Highlighting 101: how to highlight your face

If you were on YouTube circa 2016, you’re likely more than familiar with highlighter. At the time, the ‘strobing’ technique – applying a large (some might say excessive) amount of super shimmery highlighter to the top of the cheekbones and brow bone was all the rage. The phrase “beaming to the heavens” immediately springs to mind.

Since then, a dewier, more soft-focus approach to highlighting has taken centre stage across our Instagram feeds, while TikTok has kicked off a range of highlighting hacks – not including the ‘triangle halo’ trick for brighter eyes and applying illuminator all over the face before foundation for a radiant effect.

Here, MECCA’s makeup category education lead, Francesca Hyde, shares her back-to-basics guide to highlighting and how to apply it to flatter your features and suit your personal makeup style.

What are the key principles of highlighting?

“Highlighting is exactly that – adding light to the high points of your face, harnessing the power of light to embellish and draw attention to your favourite features,” explains Hyde.

Why should you highlight your face?

“You can use the transformative magic of highlighting in so many different ways, all depending on what makes you feel your best!” says Hyde. “Sculpt and shape your features, pop your cheekbones, add gloss and glow or polish your skin to a metallic shine – highlight can do it all.”

Where should you highlight, based on your face shape?

There’s a simple rule of thumb Hyde recommends following when it comes to highlighting your face: “Adding light to any feature brings it forward, so start by assessing your face shape and deciding what elements of your face you want to draw attention to,” she explains.

“Hold up a mirror and change angles to find out where light naturally hits your face – use this as a guide for where to apply highlight.”

Want to create a more chiselled look? “If you want to sharpen your cheekbones, apply your highlight in a sharper shape to only the highest points, whereas if you want to soften your features, apply a larger wash of highlight over the whole cheekbone,” Hyde recommends.

Meanwhile, “A dot of highlight on the inner corner of the eye can make your eyes appear brighter and bigger, [highlighting] the centre of the eyelid makes for rounder eyes and a hint on the brow bone is great for when you want a lift!” she adds.

WATCH: How many highlighters can you wear at once? With RMS Beauty's Rose-Marie Swift.

What are the differences between the different highlighting formulas (powder, cream, liquid) and should you use them differently?

Short answer? Yes. “Powder is the perfect option for when you want to sculpt and shape the face or beam radiant glow!” says Hyde. “I love to lay down a subtle powder highlight to lift the cheekbone, then grab a small fluffy brush to precisely buff on a blinding bright highlight on the very high points of the face. The trick to out-of-this-world glow is to buff highlight into the skin, like polishing a diamond!”

Love that natural, almost sweat-like glow? Try a cream. “Cream highlighter is essential for any juicy, dewy complexion,” confirms Hyde. “The shimmering particles in cream formulas are often more subtle, so are the best option for when you want to shimmer and shine rather than sparkle.”

Even better? Application is as simple as ‘tap-and-go’: “I love to use my fingers to warm product into the skin for a gleaming and glistening glass-like finish,” says Hyde. “Your ring finger is the perfect size and shape to press onto the high point of your cheekbone, then just tap and blend.”

Finally, liquid highlighter (such as By Terry’s cult-favourite Brightening CC Serum) is one of the most versatile options in the glow game, according to Hyde: “Liquid highlighter is your go-to for when you want lit-from-within glow all over, or to naturally enhance your bone structure.

“The thin next-to-nothing texture melts into skin and will have people complimenting your complexion rather than your makeup. Mix a drop into your moisturiser or foundation or buff onto high points of the face before or after your do your base to amp up the ‘I woke up like this’ glow!” she adds.

What are the mistakes people make when highlighting?

“The biggest makeup misstep we can often make is not taking into account our own unique features and what makes us feel the most beautiful,” Hyde explains. “Highlighter is designed to draw attention to the face, so while there is no one correct way to highlight, you want to make sure you are applying the right formula in the right place – for you.”

Concerned with pores or texture? “Make sure to only highlight smoother areas of skin, as any texture will be amplified,” Hyde recommends.

For those who struggle with dryness or fine lines, she suggests a “cream-based dewy highlighter” instead of powder to “plump and hydrate” the skin. In contrast, “If you find your skin gets oily throughout the day, cream highlights can turn into a slick – opt for powders instead,” she says.t

WATCH: How to layer blush and highlighter to make your cheeks pop.

What are your best highlighting tips for a professional look?

First up – to create the most natural highlight, look for shades that match your skin’s natural undertone: “Cool tones can try pink and silver, while neutral and warm tones can reach for rich peach and golden shades,” says Hyde. “To create a lifted and glowing look, make sure your highlight is at least one shade lighter than your natural skin tone.”

Hyde’s next tip? Blend, blend, blend. “Try to avoid making it obvious where you end and your highlight begins – take the time to work your highlighter into your skin,” she says. “Even if you want it to standout, take some extra time buffing your highlighter powder or pressing cream in so it looks like your cheekbones just naturally happen to be that high!”

Similar to contouring, highlighting can also be used to ‘re-shape’ the face. “We love a good nose and lip highlight, but make sure that it works for how you want to sculpt your face; a slim and subtle highlight can be a great trick to refine a nose or ‘pop’ a top lip, but if you don’t want to draw attention to – or tend to find texture in – those areas, give it a miss!” she advises.

What are your favourite highlighters at MECCA?

“I love the MECCA MAX Off Duty Glow Stick for an easy on-the-go glow. Keep one in your bag to add an extra hit of highlight when things start to feel a little flat during the day – it’s an instant pick-me-up for your mood, and your cheekbones!” Hyde laughs.

“For a super juicy, glossed-up highlight, you have to try Westman Atelier’s Lit Up Highlight Stick. Layer it under or over your favourite complexion products for a glistening and glassy highlight,” she adds.

Finally, “For all out bling, you can’t beat Smashbox X BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector in ‘Champagne Pop’. It’s the highlighter that broke the internet – it’s buttery, high-shine perfection! Dust a little over the cheekbone or buff and layer for diamond-level light.”

Want more expert artistry tips? Book a (redeemable!) makeup lesson in-store at MECCA.


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