There are a few different styles of highlighting brushes on the market, but the most common highlighter brush is medium in size and flares outward from the ferrule and then tapers to a point, which can be more or less rounded.
Highlighter brushes can be less-dense and feel airier or be moderately dense and can almost buff products into the skin. There are also fan brushes, which are shaped like a hand fan, which are often for more diffused, subtler application.
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Best Highlighter Brushes for Subtle Glow
You want to look for less-densely packed brushes–ones described as silky, airy, fluffy, or light–as they’ll pick up less product and disperse it in a more diffused manner, which results in a subtle, more gradual glow. For subtle highlighter formulas, you may still want a more moderate brush because the product starts out subtle, whereas if you’re trying to make an intense highlighter more buildable in glow, that’s where an airy brush excels.
They are ideal for use with softer powders (nothing too dense/cream-like) that have fine to moderate shimmer size (I would not use them with glitters unless it was a more softly-pressed glittery highlighter).
Wayne Goss The Air Brush ($35.00)
It is a small, flatter face brush with tapered bristles that come to a rounded edge. Despite being flatter, it excels at blending out the edges of various powders on the face. It’s one of my favorite brushes for all things face, but it is superb for anyone who wants lighter application of their colored cheek products. Available at a Beautylish.
Sonia G Fan Pro Brush ($32.00)
It is a small, goat-haired fan brush that has a rounded, pinched ferrule where the brushes flare outward to create a gently curved edge. It is incredibly soft and moves fluidly against the skin–no feeling of any individual bristles at all. Available at Beautylish.
Chikuhodo Z-4 Cheek/Highlighter Brush ($73.00)
It is an incredibly soft, almost airy small cheek brush that, as the name says, works for blush and highlighter. The squirrel hair picks up less product than goat or other hair-types, so it gives a more buildable, gradual application of product–ideal for light-to-moderate application of highlight. Available at Beautylish.
Honorable mention: SUQQU Cheek Brush ($123.60) is an extremely silky, airy brush, but it’s harder to purchase in a lot of countries.
Best Highlighter Brushes for Moderate Glow
These are brushes that have very soft bristles that naturally pickup a bit less product and give a more diffused application initially, but they still yield a more moderate application unless you have a very light hand.
is a medium-sized, rounded blush brush that I reach for highlighters as well as blushes, so it’s more multi-tasking for me. I like using this for more diffused application over a larger area or when I’m using a finishing powder. This is one I often reach for when I use Hourglass’ Ambient Lighting Powders, which I’ll dust over greater areas of my face.
Sonia G. Designer Pro ($46.00)
It’s a slightly smaller-than-average cheek brush, but it’s moderately dense and has a more paddle-like shape (with a soft, domed edge), so it lays down product easily with a few taps but then has the density necessary to diffuse and blend out shimmer evenly. Available at Beautylish.
Chikuhodo Z-2 Highlight ($78.00)
This is a smaller, tapered highlighter brush designed for more precise application with squirrel hair, which results in a softer, more diffused application compared to other hair types. Available at Beautylish.
Wayne Goss Brush 10 ($38.00)
This is a rounded, tapered, highlighting brush with a soft, moderately dense feel on the skin that works well for applying and blending out powders on the cheeks.
Alternatively, Hakuhodo J5521 Highlight Brush ($38.00) is extremely similar in shape, so it is also an excellent choice (I use both). B5521 Highlight Brush ($53.00) is softer (mix of blue squirrel and goat hair) for those who need softer bristles in this shape. S5521BBk Highlight Brush ($47.00) is more resilient and works better with stiffer products with its mix of goat and horse hair.
Best Highlighter Brushes for Intense Glow
I’ll often use a more tapered highlighter brush (see above for most of my recommendations) with a slightly heavier hand to achieve a more intense glow, but I’ve also listed some of my favorites that I reach for that are specifically ideal for heavier application of highlighter. (Also, blush brushes are often great tools for applying highlighter more intensely!)
Sonia G. Face Two ($48.00)
It’s a small-to-medium sized brush with a flatter edge, so it’s almost like a small, buffing brush with good spring and enough fluffiness to make it a really well-rounded tool. I love it for getting intense, pigmented highlighter application (in addition to using it with blush). Available at Beautylish.
Sonia G. Sculpt Three ($32.00)
It’s a small, but mighty, smaller fan brush that picks up product evenly and deposits in precisely, which I find perfect for creating intense glow exactly where you want it. Available at Beautylish.
Best Highlighter Brushes for Liquids & Creams
I often use fingertips more than brushes (hey, less brushes to wash that way) with liquids and creams as I find application to work quite well either way, but when I use brushes, these have been my go-tos for years.
MAC 159S Duo Fibre Brush ($35.00)
It is a small-to-medium-sized, domed cheek brush that has more feathery, sparse bristles at the edge, which help with gradual, diffused application. Available at Nordstrom.
Real Techniques Setting Brush ($7.99)
It’s a small, more precise synthetic brush that works well for applying highlighters to the high points of the face. I typically use it with liquids and creams, but it could also be used with powders. Available at Ulta.