Hair & Makeup

Highlighter is back! And this time, it looks like real skin

Forget garish highlights and heavy layers of makeup – this new take on highlighter is all about that ‘natural’ glow, says SUZANNE SCOTT


Somewhere among the heavy makeup of social media, we fell out of love with highlighter. What was once a makeup-bag staple, capable of injecting life and vitality to skin in an instant, became far too theatrical for our tastes. Why? Probably because it’s so easy to get highlighter wrong; too shiny, too reflective, too obvious. “So much of the makeup we see on the likes of Instagram and TikTok is super-over-the-top,” agrees Gucci Westman, an LA-based makeup artist who is renowned for creating subtle but beautiful makeup that real women want to wear. “I’ve always believed in amplification over transformation,” she says.

It’s with this amplification approach in mind that we were persuaded to revisit highlighter – and aren’t we glad we did? Highlighter is enjoying a new moment in the spotlight but, thanks to better formulations and a lighter application, it’s more flattering than ever. Almost imperceptible light-diffusing particles have replaced garish shimmery powders, and touchable, dewy textures have dismissed drying formulas that accentuate blemishes and uneven skin. This new take on highlighter looks like real skin, but better.

Prepare your skin

Like any makeup look, it’s the preparation that makes all the difference. “It’s all about skin prep for me,” says Westman. “After cleansing, I like to use a gentle exfoliator, such as Kat Burki’s Dual Exfoliating Clay, to rid the skin of any dead cells and build-up. Then, I like to multitask with a mask and a facial roller. 111Skin Sub-Zero De-Puffing Energy Facial Mask paired with Joanna Czech’s Facial Massager is a heavenly combo. For an extra radiance boost, I pat in a brightening serum and follow with a lightweight, hydrating moisturizer. U Beauty’s The Super Smart Hydrator is one of my personal favorites to apply before makeup.”

Use a light touch

A light hand is necessary if you want your skin to look beautifully lit. Liquid, cream and stick highlighters, such as Westman Atelier Lit Up Highlight Stick in Lit, look more natural on skin, while powders tend to be more obviously reflective. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and some powder highlighters, including the Hourglass Ambient Metallic Strobe Lighting Palette, contain such finely milled particles they register more cream than powder once on your skin.

As for application, brushes will create a more intense highlight and are best reserved for buffing highlighter over collarbones and down the front of your shins, while fingertips are ideal for adding touches of light to your skin in a more believable way. The shades you opt for should have a similar undertone to your natural skin coloring for a more realistic glow; pale pink and pearl shades often suit fair tones; shades with a rich, gold hue look incredible on medium skin tones; while richer russet and bronze bases flatter dark skin.

Work with your natural face shape

Forget prescriptive online makeup tutorials that paint a picture of where to apply your highlighter – just take a look in the mirror in daylight and notice where the light naturally looks strongest. “You typically want to concentrate your highlighter on the high points of your face,” explains Westman. As a rule, this equates to the tops of your cheek bones, the high point of your brow bone and perhaps a tiny amount above the arch of your brow. “I also love to apply a touch above the Cupid’s bow, on the inner corners of the eyes and a tiny bit on the bridge of the nose.” Use your fingertips to pat the product in, taking time to blur the edges outwards so the highlighter becomes part of your skin.

Be strategic in your application

As a makeup artist who works with actors and models for cover shoots and red-carpet events, Westman knows how to create softly highlighted skin that can withstand the scrutiny of the camera and still look flawless in real life. “One of my favorite tricks is to glide highlighter over the tops of cheekbones and across the bridge off the nose, before applying foundation,” she says. This topsy-turvy approach is a shortcut to great-looking skin. “It gives skin this ethereal, lit-from-within glow.” Just as important is to blend. “Layering and blending are essential. After I have applied Lit Up Highlight Stick and Westman Atelier Vital Skin Foundation Stick, I will apply contour and blush, and then blend everything really well.”


The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown