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Glow Effect: How and Where to Apply Highlighter?

If Rihanna were writing this article, she'd start with “Shine bright like a diamond.”

In the world of beauty, the art of makeup has always sought to capture the essence of light, that sparkle that gives the face a unique and captivating radiance. In this context, highlighters stand out as true stars, products that have revolutionized makeup, offering not only a natural glow but also a touch of magic to the skin.

But do we really know this product inside out, where and how to apply highlighter? Should highlighter be applied before or after foundation?

In this article, we will “shine a light” (get it? ahahahah) on secrets and tips about highlighters. Let's not waste any more time… Let's begin!

Quick Summary

  • A highlighter is a cosmetic product that reflects light to emphasize and highlight specific parts of the face and body, such as cheekbones, temples, brow bones, collarbones, and shoulders.

  • There are various types of highlighters to suit different skin types: powder for oily skin, cream for dry or mature skin, liquid for a dewy effect, and stick for a practical and natural application. The choice of the ideal highlighter also depends on the skin's undertone: silver, ice, pearl, or champagne for cool undertones, and copper, gold, or bronze for warm undertones.

  • Highlighter and contouring should not be confused. The highlighter emphasizes the light points of the face, while contouring creates shadows to define and sculpt facial features, combined for a three-dimensional effect.

What is a Highlighter?

A highlighter is a cosmetic product, typically for the face but also for the body, that reflects light. As its name suggests, its main goal is to illuminate and highlight those parts of the face and body that we want to draw attention to. Highlighter can be applied on the cheekbones, temples, brow bones, the inner corners of the eyes, and even the Cupid's bow along the upper lip or the bridge of the nose (Chatelaine, 2024).

Different Skins, Different Highlighters

Considering that there are different skin types and numerous application methods, various types of highlighters have been created (DIVA, 2023):

  • Powder highlighter: The most popular highlighter, available in a variety of finishes, including matte, shimmering, and glittery. Powder highlighter is ideal for oily skin as it provides a more matte finish but can also be used on dry skin if applied with a damp brush.

  • Cream highlighter: The highlighter with the most natural finish, ideal for dry or mature skin. Cream formulas don't clash with powder highlighters; combined, they create a more intense look.

  • Liquid highlighter: Can be used for a more targeted effect or mixed with foundation or primer for an all-over glow. It provides a dewy finish and is perfect for dry or normal skin.

  • Stick highlighter: Gives a luminous yet natural look; ideal for touch-ups on the go and for a subtle effect.

How to Choose the Right Highlighter for You: Your Undertone

Choosing the ideal highlighter can be tricky and often requires some experimentation to find the perfect one for each of us. Besides skin type, which helps determine the most suitable texture, it's essential to consider the skin's undertone. This guides us in choosing the most appropriate highlighter shade (Medium, 2023):

Cool undertone:

Typical of very fair skin, which has a pink and bluish effect in the light. Perfect shades are silver, ice, pearl, or champagne; avoid golden tones.

Warm undertone: 

Common in medium, olive, or darker complexions. Fantastic highlighters have copper, gold, or bronze hues (avoid cool tones as they dull the skin).

Neutral undertone:

If the undertone is neutral, it's easier to play with colors, and both icy and silver tones as well as golden, pink, and red shades work well.

Where to Apply Highlighter

Where to apply highlighter? The correct answer would be on the areas of the face and body that naturally catch sunlight, our "high points." Let's see which areas these are (L’Oréal Paris, 2024)

  • Cheekbones: Applying highlighter on the cheekbones, especially on the highest part where the bone structure is, gives the face a more serene and lifted appearance as it is blended towards the temples.

  • Cupid's Bow: Highlighter applied here better defines the lips and makes them look fuller, but be careful to avoid the "glitter mustache" effect.

  • Inner corner and under eye area: These areas tend to accumulate darkness, especially due to pesky dark circles. Blending highlighter here gives the eyes a fresh and awake look.

  • Brow bone and center of eyelids: Highlighting the brow bone and the area below is a great way to make the eyes pop on days when you don't feel like wearing much makeup but still want to avoid looking neglected.

  • Bridge of the nose: If you can't (like me) go to the beach and get some sun, highlighter on the bridge of the nose can mimic that natural tan effect.

  • Collarbones and décolleté: Applying highlighter on the collarbones and décolleté helps define this area and gives an elegant look, especially when wearing V-neck or strapless dresses.

  • Shoulders: A touch of highlighter on the shoulders can make them stand out, perfect for summer evenings or a glamorous look.

How to Apply Highlighter

Understanding which highlighter is ideal for us and where to apply it is just the first step to integrating it into our routine. The next step is learning how to apply highlighter, particularly how to integrate it with other cosmetic products.

  • Primer: The primer is the perfect base for makeup as it evens out the skin. Depending on skin type and tone, choose between an illuminating primer and a mattifying primer.

  • Foundation: Foundation ensures skin tone uniformity, creating a homogeneous base... a canvas to paint on.

  • Contouring and/or blush: Contouring and blush help outline and define facial features and/or add color to the cheeks before applying highlighter.

  • Highlighter: Here comes the awaited moment! There isn't a strict technique for applying highlighter. It's recommended to use fingers or a sponge for liquid highlighter and brushes for powder highlighter. Start with a small amount and gradually build up to avoid the “killer doll” effect.

  • Setting spray: To ensure makeup lasts for hours, use a quick-setting spray.

All these tips should be considered as suggestions and not rigid rules to follow. Everyone can choose their preferred method, although it's always better to match products based on their consistency (L’Oréal Paris, 2024).

Finally, a crucial question: should highlighter be applied before or after foundation? Highlighter is generally applied after foundation. Foundation serves to create a uniform base, covering any imperfections and evening out skin tone. Applying highlighter after foundation allows you to accentuate the high points of the face, adding brightness and definition. However, if using a liquid or cream highlighter, it can be mixed with the foundation for a more diffused glow.

Highlight vs. Contouring

Highlight and contouring are often confused. Yet, they are two makeup techniques that, while complementary, have distinct functions and different results.

Both aim to define facial features, but in opposite ways: the highlighter accentuates and highlights the light points, while contouring creates shadows to add depth and sculpt features. The combined use of these techniques allows for a three-dimensional and harmonious makeup look, enhancing the natural features of the face.

Highlighter is applied to the areas of the face that naturally catch light, such as the cheekbones, brow bone, bridge of the nose, and Cupid's bow. This product adds brightness, making the face more radiant and fresh. Typically, highlighter is a shade lighter than foundation and can have a pearly or satin finish.

Contouring, on the other hand, involves using shades darker than your complexion to create shadows and define facial features. It is applied in the hollows of the cheeks, along the jawline, sides of the nose, and temples to give the illusion of a slimmer and sculpted face. Contouring is particularly useful for balancing facial proportions and accentuating bone structure (Recode, 2023).

Discover Lebubè's Cream Highlighter!

We at Lebubè have also created our very own highlighter: the Cream Highlighter, with a pearly shade suitable for all complexions. Its lightweight formula gives the face and body a natural glow and a soft feel.

Like all of Lebubè's hybrid cosmetics, it is a blend of skincare and makeup. The main active ingredient is a mix of upcycled rice and red algae extract, with protective, moisturizing, and refreshing properties.

The effectiveness of this active ingredient has been tested both in vivo and in vitro on 41 individuals with dry skin over a period of 28 days with daily use. This active ingredient exhibits a dual action: internally, it hydrates the skin (+9% hydration after 30 minutes, +11% hydration after 120 hours) and increases the production of proteins and ceramides; externally, it offers protection against Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) (-8% water loss after 28 days), strengthens the skin's natural barrier against environmental factors, and promotes smoother skin texture (+26% softness after 14 days).

If you want to know more about Lebubè's Cream Highlighter, we are waiting for you here!


How many types of highlighters are there?

There are four main types of highlighters: powder, cream, liquid, and stick. Each type suits different skin types and desired finishes.

How do I know what highlighter to use?

Choose a highlighter based on your skin type and undertone. Powder highlighter is great for oily skin, cream highlighter suits dry or mature skin, liquid highlighter provides a dewy effect, and stick highlighter is perfect for on-the-go application. Your skin undertone (cool, warm, or neutral) will also guide you in selecting the right shade.

What highlighter shade is best for my skin tone?

For cool undertones, choose shades like silver, ice, pearl, or champagne. For warm undertones, opt for shades like copper, gold, or bronze. If you have a neutral undertone, you can experiment with both cool and warm shades, including silver, gold, pink, and red tones.

Where should I apply highlighter?

Apply highlighter on the high points of your face and body that naturally catch light, such as the cheekbones, Cupid's bow, inner corners and under-eye area, brow bone and center of eyelids, bridge of the nose, collarbones, décolleté, and shoulders.

How to apply highlighter for beginners?

Start with a primer to create an even base, then apply foundation to even out your skin tone. Use contouring and blush to define your features. Apply highlighter using your fingers or a sponge for liquid highlighter and a brush for powder highlighter. Start with a small amount and build up gradually. Finish with a setting spray to ensure longevity.

Should highlighter be lighter or darker than foundation?

Highlighter should be one or two shades lighter than your foundation to effectively accentuate the high points of your face and add brightness.

Do you put on highlighter before or after foundation?

Highlighter is generally applied after foundation. This allows you to add brightness and definition to the high points of your face.

Do you apply highlighter before or after blush?

Apply highlighter after blush. This ensures that the highlighter sits on top of the blush, adding a natural glow to the cheeks.

What is the difference between contour and highlighter?

Highlighter and contour serve different purposes in makeup. Highlighter accentuates and brightens the light points of your face, adding radiance and a fresh look. Contour uses darker shades to create shadows, define, and sculpt your facial features. The combination of both techniques gives a three-dimensional and harmonious makeup look.

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