Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bury Me With My Highlighters

As I've aged and gone deeper and deeper in to Holy Shit My Skin is Dry territory, I've developed a slight obsession with highlighters. More specifically, I'm on a never-ending quest to find the best cream-and-liquid highlighters for my stupidly pale skin. And trust me: I've tried dozens. You name it, there's a good chance I've tried it (or immediately written it off because the shade was too dark or sparkly). I like to pretend that I'm absolutely satisfied with what I have, but why lie? I'm always looking for something even better!

I've got 6 highlighters rotating in my current arsenal. All of them have distinct positives and negatives, which I'll outline in this post. I'm also going to provide some suggestions for similar products/shades if your skin is not as stupidly pale as mine, but you want a similar look.

ON POWDER HIGHLIGHTERS: I don't wear them anymore, but Shiseido High Beam White and Kevyn Aucoin Celestial Powder in Candlelight are two of the best options for pale/light skin on the market. If you want something more glittery, try The Balm Mary Lou-Manizer, but use a very light hand.

ON DRUGSTORE OPTIONS: There are no drugstore options on this list for two reasons:
  1. There are very few cream/liquid highlighters available at the drugstore.
  2. Most of what is available at the drugstore (Hard Candy Living Doll, Revlon Skin Lights) is too dark for my skin.

Practically Pure White Shades

Dim daylight on top, flash on bottom. From left to right: Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Pearl, MAC Cream Colour Base in Luna, MAC Strobe Cream.

THE RAVE -- This is the most expensive-per-unit highlighter on this list, but it's also the most cost-effective if you look at it critically. A small amount of this super-glowy, slightly-shimmery creamy liquid will go a VERY long way. The packaging is a sturdy, clear, plastic bottle (so you can gauge how much you have left) with a pump that's easy to control. Makeup artist Lisa Eldridge helped boost this product's popularity, yes, but it's so gorgeous and buildable that it was destined for cult classic status regardless. Becca Pearl is my go-to highlighter for photography and nights on the town.

THE DOWNSIDES -- The Becca SSP liquids contain avobenzone, a sunscreen that may cause irritation or breakouts in some skin types. I haven't had any problems with flashback, but I'm incredibly pale; people with darker skin tones will want to really test this sucker out in flash photography if they're interested in wearing it for, say, a wedding. A lot of people advocate using this all over your face and/or mixing it in to your foundation, but I think the slight shimmer makes this a less than optimal choice.

IF YOU'RE NOT SUPER PALE -- Becca has many SSP shades. Opal is the go-to for people with medium/tan skintones, and if you're darker skinned, you've got two great options: Rose Gold and Topaz. I think the Rose Gold shade is limited edition...if it is, they need to make it permanent, because there's nothing else quite like it.

THE RAVE -- One of the newest additions to my collection, Luna is the culmination of years of lust and waffling. I've owned other CCB shades before (namely Pearl and Hush), but sent them off to better homes in favor of paler pastures. Luna, however, is straight up white and glowy. It is one of the best options for the palest of pale skins. Luna is very buildable: you can use a small amount for a natural glow (one of my male friends does this, and it's virtually undetectable on his skin), or you can layer it for a stronger shine. I also find it incredibly long-lasting, in part because of the slightly sticky texture. As a bonus, the small pot = travel friendly.

THE DOWNSIDES -- That sticky formula will get on some people's nerves, particularly if you're an oily-skinned person. It can also feel a bit heavy on the skin if you apply too much. If you're easily squicked by pot packaging, this is definitely not the product for you.

IF YOU'RE NOT SUPER PALE -- Again, the MAC CCBs come in many shades; Hush and Shell are nice options for light to medium skintones. If you're very dark skinned, you'll want to look to another cream product, like Illamasqua's Gleam Cream in Supernatural.

THE RAVE -- This is the cheapest and most versatile product on this list. While it's most often used as a highlighter, it's technically a moisturizer, and a decently formulated one at that. This stuff works great under foundation for a little "boost," if you're dry and dehydrated like I am this winter. The super-thin formula makes Strobe Cream just about impossible to overdo. It's my go-to for work because it looks so seamless and natural. I like to mix some of this in to my body lotion before a special event to give a little extra glow to my skin.

THE DOWNSIDES -- The full-sized bottle is a bit of a trap: you pay more per ounce than you do for the travel-sized bottle. Strobe Cream tends to dry and cake up around the opening of the tube, leaving a disgusting gummy residue; I have to wipe it with a baby wipe about once a month. Because this is a moisturizer, it might eat away at some of the foundation underneath, particularly if you're oily skinned.

IF YOU'RE NOT SUPER PALE -- MAC occasionally releases limited edition "bronze" versions of Strobe Cream, usually with the summer collections. Burberry Fresh Glow has a very similar effect and comes in two different shades.

Slightly Tinted

Dim daylight on top, flash on the bottom. From left to right: Makeup Forever Uplight #11, RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, Benefit High Beam

THE RAVE -- Any time somebody asks for a highlighter that's dewy rather than sparkly, I give MUFE a shout out. The Uplights are some of the best and most underrated highlighters on the market today. The gel formula is incredibly light and blendable, and like the Becca SSP, a little goes a long way. I find that few highlighters look quite as luminous and "lit from within" (whatever that means) as MUFE Uplight #11. This shade has a definite pink tinge to it.

THE DOWNSIDES -- The packaging for this stuff is HORRENDOUS: the pump is always getting clogged with dried-out product, and it's difficult to control how much is dispensed. This gel formula dries quickly, so you have to work fast.

IF YOU'RE NOT SUPER PALE -- Unfortunately, Makeup Forever only makes two Uplight shades in the "dewy" finish: #11, seen here, and #12, a soft yellow. They may go ashy on dark skin tones. If you really want the dewy effect, but you're worried about how such pale shades will sit on your skin, try getting a sample and mixing a small amount of the Uplight with your foundation.

THE RAVE -- If you have dry skin and your highlighter loves to settle in to your fine lines, this may be the product for you. The RMS Beauty Living Luminizer is always slightly see-through, even when you layer on tons of product, which means you'll always see your skin through the product and it'll never look heavy. It has an incredible glow to it and, although it's slightly sparkly up close, it tends to look quite natural and gorgeous in photographs. I let my mom borrow this on the rare occasions when she wears makeup, and it always looks beautiful on her. Although it looks close to white in the swatch photo, there's a slightly yellow-gold pearl in here that warms the product up.

THE DOWNSIDES -- This product is basically mica and a few other ingredients in coconut oil, so it's not the best option for people who are oily skinned, live in humid climates, or are allergic to coconut oil. The brand's creator and namesake, Rose Marie Swift, apparently thinks makeup that lasts all day is a bit unnatural, so this is not a luminizer that's designed to last all day in extreme conditions.

IF YOU'RE NOT SUPER PALE -- RMS Beauty's Buriti Bronzer is basically the same product with a different coloration. The warm, bronzey tone is fantastic for accentuating dark skin. As an added bonus, it's less expensive than the Living Luminizer.

Benefit Moon Beam, discontinued

THE RAVE -- The shade of this highlighter is like no other. Depending on the light, it can be a soft, glowing peach, a luminous pink, or a sparkly fuchsia. It's INCREDIBLY frosty and noticeably shimmery, so it's not for people who like a natural look. I personally wear it on my rare "heavy makeup" days, or when I'm spending the night in a dark drag bar. It looks absolutely incredibly in low light and photographs like a dream.

THE DOWNSIDES -- The most obvious downside is that Benefit discontinued this product because they hate us and want us to be unhappy for reasons. Benefit's other highlighters--High Beam and Sun Beam--are pretty, but not as unique as this one. Also, the infamous Benefit packaging sucks bigtime: you apply the product with a brush akin to a nail polish applicator, and it feels weird and makes it difficult to dot the stuff on evenly.

IF YOU'RE NOT SUPER PALE -- You should still be okay with products like Moon Beam, since it's not exactly designed to look "natural." I haven't found anything quite like it yet (somebody, help me dupe this!), but if duochrome is your thing, try some of your satin-finish eyeshadows on your cheeks.


  1. oooh, so excited about this post! i'm also stupidly pale & currently using shiseido high beam... i love it but i'm so dry and really want a cream to try. i think i'm going to get the MAC Luna one.

    1. Shiseido HBW is great for folks who love powders. :)

  2. I've been searching for a new liquid / cream highlighters for my makeup when I go on stage(opera). Which one do you think would be the best product in photographs? I've kinda decided that I might get RMS luminizer or Becca shimmering skin imperfector.. Just because it's wearable in other occasions as well... I'm paler than mac NC15 / asian yellow skin toned :) thanks !

    1. Between the two you mentioned, I'd definitely go with the Becca. Stage lights tend to require stronger products, and while the RMS is pretty, that sheer quality means it won't stand out as much. The Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector, by contrast, is layerable.

      If you have yellow tones in your skin, you might also want to try Becca Moonstone. And Becca makes several formulations of the SSPs: a liquid, a powder, and a cream. Hence, you can find one that really suits your skin type.

      I hope that helps!

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  4. Hi Renee,
    Which is the most 'natural' highlighter that does not have sparkles/glitter?
    MUFE Uplight 11 is dc'd, Strobe Cream pulls too pinky/purple on me, and Glossier does not ship to Canada (boo hoo). Thx

    1. They all have some sparkly elements to them, since the mica/pigment is usually what gives a shine. For the most natural look and no pink, though, I'd try the RMS Living Luminizer, provided you aren't allergic to the ingredients.

  5. Thanks, Renee. Appreciate your help!