[Requested] Highlighting 101: Understanding Your Facial Structure and Choosing Products to glow, illuminate, and sculpt your face.
Note: Demo in one of the images above was done with deliberatedly exaggerated contouring and highlighting so you can see where everything goes. I never wear it so strong in daily life!
Highlighters are used for various reasons;
- To bring out a dewy, polished glow to the skin
- Illuminate certain areas of the face and make yourself look fresher and more awake
- To sculpt the face and bring out (or subtly alter) bone structure
Depending on what your primary need is out of the 3 above, you will need to go for slightly different products.
Your Facial Structure
Look at the image above showing a break down of the cheekbone area. We are often told to apply highlighter and blush along the peaks of our cheeks, where the cheekbones are the most prominent. That’s the line along which you should be applying blush, NOT highlighter.
I often find that too low, because you are in reality applying half your highlighter BELOW the peak, and artificially lowering your cheekbones. What you want to do is to place the highlighter higher, between the temple line and the peaks of your cheekbones. It should END at the peaks of your cheeks.
Below that peak line is where your contouring powder (if you are using one) would go.
If you are intending to bring out a dewy polished glow to the skin, you will want to look for a highlighter with a bit of sheen. There are lots of liquid and cream products in the market, and you should look for something without noticeable sparkles and flecks of large shimmer. It should disappear into your skin and add just an almost-invisible glow.
This is usually applied after all your other face makeup (concealer, blusher, setting powder, etc) is done. If you want it to be subtle, apply setting powder AFTER highlighting as that knocks off a bit of product and blends it into the rest of your makeup.
The primary areas you want to apply a shimmer highlighter would be the tops of your cheekbones, at the center of your nose bridge (not the whole bridge or you will look like you dipped your nose in oil), the brown bones, sometimes the center of your lids if you are not wearing eye shadow, and the cupids bow of the lips.
If you have oily skin, stick with a powder shimmer like TheBalm’s Mary Lou-Manizer, or pigments like MAC Naked. If you have dark, oily skin, then a pigment or highlighter shade like MAC’s Tan or even Pink Bronze would be gorgeous.
If you are dry, cream and liquid products like Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector or other options from The Body Shop and No 7, as well as those from a host of other drugstore brands would do nicely. If you can, try to skip applying any setting powder, as that would just cut down the dewy sheen.
If you have a lot of blemishes in the cheek and cheekbone area, a dewy highlight is just going to make every single bump and lump look even more visible, so I would avoid this and just go for option 2 or 3.
If you are using a liquid or cream product, you can always use a flat foundation brush to just lightly apply and blend a bit of product onto your skin AFTER foundation and concealer.
Illumination can bring light and life to the face, as well as subtly contour. The important thing to note is that the type of products that do this are not meant to be very obvious on the skin. If people can tell you are wearing it, you’ve done it wrong.
Most times, the primary areas to apply a touch of illumination are the brow bone, cheek bone, cupid’s bow, down the center of the nose (unlike shimmery products, illuminators CAN work down the whole strip of the nose if you blend it out well), and around the inner corners of the eyes.
When to apply:
This is usually done after all your base makeup (foundation, concealer) is complete, but before any setting powder. BUT, many of these illuminating pens are also designed to be used OVER makeup. The liquids will just meld with your existing makeup.
Warning though; this works only if you aren’t wearing a lot of concealer or foundation underneath. If you are, it can get cakey and be hard to blend out.
The most popular illuminating products are pen-style liquid or cream highlighters like YSL Touche Eclat, and L’oreal has an Asia-exclusive called Lucent Magique Highlighting Pen which I love.
Many mineral makeup brands like Everyday Minerals also make subtle illuminating powders which serve the same function, but work better on women with oily skins. Make sure you pick one that is slightly peachier or salmon-toned than your own skin shade, especially if you have dark skin, because a pale beige or yellow powder can look chalky. Also make sure the product doesn’t have obvious sparkles.
The brush that comes with most highlighting pens is ok for applying product, but you’ll need your own fingers to smooth and blend it out.
If you are using a powder illuminator, I love using a very big and soft eye shadow blender that is not going to deposit a ton of product. You don’t want noticeably powdery under-eyes because it will look unnatural and crease.
Sculpting is done to bring out the bone structure and exaggerate it. If you’ve seen Kim Kardashian, you will have seen an example of this.
The key thing is to bring out 2 key areas of the face; the nose bridge, and the entire under-eye area in a “triangle” type of shape like in the image below.
Note the bottom edge of the triangle goes right along the peak of the cheekbones and no lower (reference the cheekbone face chart again).
This CAN to a limited extend be done using a shimmer product, but the results are best if you use a matte one. The simplest one is to use a cream or liquid product about 1-2 shades lighter than your actual skin.
Be very careful not to overdo this though. The edges of your face, your temples, forehead, and chin, should not look lighter than the rest of your neck and chest.
You will get the highest coverage and maximum effect with full-coverage foundations and concealers
If you want a subtler coverage, a very lightweight liquid concealer like MAC Select Coverup is a good option. (Its texture and coverage makes it work almost like a slightly heavier-duty liquid highlighting pen.)
If you want EXTRA-heavy sculpting, apply a slightly lighter powder over the highlighted areas. But I don’t recommend this unless you are going on-stage or deliberately making a statement with your sculpting.
Blend blend blend. If you are using a liquid, use a flat foundation brush and your fingers to make sure there are no visible streaks or lines.
If you are using powder, a sponge applicator gives you the most precise coverage, but make sure to use a soft face brush to lightly buff out any obvious stripes and lines after that.
IF YOU WANT ILLUMINATED EYES AND GLOWING, SCULPTED CHEEKS…
1. In the inner areas of your face (under-eyes, mainly) Apply your matte/creme illuminator around the eye area, following either option 2 or 3.
2. Along the outer perimeters, switch to a shimmer powder for highlighting the brow bones and cheekbones.
3. You can choose to apply either a shimmer or a matte on the bridge of your nose. If you need contouring, then go with the matte because that allows more precision and will look more obvious. If you don’t, you can just use a touch of shimmer in the center of the nose, or skip it entirely.
A note on Contouring:
I did not go into detail as the request was for highlighting. Just as reference, the face chart with the black lines shows you roughly where a matte contouring product should go.