If you feel like your skin looks a little tired or dull, highlighter can help. Whether it comes in the form of a powder compact, a liquid gel, or a creamy stick, a highlighter’s job is to instantly brighten skin by attracting light, creating the illusion of being well-rested.
We tested all of the most popular highlighters, taking notes on everything from their blending abilities to their texture (no glitter, please). In the end, here are plenty of great options for erasing dark shadows around the eyes and producing an overall lit-from-within glow. Here are the 16 best.
The Best Drugstore Highlighter
This four-piece palette is an all-in-one complexion enhancer. Once you’ve applied your base, this is all you need. It includes a bronzing shade, a blush shade, and two highlighters to create dimension. The pigment payoff is minimal, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Glossier Highlighter
Like all of the brand’s products, Glossier’s highlighter is foolproof to use. Moonstone is an opalescent shade allegedly infused with rose quartz crystals and a moisturizing-oil core. It glides onto skin for a dewy sheen with a very slight iridescence. Whereas the other sticks tested here were creamy, this one had a wet quality that felt super-hydrating and produced a serious glow.
The Best Drugstore Highlighter If You Want to Look a Little Extra
If Glossier is your go-to daytime highlighter, the NYX stick is for nights out. It goes on with a purple sheen for a holographic effect that’s only visible when the light catches your skin. Despite being purple, it’s not obvious or gaudy; it just makes you look really, really radiant.
The Best Highlighter for Dry Skin
A dry complexion tends to favor cream formulas, but this powdery one has a slight sheen and a silky texture that didn’t cling to parched areas. Instead, it melts right in and doesn’t look the slightest bit frosty. Focus on your lids as a sheer wash of shadow and dab it on the inner corners of the eyes. The result: an immediate brightening effect that will make you look hours more rested.
The Rihanna Highlighter
Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line has been praised for its wide range of shades and tones. Of all the products in the range, the Killawatt highlighter is among the most buzzed about. The shades, which come either as a solo or duos, look more intense and shimmery in the packaging than on your face. This one (called Lightening Dust/Fire Crystal) illuminates the skin with a soft, pearlescent sheen that can be toned down for day or amped up for night.
The No-Makeup-Makeup Highighter
RMS Beauty’s little pot of dewy goodness is like the anti-highlighter for the inexperienced and glitter averse. Its effects are significant, but in the subtlest way possible — probably why it was a favorite of the J.Crew catalogue makeup team. Swipe it on the cheeks, down the nose, and on the Cupid’s bow. The formula is so sheer, it requires little blending effort. It’s not sticky, glittery, or made with a single chemical. Win, win, win.
The Best Highlighter for Mature Skin
In a stick form with absolutely no shimmer at all, this is one of the easiest highlighters to use. The reviewers, especially those with 50-year-plus aged skin, love that this gives a natural and moisturized, not greasy look to skin, that doesn’t settle into pores or lines.
The Best Contour Highlighter Combo
You get two great things in this one stick. On the one end is a creamy contour stick, the other a highlighter in a complementary shade. It comes in six shades for various skin tones, and is one of the newer Black-owned businesses, created by entrepreneur/activist Sharon Chuter, sold at Ulta.com.
The Best Highlighter for Oily Skin
This shimmer-free pressed powder invisibly brightens any area of the face it touches, and the superfine texture is also meant for setting makeup (it’s a good dupe for Hourglass’s Ambient Lighting Powder). It isn’t cakey, and it doesn’t cling to dry skin or draw attention to fine lines. What’s more, if your complexion tends to get shiny, this one also has oil-absorbing abilities. The compact is also equipped with a great mirror. The only thing that’s missing is a brush.
The Best Travel Highlighter
This Champagne cream highlighter is subtle with a mild shimmer, brightening complexions without a hint of glitz. It layers and blends easily. Of all the creamy highlighter sticks, this is the only one that’s dual-sided with a sponge, so you can buff the highlighter without using your fingers. Don’t underestimate this benefit: It’s a huge plus for on-the-go touch-ups.
The Best-Smelling Highlighter
This is a gel formula with a golden peach color that is universally flattering. It makes complexion look glowy and rested, so much so that you could skip all other makeup for the day because you are so happy with your cheekbones. It’s not cheap, but a little goes a long way. Oh, and the light coconut fragrance smells so good.
The Buttery Highlighter
If you find creams too creamy and powders too powdery, Becca’s pressed highlighter falls somewhere in the middle. The formula feels like an ultrafine powder that’s almost buttery, lightweight, and does not cake or sink into the skin. It is effective for illuminating dark shadows and brightening skin with a hint of shimmer. This shade, Pearl, is a soft white, but there are ten others to choose from.
The Highlighter Kim Kardashian Loves
The Best Goop-y Highlighter
This highlighter looks expensive with its gilded packaging and it feels that way too. It glides onto the skin like silk, and leaves a soft, dewy look that lasts for hours. If you want something that’s a little more obvious than the Chanel or Glossier and has a creamy formula, this is the one for you. It’s a favorite of Gwyneth Paltrow, and is also GOOP-approved.
The Fashion-y Highlighter
Models like Karlie Kloss are used to hearing fashion’s favorite makeup artist, Pat McGrath, command her team to bring her the “shiny stick!” Her super-secret highlighter is a creamy — not shimmery — formula that adds life and glow to skin. Thanks to its double end, you can choose exactly how shiny you want to be. One side contains a clear balm, while the other a champagne pigment. Use both for a true fashion-editorial effect.
The Glowy Setting Powder
This palette is a favorite of makeup artists because it functions as a dewy-looking setting powder. It is meant to be used with a fluffy brush to “set” or perk up areas that need more radiance, such as under the eyes or along the cheeks. Brand founder Carisa Jans created this product to mimic the same soft glow produced by pink-tinged light bulbs. If you want a strong-looking highlighter, many people choose to apply an additional creamy one over this.
The Mix-in Highlighter
Most highlighters are very concentrated in pigment, and meant to be used more as an accent. But this liquid one from Charlotte Tilbury is so light and effective, that it can be used alone, or mixed in moisturizer, foundation, or concealer to amp up dewiness. As it comes in several skin tone shades, it also works very well at minimizing redness and concealing.
The Luxury Highlighter
This jeweled compact is designed by an actual jeweler. With a decent-size mirror and small feathered brush, it’s completely portable. The lavender, mint, and peach highlighting powders contain two types of pearls. It appears shimmery in the case, but softly illuminates without leaving the skin sparkly.
The Buttery-Feeling One
This article was originally published May 11, 2018. It has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.