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How to Apply Highlighter to Your Skin for a Natural-Looking Glow

Also known as “strobing.”

Unpopular opinion: Kardashian-style Kontouring has to die. 

We can thank Kim Kardashian for the contouring craze.

I’m so over seeing Instagram photos of makeup looks involving dark, stripey jawlines and tanning-goggle white eye sockets. 

You know what I'm talking about:

This terrifying paint-by-numbers look has got to go.

Sure, strategic shading has its place for night-out makeup (and drag queens, who basically invented the technique), but I am SO GLAD there’s a new trend that looks much more natural and daytime glam. 

Let me introduce you to strobing, the newest technique for making those cheekbones stand out. 

What Is Strobing?

Strobing is essentially the application of a shimmery highlighter on the high planes of the face, where light would naturally bounce off. (Ten bucks says you already did this, but now there’s a fancy name for it.)

Unlike the mega concealer-bronzer-contour paint jobs that look great in photos but unnatural and heavy in daylight, strobing works beautifully in real life, because light is always catching and bouncing off your skin. The highlighter simply amps up the reflective glow. 

Just look at strobing queens Gigi Hadid:

Gigi Hadid at Maybelline's 100th anniversary party in 2015.

And Olivia Munn:

Olivia Munn at the 2014 season 3 premiere of 'The Newsroom'.

And Kerry Washington:

Kerry Washington at the 2014 Baby2Baby Gala.

How to Apply Highlighter

Strobing should be the final step in your makeup, so it goes on top of all the other products you're wearing (foundation, blush, etc.).

Before you strobe, it's really important to mattify the areas you don't want emphasized, such as your forehead, chin and the tip of your nose—otherwise, your whole face will just look greasy. You'll want to do this before you apply your foundation, tinted moisturizer or BB/CC cream. Laura Mercier Secret Finish Mattifying Gel has been my HG mattifier for years. Here are a few more of my favourite oil-absorbers!

Use a mattifier like Laura Mercier Secret Finish Mattifying Gel to eliminate shine before strobing.

Next, using your highlighter of choice—we'll talk about what strobing products to use in a sec!—apply a small amount to any areas of your face that light would hit. Like this:

Strobe wherever light would naturally hit your face.

Think: the tops of your cheekbones, your brow bones, a fine line down the bridge of your nose, and in the cupid's bow "v" of your lips. 

Don't forget to blend, either with your fingers, a buffing brush or a sponge. (Beautyblender Micro Minis are perfect for the job!) See more of my blending tips here.

Use a Beautyblender Micro Mini to blend out your strobing.

Tip: If you're withdrawing from the contour method and want to boost your glow, first apply a dewy concealer to the areas that you'll be strobing. I like NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer for this. 

Amp up the strobing effect by using NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer first.

Scroll to Continue

From The Skincare Edit Archives

After blending, here's my strobing result. (Don't mind the sassy expression!) I'm wearing Benefit Watt's Up! here. 

A little strobing goes a long way to create a healthy sheen.

How to Choose a Highlighter

There are three rules for choosing the perfect strobing product (otherwise known as highlighter):

1. Avoid anything sparkly. I'm looking at you, NARS Orgasm. The point is to create a subtle shimmer that could be mistaken for naturally luminous skin.

2. Keep your skin type in mind. I personally love cream stick formulas for ease of application and portability, although they're usually best for normal to dry skin types. Powder highlighters will probably last longer on combination or oily complexions.

3. Choose a highlighter that suits your skin tone. Stick with a highlighter that matches your undertones. Cool-toned highlighters on warm skin and warm-toned highlighters on cool skin will look unnatural—and defeat the purpose of strobing, which is meant to look like "no-makeup makeup."

Keep reading for my product picks by skin tone. 

The Best Highlighters for Your Skin Tone

If your skin is fair to light... 

Light pink and light beige highlighters are going to suit you best. Try the cult favourite RMS Beauty Living Luminizer. It's a cream that comes in an eyeshadow-style pot—so it's easy to dab on with a fingertip and buff with a stippling brush. Michelle is a fan!

Try RMS Beauty Living Luminizer on fair to light skin.

If your skin is light to medium... 

Try champagne colours, such as Benefit Watt's Up! I wear this almost daily—the colour isn't too light on my skin, and the cream-to-powder formula stays put. Love! I lightly draw on the product and buff with my fingers. 

Try Benefit Watt's Up on light to medium skin.

If your skin is medium olive to golden...

Burnished gold is your best friend. Benefit Sun Beam is amaaazing for this—just dab on a bit of product using the polish-style brush and blend well with a sponge.

Try Benefit Sun Beam on medium olive to golden skin.

If your skin is golden to deep...

Try a highlighter in a burnished gold, dark peach or terracotta shade. I'm a fan of NARS The Multiple in South Beach for darker skin tones, which pull off the apricot tone beautifully. As with other cream stick formulas, it's easy to draw on and smudge with your fingertips.

Try NARS The Multiple in South Beach on golden to deep skin.

Highlighters That Work on Everyone

Here are my top two picks for all skin tones and types:

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder is outrageously beautiful and comes in six shades for a range of skin tones. These would work well on any skin type, especially combination and oily skin. 

Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder comes in six shades.

The Cover FX Contour Kit comes in six colour options that would match almost any skin tone. Each kit comes with four cream shades, and I particularly like the two highlighters (one matte, one shimmery) that are designed to suit your respective skin tone. This super-creamy formula will work best on normal to dry skin.

Each Cover FX Contour Kit has four cream shades.

And there you have it. Instead of trying to fake shadows with contour, come into the light with strobing! 

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