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While I’m certainly not a beauty historian, it’s safe to say that the best natural looking highlighters have never been more popular than they at the moment. From wet-looking glossy cheekbones to “blinding” glitter-infused strobing, over-the-top highlighting isn’t the only kind on every makeup junkie’s radar; even in the midst of another festival season. There’s also the Instagram-approved “sweat or highlight?” beauty trope, pointing to a natural-looking highlighted face that channels a more lit-from-within, post-workout glow rather than a shimmering, disco-ready makeup look.
Sure, some of us (myself, unapologetically included) are on board with the over-the-top strobing effect, favoring glitter-infused luminators and punchy chromatic pigments packed with reflective glitter. But if you’re just looking to fake a little bit of golden-hour sheen or recreate a flushed, no-makeup makeup glow, these cheekbone-bedazzling pigments are not going to do the trick.
Another downside to super-shimmering highlighters is that they often times illuminate the things on our skin that we don’t want to spotlight — fine lines, texture, and enlarged pores. In general, the less glitter and reflect the highlighter contains, the lower the risk emphasizing these skin problems will be. Fortunately, there are plenty of low-key, subtle highlighters with buildable pigment levels to give you that coveted, sweat-simulating sheen without looking like you’ve applied craft-store glitter to your high points.
Whether you’re into the understated wet look or are just in the market for something to (finally) help you feign a glitter-free healthy glow, these highlighters will give your cheekbones, forehead, and nose a natural, Instagram-filter-like glow, without the blinding, pixie dust effect.
1. Essence Pure Nude Highlighter
This $5 drugstore highlighting powder is a common mention in beauty guru holy grail roundups, and we’re certain it’s not the result of paid sponsorship. This silky powder is so finally milled, allowing you to layer up to your level of intensity. It’s beige undertone also sets it apart from most opal or pink based highlights giving you a super subtle sheen without a metallic shift.
2. Glossier Haloscope Dew Effect Highlighter
This innovative dew-inducing stick is actually a two-in-one highlight. The center contains a core of solid facial oil to deliver a natural, sweat-like sheen while keeping the skin hydrated and juicy, and the outer portion is infused with crystal pigments for a slight shimmer. The creamy formula is both super buildable and blendable, making it a great addition to your handbag’s beauty collection.
$22 at Glossier
3. Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder
This cult classic highlighting powder gives the skin a soft-focus, filtered effect, while blurring the look of fine lines and pores while adding a candle-lit radiance to the skin. It’s formulated with “Photoluminescent Technology,” which works to diffuse harsh light obvious shimmer or color-shifting reflects, keeping you selfie-ready in ever angle.
4. Laura Mercier Matte Radiance Baked Powder Highlight
This matte highlighting powder is a stand-out option in the highlight sector, for those who really want a convincingly natural glow. The blendable powder feels like silk on the skin, and doesn’t leave a dusty, dry effect when layered for more intensity.
$42 at Nordstrom
5. Flower Beauty Glisten up Highlight Chubby Stick
This highlight stick offers a super sheer formula that glides onto the skin like dream, delivering a super natural wash of radiance that looks dewy, without looking wet.
6. Black Opal True Color Illuminating Stick
This creamy stick highlight delivers buildable sheen, allowing you to customize your glow level according to your mood. In fact, our senior beauty editor has even dubbed this product the highlighter of her dreams.
$8.99 at Black Opal Beauty
7. Covergirl Vitalist Healthy Glow Highlighter
This semi-sheer potted highlight is ultra buildable, giving you a dewy, lit-from-within radiance without ample shimmer or chunky glitter. This one is also a great affordable dupe for RMS Beauty’s iconic Living Luminizer Highlight.
8. Laura Geller Baked Vanilla Highlighter
This baked powder highlight is another fan-favorite with a loyal following, thanks to its velvet-soft texture and perfectly subtle, light-casting properties. We’re not sure if it’s been continued or is just perpetually out of stock, but this one can be a challenge to find. Fortunately, it’s in stock on QVC at the moment, but we suggest acting fast if you’re dying to get your hands on it.
$26.50 at QVC
9. MAKE Face Gloss
If you prefer a translucent highlight with high shine and major editorial vibes, this face gloss gives your face a polished luster without looking greasy or downright crazy during the day.
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