The best make-up highlighters

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For healthy-looking skin with a radiant glow, there are a few things you can do: drink lots of water, get a good night’s sleep, stick to a healthy diet… But when it comes to getting that enviable look in an instant? Nothing beats a highlighter.

A far cry from the fluorescent pencil-case staple you might be imagining, the best highlighters, whether cream or powder, frosty or subtle, bring your best features to the fore by creating the illusion of lifted, lit-from-within cheekbones and brow bones, plus anywhere else you think could do with perking up. Think of it as your own personal, portable highlight reel.

The best bits to highlight are underneath the arch of the brow, for a lifted effect; in the Cupid’s bow, for a perfected pout; at the inner corners of the eyes, to fake a wide-awake glimmer; and across the tops of the cheekbones for structure and dimension. For holidays or evening events where you’re showing a bit more skin, you can go even further with a face-and-body suitable highlighter — apply with a light touch to the décolletage and shins for a luminous modelesque glow worthy of any Victoria’s Secret angel.

Powder highlighters are best applied with a fan brush, which doesn’t leave too much product behind to clump on the skin (remember, apply with a light touch and you can always add more), while cream or liquid highlighters need nothing more than warm fingers to gently pat them into the skin.

Whether you’re after a real poppin’ strobe effect or a subtle, ‘I woke up like this’ radiance, you’re sure to find something in our list of the best highlighters. Read on, glow forth, and shine.

1. Anastasia Beverly Hills Illuminator

A beautiful powder compact for lit-from-within skin on the go

Best for: A little shine | Skin tone: Fair | Available shades: 3 | RRP: £28.00

Versatile shades
Luxe formulation and packaging
Little staying power

This brush-on offering from cult brand Anastasia Beverly Hills — or ‘ABH’, to those in the know — is a superb all-rounder. Our favourite shade of the bunch, ‘Starlight’, is a true illuminator, resulting in a lovely diffused glow on fairer skin tones, and some serious wattage, when built up, on medium and olive tones. It also comes in its own mirrored compact, a thing of great beauty with luxurious styling and to-die-for art deco sculpting, for easy on-the-go application.  

2. St. Tropez Skin Illuminator Gold

A luxurious-feeling budget buy for bronzed skin

Best for: Value | Skin tone: Fair | Available shades: 3 | RRP: £10.00

Great value
For face and body
Fragrance not great for sensitive skin

It stands to reason that the titans of tan would know a thing or two about getting gorgeously glowing skin, and this lush liquid highlighter from St. Tropez confirms. The lightweight formula, patted onto skin with warm fingers, adds a subtle golden sheen to cheekbones, décolletage, arms and shins for that effortlessly glamorous beach-to-bar effect, and is a steal at just £10. Perfect for packing in your beach bag or carry-on for easy holiday glam.

3. NARS The Multiple

Highlight and colour in one with a fantastic range of shades

Best for: Wide range of shades | Skin tone: Fair to dark | Available shades: 13 | RRP: £29.00

 Something for all skin tones 
 Eyes, lips, cheeks and body 
 Some shades not very illuminating 

An eternal cult favourite, NARS’ multi-tasking The Multiple comes in a handy lipstick-sized twist-up stick, perfect for popping into a handbag for on-the-go touch-ups. Designed to be applied straight from the stick and blended with fingers, the lightweight creamy formula imparts a sheer wash of colour to eyes, cheeks, lips and body. A light vein of shimmer runs through each multiple, giving cheeks a lit-from-within glow with a hint of colour. As a multi-tasking product in a huge range of shades, this is second to none.

4. Hourglass Ambient Strobe Lighting Powder

Take your own ultra-flattering mood lighting wherever you go with this subtle powder

Best for: Soft focus | Skin tone: Fair to medium | Available shades: 4 | RRP: £34.00

 Suits most skin tones 
 Subtle glow for everyday 
 Pricey 

The ultra-fine reflective particles in Hourglass’ Ambient Strobe Lighting Powder mean that this highlighter is always heavenly, never heavy. It’s more of a glow than a glitter, more suited to an everyday look than to ultra-glam nights on the town, and because it’s not too frosted, it wears evenly throughout the day, minimising the need for re-application. The only downside is that while the four shades do a great job of bringing out the best in most skin tones, there are better products out there for darker complexions, such as NARS' Multiples.

5. Benefit Watts Up!

Choose between energy-saving gleam and megawatt shine with this buildable highlighter

Best for: Long-lasting | Skin tone: Fair | Available shades: 1 | RRP: £34.99

 Good fair-skin shade 
 Lasts a long time 
 Only one shade 

Easy to apply and blend to a seamless finish, the creamy consistency of Benefit’s Watts Up! is a real winner. Reviewers love its ability to impart a healthy-looking, soft-focus glow with just a little bit of product — a little goes a long way, making it long-lasting enough to justify the hefty price tag. Our advice for the best glow? Skip the slightly naff sponge applicator and blend with your fingers instead. 

6. Laura Geller Baked Gelato Swirl Illuminator

This good-enough-to-eat highlighter looks simply sweet on all skin tones

Best for: Strong colours | Skin tone: Fair to dark | Available shades: 4 | RRP: £22.00

 Pigmented and buildable 
 Something for all skin tones 
 Can easily apply too much 

This Laura Geller highlighter might sound more like something you’d find on a dessert trolley than on the make-up counter, but it makes highlighting a cakewalk. Its swirled design, almost too beautiful to use (almost) blends just the right amount of colour and illuminator for a beautiful, glowing finish. The hybrid texture applies with the ease of a sheer powder but feels like a cream, leaving a lovely wash of colour on all skin types, but especially good for dry-skinned users who don’t always feel comfortable with a powder. A versatile alternative to Benefit's Watts Up! for deeper skin tones.

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