Highlighting, often also referred to as strobing, is the illuminating makeup technique that will get you shining like a goddess. Using strategically applied powder, cream, or liquid, you can simply give yourself a touch of dewy definition, or you can go all the way into becoming an ethereal creature.
No matter what kind of strobing you’re more into, I give you all the details: I explain exactly what strobing is and how it differs from contouring. I’ll make it easy for you to choose the best highlighters for your skin type and skin tone, I’ll break down the steps for flawless strobing, and I’ll even recommend the best highlighters on the market, so you can strobe on and get lit (from within).
Strobing/ Highlighting Makeup Guide: Contents
• What Is Strobing?
• The Difference Between Strobing and Contouring
• Different Types of Highlighters
• How to Choose the Best Highlighter for Each Skin Type
• How to Choose the Right Highlighter for Each Skin Tone
• How to Apply Highlighter: Strobe Like a Pro
• Strobing Tips for Different Face Shapes
• Highlighter Makeup Tips & Tricks
• Best Highlighters for Perfect Strobing
Strobing is a technique of highlighting the face. It is based on the way light works, especially when countered with shadow. When something is brighter (especially if it is glowy or shimmery), it reflects more light, which gives it the illusion of being bigger and closer to the viewer. Darker colors, on the other hand, make things appear smaller and farther away.
With strobing, you apply a makeup product that is lighter than your skin tone to the parts of the face that you want to highlight – in other words, the parts of the face that you want to appear larger or closer. These areas frequently are along the top of the cheekbones, on the chin, above the cupid’s bow, down the bridge of the nose, on the center of the forehead, on the inner corner of the eye, and along the brow bone.
In addition to helping make the face, and its specific features seem more defined, strobing with different kinds of products and textures can also make the skin seem dewier and more hydrated, or even glowy and magical.
The word strobing, specifically, means that the only product you use to carve out definition in your face is a highlighter. This stands in contrast to contouring, a technique in which darker colors are applied to make certain features seem more shadowed.
Contouring is usually done right below the cheekbone, along the sides of the nose, the temples, the outer part of the forehead, and below the jawline. Contouring is often credited with making the face appear slimmer.
A full highlight & contour effect can radically change the appearance of the face, and is a perfectly acceptable makeup choice.
From the point of view of their consistency, makeup highlighters come in different forms, each targeting a certain skin type and unique preference.
The most common, and also easiest to use of the highlighters are powder highlighters. These powders are most frequently pressed, but sometimes they come in a loose form.
A traditional highlighter is very shimmery, thanks to a high cotent of mica or other reflective minerals. A highlight does not have to be shiney, of course, and some matte powders exist that provide a highlight simply by being lighter than one’s skin tone.
Liquid highlighters, occasionally advertized as illuminating drops or stains, are thin liquid products embedded with light reflective minerals. These creams can be applied to bare skin, under or over the foundation, depending on whether the one wearing them wants a more subdued, lit-from-within glow, or a stronger highlight.
When worn under the foundation, they often have the added bonus of increasing its longevity. They can even be mixed with foundation and applied all over the face for an all-over glow.
These balms or creams have a thicker texture than a strobing cream, and usually come pressed into a compact or jar, a little like cream blushes, or in a roll-up stick (picture a large, shimmery lipstick!). They have more pigmentation than a strobing cream, but less pigmentation than powder highlighters, and they can also be applied either below or above the foundation.
Once you know all the types of makeup highlighters, it’ll be much easier to pick one for your skin type. Follow the tips below!
Best Highlighters for Normal Skin
If you have normal skin you can use any kind of highlighter you like. Simply choose a liquid, cream, or powder highlighter (or all of the above) based on how much glow you would like to have.
Best Highlighters for Dry and Mature Skin
Those with dry and mature skin are better off opting for strobing creams – especially ones that create more of a dewy effect than a shimmery one. These strobing creams will add a lot of light without catching on any dry spots or emphasizing the look of wrinkles.
Powder highlighters tend to emphasize dry patches, while an excess of shimmer tends to exaggerate any unevenness in the skin. On the other hand, wet-finish highlighting creams will make the skin look healthier, more youthful, and more hydrated.
Best Highlighters for Oily Skin
Those with oily skin are likely to find themselves preferring powders that are not too high on the shimmer. Shimmer can look a little greasy on skin that gets very oily, and it also has a tendency to emphasize larger pores.
You may even opt for a fully matte strobing powder that will give a highlight to the skin just because it is a few shades lighter than your natural skin tone. Another option is to use a concealer below your foundation that is 3-4 shades lighter than your natural skin tone.
Besides taking your skin type into account while choosing highlighters, it’s equally important to consider your skin tone so that the final strobing makeup looks just perfect.
Best Highlighters for Fair Skin with Cool Undertones
To find out if your skin is cool, look at your forearm. Veins that seem blue, and a pinky tinge to the skin are a sure sign of having cool skin.
The best highlighters for fair, cool skin are going to complement your skin and fit in with your undertones. This means you want to use either pearl, silver, white, or very light beige shades.
A matte highlighter is less likely to show up on your fair skin, so try and find something with either a dewy or shimmery finish.
Avoid warm highlighters with golden or champagne undertones, as they will look odd against your skin and might even create a sickly effect.
Best Highlighters for Light Skin with Warm Undertones
If your skin is on the lighter end of the spectrum, but your veins appear more greenish, and overall there you seem less pink and more yellow, then you have light, warm skin.
Very pale golds will look beautiful against your skin, as would neutral beiges, and glowy champagnes. A very soft peachy-pink can also work, but stay away from overly cool highlighters, as they will look grey and ashy against your skin.
Best Highlighters for Light Skin with Olive Undertones
Olive skin is not exactly warm, but it’s also definitely not cool. It has a touch of green to it that tends to become tan beautifully, but can still be fairly light.
Those with olive skin should avoid highlighters that are overly pink or peach. However, they can look fantastic in both the golden highlighters that suit warm skin, and the pearlescent highlighters that flatter those with cool undertones.
Best Highlighters for Medium Skin with Cool Undertones
Even if your skin isn’t very light, it can still have cool undertones. Blue veins, a touch of pink, and a lack of yellow or orange undertones is a surefire sign of medium skin.
The best highlighters for medium skin will be slightly pink, although pearlescent highlighters may also work assuming your skin is on the lighter scale of medium.
Best Highlighters for Medium Skin with Warm Undertones
Most people with medium skin have warmer undertones that can be recognized by a yellow or golden natural tint to the skin. Much like for those with lighter warm skin, golden highlighters look very beautiful, as do peaches.
For skin on the darker end of medium, even very sheer copper highlighters can work. It is best to stay away from anything overly cool or overly pale, so avoid pearl and champagne highlighters.
Best Highlighters for Medium Skin with Olive Undertones
If your skin is not particularly light, with a slightly green tint that is not really cool nor warm, then you have medium olive skin. The most beautiful highlighters for your skin would by far be the golden ones, although slightly bronzy ones might also work if your skin is on the darker end of the medium spectrum.
Avoid highlighters that have a lot of pink, as they will make your skin look unhealthy.
Best Highlighters for Tan Skin with Orange Undertones
Many people, after spending a lot of time in the sun, notice that their skin develops a tan that has orange undertones. If your skin has this kind of tan (whether natural or from a bottle), you want highlighters that will complement that new undertone.
Golds, peaches, coppers, and even pinks can all work extremely well with your skin! Avoid highlighters with a very cool or silvery tint, as they will not play nicely with your coloring.
Best Highlighters for Dark Skin with Warm Undertones
Darker skin tones, especially on the lower end of the darkness spectrum, often have warm yellow undertones. If your skin leans in that direction, the best highlighters for your skin tone would also have those golden tones, but perhaps just sitting as a shimmer in an otherwise darker powder that matches your skin tone closely.
Metallics like copper and bronze can also look extremely beautiful. With warmer skin, it is definitely key to avoid overly cool or silvery highlighters, although any highlighter that is too light for your skin can create a chalky effect.
Best Highlighters for Dark Skin with Red Undertones
If you recognize an orange or brown-red tint to your skin, then much like your warm toned counterparts, you can rock darker golden highlighters with ease and grace. In addition to that, darker copper and bronze highlighters will certainly work well with your skin.
Best Highlighters for Dark Skin with Blue Undertones
Often paired with very dark skin is a blue undertone that is sometimes referred to as “ebony”. This kind of cool, dark skin is best complemented by cooler highlighters. Metallic purples and cool silvery-bronzes reign supreme to give an unparalleled glow.
Gold and copper highlighters tend to clash with your skin tone, however, so you’re best off avoiding them.
This guide outlines how to achieve the most extreme strobing look, achieved with both cream and powder highlighters. To achieve more subdued look, simply omit one of the highlighting steps.
As you already know, a highlighter layered under the foundation will always have a more natural, lit-from-within effect, while a highlighter applied on top of your foundation will be more extreme and otherworldly.
• Boost radiance and maximize definition by applying a few dabs of a cream highlighter to the points of the face you want to highlight. To highlight bigger areas of the face like the cheeks or forehead, you may either use your fingers, a sponge, or a beauty blender in a stippling motion.
• To highlight smaller areas of the face like the bridge of the nose, the inner corner of the eye, below the eyebrow, and above the cupid’s bow, use a small, synthetic brush like the MAC 195 Concealer Brush.
• Use a clean sponge or finger to blend out and diffuse the edges.
• Wait a few minutes for this highlight to set a little.
• Apply your choice of cream or liquid foundation, using your favorite method. Be careful when applying it over the areas you’ve highlighted, so as to not apply too much and cover the highlight, and not to wipe the highlighter off.
• Before you use powder to set your foundation you can apply another hit of strobing cream or cream highlighter following the same methods that I previous outlined.
• Once you’re as glowy as you can get using only creamy products, set your makeup with a translucent powder, like the Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder. Avoid face powders with a lot of tint or coverage, as they will take away all of your hard work using strobing creams. You may skip powdering if you are going for an all-over dewy look, but remember that this will reduce the longevity of your makeup.
• You are now ready for the final hint of highlighter! Grab your powder highlighter (most liquid and cream highlighters don’t sit nicely on top of powder) and go over the large areas you’ve already highlighted with creams.
For a sheerer wash of color, use a fan brush like the Sephora Pro Featherweight Fan Brush. For more intense strobing, choose a dense blush brush, like the Kat Von D Powder Contour Brush, and instead of brushing the highlighter on, tap it into the skin.
• Use a smaller eyeshadow brush like the Marc Jacobs Shadow Brush to brush highlighter onto the small areas of the face, like the bridge of the nose and the cupid’s bow.
• Take a fluffy brush to blend away any harsh edges from your highlight. You can use a smaller brush to only blend out the edges, or use a larger brush to thoroughly diffuse all of the highlighter for a softer look.
• That’s it! You are now completely strobed. Finish off the rest of your makeup as you normally would. To turn this into a highlight & contour look, add a contouring powder to the areas of your face you want to minimize.
Strobing is all about controlling which of your features stand out more. Depending on your face shape you maybe want to emphasize different things. The nose highlight I totally swear by might not work for a person with a narrower nose, for example. This section should help guide you when you try to figure out which areas of your face you should highlight, and how.
• Highlighting the cheekbones is universally flattering, but even here you have options. If you have naturally sharp features and high cheekbones, you may choose to apply your highlighter a little lower on the cheek, and to have it concentrated closer to the center of the face. This will give you rounder cheeks, and a more youthful look.
On the other hand, those who want sharper looking cheekbones should apply highlighter in a thin stripe high along the cheekbone, in a sharp angle that goes all the way up to the bottom of the temples.
• If you specifically want fuller lips, make sure to apply a touch of highlighter just above the cupid’s bow. On the other hand, if your lips are naturally very full (or if, for example, you have a heavy upper lip), then you can skip this highlighting step.
• Those with a narrow forehead can bring balance to the face by highlighting the center of their forehead all the way up and almost into the hairline. Those with a higher forehead should still strobe the center of the forehead, but keep tighter and lower.
• If you feel like your face is too round or square, highlighting can be a great way of giving it length. Give yourself length by highlighting along the center of the face – forehead, nose, cupid’s bow, and chin. Avoid highlighting the chin if you have a naturally long face, however.
• When highlighting the eyes, take into account your eye shape. Those with eyes that are already a little far apart should avoid highlighting the inner corners, while those with the opposite issue should definitely go ahead with that.
• Cream highlighters, especially the thicker ones that come pressed or in a stick, can work beautifully for an all-over monochromatic look – especially if you’re in a rush. Sweep them over the areas you want to highlight, as well as on the eyelids and the lips.
• To make your pout seem extra large and pouty, dab a bit of highlighter in the center of your lips, right on top of your lipstick.
• In addition to enhancing your facial bone structure, you can also emphasize your body’s bone structure. Add a sexy touch of highlighter to emphasize your collarbones, for example.
• Experiment with adding a touch of water to a liquid highlighter – it’ll amp up a metallic finish and seriously up the drama.
• For those with extremely textured or oily skin, you may eschew highlighters altogether, and instead do your strobing with a concealer or a face powder that is 3-4 shades lighter than your own skin tone.
Best Powder Highlighters
1. Anastasia Beverly Hills Sun Dipped Glow Kit
This kit comes with four highlighters, so that if your skin tone changes from season to season you will likely find use for all of them! These are considered some of the best highlighters in the powder form, because they give an incomparable shimmer.
It includes both cool and warm shades, and no matter your skin tone you will find something that will work for you. If you find yourself using up one shade faster than the others, you can buy a single refill! Pick it up at Sephora.
2. Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter
Since they are the OG brand for highlighters, it was hard to choose a specific product since almost every Becca highlighter counts as one of the best highlighters on the market. Their pressed highlighters are ultra-shiny, giving a metallic sheen that can be seen from miles away.
Topaz is the perfect shade for warm, dark skin, while Pearl is great for fair skin. Choose a highlighter for yourself at Sephora.
3. Natasha Denona All Over Glow Face & Body Shimmer Powder
This makeup artist brand is new to Sephora, but they’re killing it with incredible products, and were quick to make it to the ranks of the best highlighters. These buttery pressed powder highlighters come in a generous packaging, and are perfect for cool skin of all darkness levels – something that can be hard to find. They provide a gentle metallic sheen that can be built up to be more dramatic.
4. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder
This sheer highlighter gives a gentle, natural glow that is perfect for oily or textured skin types that need to watch out for creams or overly shimmery powder highlighters. It gives really diffused, natural glow that is usually only achieved with a cream highlighter applied below the skin. Choose your favorite one from Sephora, seeing as these are some of the best highlighters for each skin type.
5. Laura Mercier Matte Radiance Baked Powder
I will not hesitate to put anything made by this brand on my face. The quality of their finely milled powders is unparalleled, so their highlighter easily joins the ranks of the best highlighters.
I love that this powder somehow gives a radiant glow to the skin without a hint of shimmer, making it perfect for those who are normally highlighter averse. Highlight 01 is perfect for nearly every lighter skin tone, while the bronzers could work as highlights for deeper skin tones. Get yours at Nordstrom!
Best Strobing Liquids
1. Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat Radiant Touch
This classic liquid highlighter has been heralded for years as a great under-eye concealer and one of the best highlighters around. It is shimmer-free yet radiant, meaning it is excellent even for those with an uneven texture, and it is the very definition of multi-use.
The creamy formula comes in a chic golden click-applicator with a brush, so it is super easy to apply. For a subtle strobe, choose a color 2 shades lighter than your skin tone, or go extreme with 4 shades lighter. You can find it for yourself at Nordstrom.
2. Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops
This brand has won a place in my heart, with its ultra-gentle, customizable formulas. These liquid highlighters come in a dropper, and can be mixed and matched however you like, and applied both over and under the foundation, and even mixed with it! The shades are impossibly glowy and radiant, with options for literally every single skin tone – choose your favorite at Sephora.
3. Benefit Liquid Highlighters
A little goes a long way with this highlighter. When you see it flow, it looks like molten metal – an effect that is readily transferred to the skin once you apply it. Layer it below your foundation for an understated glow, or above it for a high-shine effect. At Nordstrom, you can choose High Beam for cool skin, Sun Beam for warm skin, and Shy Beam for the subtlest of strobes!
Best Cream Highlighters
1. RMS Beauty Living Luminizer
This all-natural and organic brand is newly available at Sephora, and their cream highlighters are beyond expectations, easily blowing many of their synthetic counterparts out of the water. This creamy product is ultra-simple – it gives a long-lasting dewy finish with a hint of pearly reflection thanks to castor and coconut oils, and just a hint of ultra-fine mica.
It is perfect for almost all skin tones, since it is so sheer, but you can try their shade Magic for a warmer highlight, or Champagne Rose for a hint of pink.
2. Glossier Face Highlighter Haloscope
Natural, youthful, dewy, and chic are the best words to describe these Glossier highlighters. They give a wet sheen to the skin that is almost unnaturally natural. The skin-nourishing cream formula comes in the form of a quick and easy-to-apply stick, and is best worn over bare skin. Choose a color to suit your skin tone directly from Glossier.
3. Fenty Beauty Match Stix Shimmer Skinstick
Not all of the reviews for Rihanna’s new brand are in, but the ones that are glow as brightly as these shimmer sticks! These really stand out as some of the best highlighters for diverse skin tones (no surprise there), with some really unique highlighter shades in a high-shine formula that blends beautifully. You should get one from Sephora quickly, before they run out.
4. NARS The Multiple Sticks
These roll-up highlighters are perfect for a quick, easy, and sheer strobing effect. They do have a hint of metallic shimmer that can be built up to create a stronger look with just a few swipes. The packaging is beautiful, convenient, and sleek – perfect for highlighting on the go.
Copacabana is perfect for those with light skin, while South Beach would be gorgeous on darker skin tones. Grab one for yourself at Nordstrom.
Is strobing part of your makeup routine? What is your favorite highlighter? Share your thoughts with us!
Photos via @sophiehannahrichardson, @simplysona, @simplyshanalee, @lenamahfouf, @kaseyrayton, @susannebarnekow, @lioninthewild