Get Glowing! How to Apply Highlighter

Published Categorized as Makeup Tips

Highlighter was originally developed and used in stage makeup or for special effects in film and photography. It was a tool for professional makeup artists. However, recent years have seen highlighting and contouring being practiced by women all over the world. The trend shows no sign of stopping. Today let’s take a closer look at the ins, outs, and hows of using highlighter to accent your beautiful features. Do you know where to apply highlighter on your face?

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Table of Contents

Why Use Highlighter?

wet n wild Megaglo Highlighting Powder, Blossom Glow, 0.19 Fluid Ounce

When you look inside your makeup storage case, you probably have a few products that bring out your inner glow. However, you might also be stumped about how to apply these highlighting products.

But when used correctly, highlighter can transform your skin and your whole makeup look.

Highlighter is loved because it:

  • Makes the skin look moist and healthy. Highlighter makes the complexion look healthier and more youthful, counteracting dry, dull skin.
  • Creates a luminous, lit-from-within glow. Glowing, radiant skin looks good on anyone, and makes your selfies pop.
  • Accentuates your features and angles. When used with contouring, highlighter can make the eyes and lips look bigger, the nose appear smaller, and the face look slimmer. If you want to play up your best features, highlighter is your best friend.

However, a quick look at Instagram reveals that not quite everyone knows how to use highlighter correctly.

It’s often misplaced, looking thick and cakey, or over-applied.

This gives the whole face a plasticky sheen instead. If that’s what you’re going for, no judgement! But if you want a soft, dewy glow, this isn’t the way to do it.

For a more natural, healthy look, highlighter needs to be applied in the right place, and in the right way.

Where to Apply Highlighter on the Face

How to Apply Highlighter - Ellis James Designs

The key aspect of highlighter is that it is light in shade and often has light-reflecting properties.

As the name implies, this light, shimmery makeup has the effect of bringing features forward or making them catch the eye. It’s often paired with contouring, the products of which are darker in shade and usually matte in finish, and has the opposite effect. Contouring is the opposite of highlighting, in that it pushes things back and makes them less noticeable.

So, the general rule for highlighter is that you use it to bring parts of the face forward and make them more dimensional and more noticeable.

For this reason, when applying highlighter, look for the peaks of your features (the top of the cheekbones rather than the apple of the cheeks, or the bridge and tip of the nose), and pay attention to the places where light naturally strikes the skin (the highest point of your brow bone, your cupid’s bow).

Where you apply highlighter depends on what kind of effect you want to achieve.

  • For fresh, youthful skin: An illuminated moisturizer applied all over the face makes the whole face look hydrated and healthy.
  • To accentuate the face: Highlighter is most often used to simply draw light toward the center of the face, for a gentle slimming and accenting effect. In this case, apply highlighter in the places where light naturally strikes the most: in the center of the forehead, at the high point of the cheeks and above the cheekbones, and along the bridge of the nose.
  • To add glamour: For a more glamorous, superstar look that really catches the eye, apply highlighter along the tops of cheekbones and the tops of brow bones, circling around the temples. Highlight the outer and inner corners of the eye. Then apply down the center and tip of the nose, and top it off with a highlight just at the cupid’s bow.

How to Apply Highlighter Step by Step

There are so many different highlighters, and each has different application tools and techniques.

Whether you want to use a cream, a liquid, a stick, or a powder (not to mention what kind of look you’re going for) will all determine how best to apply your highlighter.

For all-over, natural brightness

How to Apply Highlighter - Ellis James Designs

Use a liquid illuminator and mix a drop of highlighter in with your moisturizer or BB cream.

Apply all over the face for a gentle, light look, and finish with a setting spray instead of a powder.

To accentuate your features

How to Apply Highlighter - Ellis James Designs

Apply your moisturizer and foundation as normal.

If you are contouring, apply the darker colors first, then apply the highlighter.

Use a powder highlighter or a concealer that is 2 shades lighter than your skin tone.

Use a brush to apply highlighter along the tops of your cheekbones, then up the bridge of the nose and center of the forehead.

Blend with a brush or sponge to remove any harsh lines or edges, and use setting spray to finish.

To add a pop to your look

How to Apply Highlighter - Ellis James Designs

Complete your makeup look, using light makeup or concealer to accentuate the lighter, brighter parts of your face.

Add an extra pop of light by using a fan brush to diffuse a shimmering powder at your cheekbones, temples, and the tip of your nose.

Apply a dusting of matte powder over all the non-highlit areas of your face.

To turn up your glam

How to Apply Highlighter - Ellis James Designs

Complete your makeup look.

Then use a highlighting brush or beauty sponge that is slightly dampened with setting spray to apply a cream or liquid highlighter.

Apply to the outside of the brow bones, circling around the eye to the tops of the cheekbones.

Apply to the inner corners of the eye and just beneath your browline. Finish by applying to the center and tip of the nose and the peak of your cupid’s bow. If you go a little too far, use foundation to reduce the highlights. Finish with a setting spray.

Some pro tips

As you can see, setting spray is crucial when you highlight, because dusting a setting powder can disrupt or dim your glow. Setting spray holds the look in place without disturbing your highlights, and without the cakey look that powders can create.

A great option is the PureBliss Makeup Setting Spray which is made of over 90% organic ingredients. It creates fine, delicate mist with a clean scent that hydrates skin without disrupting makeup, and can preserve your look for more than 12 hours.

Go glow, glow!

Whether your style is subtle and natural or ultra-glam, a good highlighter can complete your look and help you capture your best light.

Follow these tips to boost your glow and show your radiance!

Don’t forget to choose the right brush for the right makeup. Do you know what makeup brushes are used for what?

We’d love to hear about your favorites! Do you have any tips and tricks hidden up your sleeve for where to apply highlighter on the face?

By Ellis James

We design luxuriously glamorous bags, organizers and life essentials for you. At Ellis James Designs, it’s all about YOU. Your bag, Your way. Our exclusive designs are timeless, indulgent and most importantly inspired by you. What will be your first Ellis James Design?


  1. Everything starts from experimentation, so don’t be afraid to try a swish or two of sparkle. We’re so glad to hear that you found this post helpful!

  2. These ladies all look so fab! I’ve been scared to use highlighter because I’m afraid I’ll use too much. This was really helpful!

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