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Best Highlighters | 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Best Highlighters

The next gift guide I have for you this holiday season is all about the best highlighters based on years of testing, including another year of highlighters to choose from! This is a tough category as there are numerous top-rated highlighters on the market, but I tried to keep my list of favorite highlighters at 16, which is the same as last year. I don’t know that I have strong preferences in my highlighters; like I kind of enjoy a little bit of everything–I like subtle finishes but will ooh and ahh over a sparkling, metallic finish, too.

The way I approach my gift guides is by focusing permanent formulas that have stood the test of time–they are high quality, consistent, and all formulas that I personally enjoy. You’ll find a formula overview and four top-rated shades (that are permanent) for each highlighted range. As always, I’d love to hear about your own personal favorite formulas–don’t forget to tell me why!

If you’re curious about the best limited edition holiday products and sets, check out our Best of Holiday 2018 Palettes & Gifts page, which automatically updates the rankings as new reviews go live.

Maybelline MasterChrome Metallic Highlighter

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It’s supposed to have a “chrome effect” that can be applied “lightly for a subtle glow” or built up for a “bold melted metal look.” The texture was soft, smooth, and blendable that was delightfully creamy to the touch, but it was still more loosely pressed (without being powdery), which made it particularly easy to apply with a slew of brushes. For subtle coverage, I’d recommend a light hand and a tapered highlighting brush or a fan brush with a moderate hand. It had opaque coverage–not buildable as described, which was really the only downside to the product–that applied evenly to bare skin and blended out with little effort. The shades typically wore for around eight hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


Natasha Denona Super Glow Highlighter

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The formula is supposed to be a "super-soft powder" that "mimics skin's natural texture for a slick, seamless finish that won't settle in fine lines" while creating a "multidimensional glow" and "glass-like sheen." The powder has a denser consistency with slight slip and creaminess, but it definitely feels like a powder. The three shades available had semi-opaque to opaque coverage in a single layer with a strong, metallic sheen and a lot of shine--more reflective and shiny than shimmer in texture, but it was a mega-watt kind of glow. It worked well with standard, tapered highlighting brushes without having to use a light or heavy hand with it. The highlighters applied evenly, blended out easily, and lasted for eight to nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


OFRA Highlighter

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The formula is supposed to have a "liquid to baked technology" that has "unparalleled pigment payoff" that can be used as a highlighter as well as an eyeshadow or as a blush topper." It's a very pigmented formula with a high-shine, metallic finish that will be most suitable for someone who wants an intense highlighter. The texture was denser but not dry or difficult to work with, so it seemed to melt onto the skin the more I buffed and blended the highlighter on. They lasted between eight and nine hours on me before fading noticeably.

Top Rated Shades


Kevyn Aucoin The Celestial Powder

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The formula is supposed to give "an angelic glow" that can be applied all-over or just where you want it most. It is a luminous, powder highlighter that strikes the right balance between being noticeable without emphasizing the skin’s natural texture. The shimmer is fine, while the powder is silky and smooth. The pigmentation varies from shade to shade but all shades I've tried have blended out well and lasted around eight hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


Makeup Geek Highlighter

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According to Makeup Geek, the formula is supposed to be “super-smooth” and “incredibly pigmented.” The majority of the range is beautifully done with smooth, slightly denser textures that are blendable and easy to work with. They have good pigmentation, though some shades are more buildable than "incredibly pigmented." Most shades lasted between eight and nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


MAC Extra Dimension Skinfinish

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The Extra Dimension Skinfinish formula is supposed to give “the perfect glow to the skin” with a “creamy powder formula” that wears for “10 hours.” It’s a powder highlighter that I’d describe as a moderate to intense highlighter, and they come in varying hues with some that might work as highlighting blushes/bronzers are on some skin tones and true highlighters on other skin tones. In general, the formula is very pigmented, blendable, and wears around eight to nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


Laura Geller Baked Gelato Swirl Illuminator

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The Baked Gelato Swirl Illuminator formula is supposed to give a “translucent wash of luminous color” that can be used all-over or as a highlighter with a powder-cream hybrid texture. The consistency was denser but smooth and had no powderiness in the pan. The powder applied well to bare skin, blended out easily, and sat well on my skin. Most shades lasted between eight and nine hours on me.

The biggest “downside” to the formula is that they’re really more pigmented than described. I think they’re easy to use as a semi-sheer product with a lighter hand, but without adjusting one's tool or technique, they tended to apply at more semi-opaque to opaque coverage. To me, the formula would be better described as having medium, buildable coverage.

Top Rated Shades


Bobbi Brown Highlighting Powder

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The formula is designed to give “high-impact, buildable radiance.” Most shades had medium or more intense pigmentation with moderate to intense shimmer, as some shades were more metallic and/or had fine sparkles. However, the powder buffs and diffuses particularly well and has a tendency to "melt" a bit more on the skin as a result. The texture was soft, smooth, and not too dense nor so soft that it became powdery in the pan. This formula typically lasted eight hours or so on my skin.

Top Rated Shades


Laura Mercier Matte Radiance Baked Powder Compact (Highlighter)

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The formula is described as an “ultra smooth baked face powder” that gives a “natural colour with a radiant healthy glow” with “sheer, buildable coverage” and “eight hour” wear. There are four shades, and this is the lightest one, and the other three appear to be more bronze-like. The texture is incredibly soft, silky, and smooth; it’s thin but not dusty or dry, and it’s this thinner, silkier consistency that makes it easily blended on the skin. The finely-milled powder paired with fine shimmer keeps the finish from emphasizing pores (even when applied more heavily). It had buildable coverage, as described, and it actually lasted for closer to nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops (Illuminating)

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Custom Enhancer Drops are a liquid formula that can add a “highlighting, strobing, or bronzing effect” to your favorite liquid products or used alone on top of (or underneath) your other products (including powder); two of the six shades are bronzing and four are more shimmery/metallic for highlighting. It is a buildable coverage product, so that you can use as many or as few drops as desired for the effect (and it will depend on how you use it; mixing with a moisturizer for all-over may require less product than spot application on cheeks after other makeup is applied!).

These are similar to formulas like Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer (runs a bit sheerer overall, less buildable), Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector (Liquid) (much sheerer), and NARS Illuminators (sheerer, usually contains larger shimmer/glitter particles). The major difference is the intensity of the pearl and buildability in coverage (easier to get to full coverage but still easy to retain sheer coverage).

What’s neat about these is that they are versatile as you want them to be; they really do perform well mixed with various liquid and cream products (moisturizer, foundation, tinted moisturizer, primer) while also working under and over makeup, and they really are buildable from sheer to opaque coverage. Initially, the formula might seem incredibly pigmented, but the thin, liquid consistency makes it very easy to sheer out. Read more...

Top Rated Shades


Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed

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The Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed formula is described as having an "ultra-reflective shine" with a "creamy" texture that "applies seamlessly." In general, the texture of the highlighters is incredibly smooth, silky, and finely-milled with frosted to metallic finishes and the occasional more sparkly finish. They tend to have a high-shine, more metallic finish and are a stronger highlighter, so they are going to be best suited to someone who likes an obvious highlight over a very subtle one. That being said, with a fan brush and a deft hand, one could certainly achieve a subtler, all-over luminosity as well, but if one takes a typical, tapered highlighting brush, there will be quite a bit of pigment and highlight on the skin. I find that some shades can emphasize the look of pores slightly to moderately, depending on application. They tend to last between eight to nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


Milani Strobelight Instant Glow Powder

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The formula is powder highlighter that’s supposed to have a “radiant finish” and is available in seven shades (you can view swatches of all shades here). The consistency was similar to a lot of other “gelee” highlighters: smooth, soft but more firmly pressed (where there was no powderiness but was still pigmented) with semi-opaque to opaque coverage and a frosted to a metallic finish. Some shades emphasized my skin’s natural texture slightly when worn heavily. This formula will be most suitable for someone who likes an intense, more metallic highlighter and warmer-toned shades.

Top Rated Shades


Colour Pop Pressed Powder Highlighter

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The powder highlighter is supposed to have a "high-shine" finish with "high colour intensity." In general, ColourPop's pressed highlighter powders have a smooth, moderately dense texture that was soft enough to be picked up easily by a brush but not kick up any powder in the pan. The formula was semi-opaque to opaque but easily sheered out for less shine and coverage if desired. There were a few shades within the range that emphasized my skin's natural texture slightly but most did not. The wear ranged from seven and a half hours to nine hours.

Top Rated Shades

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NYX Duo Chromatic Illuminating Powder

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The formula is supposed to "blend like a dream" and have a "luminous finish." The pigmentation varied from semi-sheer to mostly opaque with a denser, lightly creamy texture that felt thicker in the pan but did not look or feel that way on my skin. I would recommend using a denser brush or using a heavier hand to get product onto the brush. I didn’t feel like the powder was stiff, but it wasn’t as loosely pressed as a lot of highlighters on the market, which did make it easier to control and build coverage and sheen up. They lasted around eight hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


Jouer Powder Highlighter

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The formula is supposed to be "long-wearing, highly pigmented" and have a "radiant finish." They are semi-opaque to opaque typically with a denser, creamier consistency that doesn't have any powderiness or dustiness to it. The powders apply well to bare skin, blended out easily, and tend to have a stronger, metallic sheen--definitely a more intense highlighter. They lasted between eight and nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades


NARS Highlighting Powder (2018)

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The new powder highlighter formula is supposed to "melt seamlessly into skin to enhance your natural glow" with "buildable radiance." The texture had a smooth feel that was finely-milled but firmer, almost stiff in a way, in the pan (not in a bad way), and it was not at all powdery. There was a dryness and thinness present in the texture that made it less like traditional powder highlighter formulas (including the brand's original range of highlighting powders), and none of that translated into poor performance.

That being said, all of the shades applied better on the cheeks than the they did applied to my arm. I also noticed that finish became more and more luminous--almost blindingly at times!--as the powder was buffed and blended on my cheeks. They were very reflective and shiny on my cheek bones with semi-opaque, buildable pigmentation. I had no trouble blending and diffusing any of the shades on my skin, and despite having a firmer feel in the pan, I could use fan brushes and other feathery brushes to pickup product. The powders lasted between eight and nine hours on me.

Top Rated Shades

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7 Comments

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There are too many gorgeous highlighters on the market right now!
Which ones would you recommend for a more natural sheen, barring KA Candlelight and LM Matte Radiance?

My favorites are Becca Pressed in Pearl and Ofra’s Pillow Talk. I have Glazed Donut but it’s not as smooth Pillow Talk and doesn’t melt into the skin like Pearl. I’m very fair with cool undertones and it’s hard to find highlighters that don’t have a yellow/champagne undertone so I’d love to see your recommendations for someone with my skintone. I bet others would too!

I would!

But I love MAC Lightscapade for daily use in winter/early spring when I’m on my fairest. Although it is a warmer shade, it is that light that it doesn’t overdo it. It is also not a glitter bomb and doesn’t make my skin look textured. 🙂 I love that it gives me a healthy glow.

Great list. Not on the list, but I thought I’d mention that I purchased NYX’s Away We Glow Strobing Cream in Bright Star yesterday, and I’m impressed with how it’s both very smooth and noticeably brightening. Haven’t yet decided how I’m going to use it (probably mixed with body lotion for my decollatage area).

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