlighter enthusiast because every brand is coming out with more and more shimmery powders,sticks and creams to bring out your inner luminosity. But that being said, not everyone wants or needs high-wattage highlights (especially during the day). So if you want to look radiant without looking like you’re making too much effort, you came to the right place. Here are some highlighters that are visible but subtle, i.e. perfect for that lit-from-within glow.
If you read nothing else at all else on this list, then let it be known that RMS Beauty’s Living Luminizer ($49) was placed first for a reason. This is the OG holy grail highlighter that made highlighting en vogue in the first place. This coconut-oil based balm is light in a bottle; most people just see a sheer wash of iridescence upon application, but a closer look will show that the product is a well-balanced mixture of pearlescent white, enlivening violet and brightening light green and yellow particles. Either way, the colours are microfine and expertly blended, which makes this the perfect dab-on product to revive your complexion both on the go and for special events. (Bonus: cool-toned as this item is, it’s also truly universal, and works across every single skin tone and most skin types.)
Marc Jacobs’ Dew Drops Coconut Gel Highlighter ($55) is another heavy-hitter in the natural glow department: it ups the ante that RMS’s Living Luminizer creates by providing just a little extra warmth for those who prefer a touch of sunlight on the high points of our face (not just stark white light). A coconut water base provides a layer of hydration in addition to the healthy peachy glow this highlighter imparts, but arguably, while the RMS luminizer is best saved just for the face, this Marc Jacobs option is more or less ideal for the décolletage, shoulders and legs as well. (When it comes to a full-body glow, it’s often wiser to go warm with golden, copper or peach hues as opposed to cool-toned shades that can make you look sallow unless expertly applied.)
But not everyone wants a liquid highlighter, or a visible one at that; for an extra subtle glow that leaves most people wondering if you have anything on at all, go for a finishing powder that provides soft, candle-lit lustre while mattifying and setting your base. Few do it better than Hourglass, and old truly is gold even though the brand keeps coming out with new strobing powders and blushes: the Ambient Lighting Palette ($70) provides just the right mix of powders to perfectly balance and illuminate your complexion.
The sandy, beige colour (Dim Light) is excellent for an imperceptible glow during the day; the copper-peach powder (Radiant Light) is perfect for that bronzed-out sheen that we enjoy on glow-goddesses like Chrissy Teigen or Jennifer Lopez. Ultimately, however, I have to admit that the central pearl colour, Incandescent Light, is one that would give even RMS Beauty a run for its money: when built up, this powder creates an opalescence that is genuinely transfixing, at times appearing to be molten silver and at times fading into a soft champagne.
If you’re in the mood for an elegant gleam, Benefit’s Watt’s Up! Cream To Powder Highlighter ($40) is also hugely popular in the realm of “natural glow”; my one gripe with this product is that I’m not a huge fan of built-in blenders. (Chances are that I either never use these applicators or find them getting dirty in a heartbeat; either way, that sponge is never going back on my face.) This cream stick is perfect for anyone who likes the soft-focus effect of the Hourglass powders but has dry skin that doesn’t do well with powders. The cream-to-powder formulation ensures that the highlighter settles without drying, but also that it can layer well to build any soft glow into a full strobe, something which other “natural-glow” products have a tough time with.
Let’s end with a catch-all: the ultimate powder highlighter that’s not reflective and doesn’t contain shimmer, glitter or any sparkle at all. If you’re looking for an item that imparts glow with minimal pigment, go for something that is as finely milled as the Hourglass powders but with much less intensity, like Kevyn Aucoin’s The Celestial Highlighting Powder ($53). The texture of this lil’ number makes it seem like a cross between a setting powder and a highlight: it sinks in like butter instead of enhancing skin texture, and thanks to its ultra-sheer wash of pigment, it’s unlikely that this powder will ever stand out enough to make you look visible from outer space.
Main photo: Emily Ratajkowski via makeup artist Hung Vanngo