Contouring and highlighting the face – guide to emphasize features

Makeup highlighters create dimension and emphasize features with a realistic touch that adds a shimmery glow to any makeup look.

There are so many face highlighters on the market nowadays that can alter the shape of your face, downplay a wide nose and accent high cheekbones that you’ll never regret giving this beauty product a chance. I selected a few makeup highlighter powders and creams that I want to tell you more about, I’ve reviewed the best highlighters on the market and revealed some of my bullet proof makeup highlighters how to tips.

We’ll discuss how makeup highlighters can completely change your beauty look, which types work for your complexion and how to apply highlighters and contours in makeup.

Makeup highlighters how to

Although the face has shape and depth, there are certain lighting situations that can turn the face flat, and as we all know, the more of a three-dimensional effect we achieve, the better the makeup will be. That’s when highlighters intervene to emphasize your looks and give your skin a gorgeous glow.

Sometimes we use the technique of highlight and contour without really knowing it. Examples include applying a lighter color under the eyebrow (highlight), or adding a touch of shade under the cheekbone to sculpt out more definition (contour).

How highlighting and shading works

How highlighting and shading works

By using highlighter makeup, you will be able to make certain features stand out. The high points of your face – cheekbones, the temples, the brow bones, the Cupid’s bow, the bridge of the nose, the apples of your cheeks and the jaw bone – will be emphasized.

Not only will you be able to sculpt your face and balance your features, but also give your skin that natural, beautiful glow.

Best Makeup Highlighters according to your skin tone

The correct colors to use for highlights are important. When choosing a highlighter you have bear in mind your skin tone – if you have very sallow skin, pink toned highlighters are going to stick out, but if you have very pale skin pink tones are perfect.

If the highlight color is too light or too heavily applied, your makeup will be seen as heavy-handed. Highlights in offwhites, cream, pinks, gold, yellows, or any color that is a few degrees lighter than the skin tone that you are working on will work best.

Best Makeup Contouring shades

When contouring, shades of darker makeup from blushers to pigments can be used depending on what type of makeup you are creating. Good colors are brownish pinks, brownish grays, taupe, and again any shade that is a few degrees darker than your skin tone. You should never use pure black to contour, nor burgundy as some makeup artists advise you.

Subtle highlighter technique

Subtle highlighter technique

Makeup Highlighter Tutorial

The goal when applying highlighter is to get a reflective dewy look that looks real, without being too shiny or glittery. As with all aspects of makeup, the key is blending the highlighter in order to achieve a smooth, seamless finish with no visible line or hard edges.

Creating a skillful balance between your foundation, liquid highlighter and blusher is strongly advised in order to obtain that gorgeous, barely there, natural makeup.

Keep in mind that highlighters will illuminate any skin imperfections, so prep your skin with a hydrating primer and smooth foundation or BB Cream, and then begin your highlighter application.

If you apply your foundation with a brush, which I recommend, use that same brush to apply your highlighter. Don’t bother cleaning the brush before, as the leftover product will serve you in the blending process.

When you apply highlighters to the apples of your cheeks, place a small amount of the product on the highest point of your cheekbone and up towards your temple. This is especially important if you plan to do contours below the cheekbone, as it will draw attention away from the created shadows.

When you apply highlighter to your eyes, the shimmer placed on the browbone will automatically light up your eyes and give you a brow-lift effect.

If you choose to apply highlighter to your lips, a technique seldom used out of commodity, the product will show through your lipstick, giving your lips dimension and volume. Blend some highlighter in the Cupid’s bow and in the center of your lips and apply your desired color of lipstick.

You can also apply highlighter to the bridge of the nose to narrow it, but be careful not to place the shimmer on the tip of the nose.

  • Don’t use highlighter for coverage;
  • Apply highlighter after your foundation, but before your concealer;
  • Match the texture (liquid/ cream/ powder) of the highlighter to your base.

What makeup highlighters to look for

When choosing makeup highlighters, look for products that contain shimmery pearls in a wide number of different shades (pink, orange, beige, gold, brown) in order to get a perfect, balanced glow. That way, you’ll make sure that the blend matches your complexion and gives your skin a slight dewy sheen.

Face highlighters come in many formulas and they all have advantages and disadvantages. A liquid highlighter gives you the benefit of mixing and blending the product with foundation and blush, while a highlighter stick is generally easier to use and more practical in a travel makeup kit.

The concealer highlighters always blend well and result in a natural glow. These products will significantly brighten the face, while covering dark circles under the eyes, the sides of the nose, the corners of the lips and the hallows of the chin. Shimmery powders are almost always preferred though, due to their natural capacity to add just the right amount of shimmer, while setting the makeup.

Shading and highlighting makeup technique

Shading and highlighting makeup technique

I’ve prepared a list of the best makeup highlighters on the market that range from under eye illuminators, to powders, sticks and liquid highlighters that give you the perfect amount of shimmer, without looking cakey or like a disco queen.

Here are the best face highlighters out there:

  • Nars The Multiple Highlighter is a pretty user friendly product that has amazing highlighter properties. It glides and blends smoothly, it feels great on dry/combo skin and comes in 13 shades. Best of all, it’s a multi-purpose product that can be used as an eye shadow base, a bronzer, cheek stain and illuminator. If you’re just starting out with highlighters, try this one until you learn the peaks and contours of your face.
  • Make Up For Ever Compact Shine On Powder ( #3 and #5) creates a natural looking and delicate satin-like iridescence on all skin types. Its silky texture ensures a natural and even application, so rely on this if you are a highlighter beginner. Applied in gentle strokes, it adds contours to the face and brings shimmers to your complexion thanks to fine light-reflecting particles.
  • Make Up For Ever Uplight Face Luminizer is a silky gel that lights up the face thanks to the reflecting pigments that capture and diffuse light. It contains 70% water so it can easily be applied, but I wouldn’t recommend this product if you’re warm-toned because of the particles. Have you tried it?
  • Benefit High Beam Luminescent Complexion Enhancer is a pink highlighter that brings a fresh vibe to your complexion. A great product for daytime that creates a soft blush and acts as a moisturizer or the perfect touch of glamour when using the Moon Beam (also from Benefit) at night.
  • Benefit Girl Meets Pearl Liquid Pearl for Face is a popular product amongst those not seeking a powerful highlighter, as if only give a subtle shine. It’s great if you’re feeling a little under the weather and you want to boost a daytime look, but don’t choose this product if you seek glitter.
Highlighter on eyes, nose, Cupid's Bow

Highlighter on eyes, nose, Cupid’s Bow

  • TEMPTU AIR pod Highlighter gives a a gorgeous, fresh glow, that compliments any complexion. Wear it all day, without worrying your face will get greasy or overly shimmery and spray this one of a kind highlighter on top of cheekbones, cupids bow, browbones or lids. It works like a charm!
  • Urbanglow Cream Highlight Sin is a creamy, highly pigmented highlighter that stays on during the day even if you have oily skin. Unlike some liquid highlighters that cause separation and a clear demarcation mark, Urbanglow blends well into the skin and protects it with an oil and vitamins A, C and E formula.
  • Lancome ÉCLAT MIRACLE Highlighter has a slight shimmer, but is neither glittery nor greasy. For a lightweight creamy product it works well in covering small imperfections and giving your skin a little boost. However, if you want more coverage I would recommend Benefit’s Girl Meets Pearl.
  • LORAC Double Feature Concealer & Highlighter delivers the correction and perfection you crave with a concealer, a highlighter and a hygienic blender ball all in one slim stick. For pretty skin, use the full-coverage, long-wearing concealer stick to cover under eye circles and hide blemishes, blending in with the blender ball. Then use the moisture-rich liquid highlighter to lighten and brighten under eyes, highlight cheekbones and help diffuse fine lines.

Take these aspects into consideration if you choose to use highlighters and emphasize your features. The Chiaroscuro technique (Italian art term meaning light-dark) is all about suggesting clear tonal contrast, so never forget that in order for this makeup trick to work, you must use both elements – the highlighter and the shading tone.




As a professional make-up artist and beauty enthusiast, Luiza's expertise has become highly prized over the years. As owner of this site, she set her mind to create a publication for those who are focused not just on beauty trends and popular brands, but also on the industry's most well-kept secrets.

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