When I wore (what felt like) electric pink cheekbone highlighter for a recent story about Instagram beauty trends, I surprised myself by falling in love with it. It did what highlighter is supposed to do: made me appear refreshed, vibrant, part-alien. It gave the illusion that I was glowing from within, and it made my cheekbone tops so shiny a friend checked her reflection in the side of my face rather than my sunglasses.
To illustrate, a photo from said story:
I’m wearing MAC’s Extra Diminish Skinfinish in ‘Soft Frost’ in the picture above. Though the coveted highlighter “slick” didn’t capture as well in a photo, the IRL results were overwhelmingly positive. Even my therapist and that stuffed horse were impressed. The results in the comments, meanwhile, sent me on a hunt to find my misplaced jar of RMS Beauty Living Luminizer; there were entire conversations being had about it, and I don’t like to be left out. The consensus seemed to be that it was “just the right amount of dewiness without the whole sparkly effect,” per a reader named Roxana, that it “STAYS PUT,” all caps, according to a commenter named Magiblin, and that it was indeed worth the $38.
From there began a spiral — a pearlescent one — into all sorts of illuminating light tricks. I was desperate to know if the RMS Beauty Living Luminizer was as good as everyone said it was. I was even more desperate to know if I could find cheaper drug store options that were just as good. Was there anything better? Fancier? Brighter?
So I did some Google-searching, some asking around, then tried out seven highly recommended high-watt highlighters and took notes. My biggest priorities:
– Whether it looked like I was wearing “a lot of makeup” (only according to me — I asked for no other opinions, because I’m the one who gets self-conscious, meanwhile my friend gets to use my face as a mirror)
– How well it showed up in a photo
– Whether or not my skin looked like someone turned a lamp on inside my cheeks
Before we begin, you should also know a few things about my pose:
– I shot all of these within the same time of day so that there wasn’t any golden-hour trickery going on, unfortunately for my face. Just highlighter.
– I tried to do the same pose because this angle has proven to be the best one to catch that coveted highlighter curve, from top of brow to cheekbone.
– I’m sorry you can see up my nostrils so often and contrary to popular belief, I do have teeth. Not that it matters in the grand scheme of smiles!
1. RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, $38
Great for: anyone who prefers a light touch (if any at all) when it comes to makeup
I loved everything about this one, from the pot (great packaging) to the coconut oil base, which helped the highlighter glide on with two finger pads and didn’t feel even a little bit sticky or makeup-y. True to its reputation, it wasn’t glittery at all. In fact, it was subtle, but also, if you like a stronger effect, it’s layerable. The RMS Beauty Living Luminizer is so light, I think I might fall asleep in this one to surprise and delight all the woodland creatures who wake me up each morning.
2. Maybelline Master Strobing Stick, $7.99
Great for: anyone who knows what they’re doing with a highlighter stick, anyone who wants a maximum lights-ALL-THE-WAY-ON effect
This created a dramatic disco on my face in a really excellent way. Maybelline’s Master Strobing Stick gave me the Rainbow Fish-esque iridescence I was hunting for in my IG beauty trends story. It shows up in photos without any sneaky angling. In real life, it’s a little bit obvious (and it got a little powdery when mixed with my foundation — I think I used too much) but again, in the highlighter world, I believe this is preferred.
Great for: anyone who actually does not like their face to look wet, but wants a little light up top
True to its name, Physicians Formula’s Mineral Glow Pearls Powder Palette is not only a force of alliteration, it’s exceptionally pearlescent. The price is right, as my dad who does not wear highlighter would say, and the velvety powder goes on like fairy dust. It’s so subtle at first brush that I’d run this over my whole face if I were feeling especially dull. Who knows if that’s a great idea. I like that you can wet the brush a bit to “up the ante” of this one if you wanted to, though. (I did for the corners of my eyes.)
Great for: the one-stop-makeup-applier
The Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat Radiance Perfecting Pen used to be my desert island beauty product. I stopped using it after I ran out of a sample a few years ago, but man am I glad we reconnected. This one is part color-corrector, part highlighter, and it simultaneously brightens while smoothing over the veiny, naturally purple parts of my eyelids. I also love the pen application and the packaging.
It’s a bit more up there in price — same as RMS — but I am not sure it lasts as long, from what I remember. Please let me know if you know. Also, it only comes in two colors: Luminous Ivory (which I, a very pale person, wear), and Luminous Toffee. The whole point is that it magically disappears, so I’m interested to hear from you, if you use this one, how it “interacts” with your skin tone. I’m also interested to hear if “interacts” sounds douche-y in this context, or if it’s just what you needed.
5. Glossier Haloscope in Quartz, $22
Great for: anyone who wants to try the RMS one but can’t spend $38 on highlighter
I love Haloscope. I have it in all three colors, though Quartz is my go-to. I use it almost every single day, and I like it for its chameleonic ability to go on light or layer up as needed for more drama. I also like that it makes me look a little shiny. This lasted me two years or maybe even more, if that’s possible. When did Haloscope first launch? That’s how long I’ve had it and I’m just now running out.
6. Sephora Collection Radiant Luminizing Drops in 01 Ultralight, $8 (currently on sale)
Great for: anyone who doesn’t mind getting their hands a little shimmery
I realized a little too late that Sephora Collection’s Radiant Luminizing Drops were meant to be mixed with foundation or moisturizer. The highlighter liquid comes in a dropper, which I evacuated on my face in a dramatic fashion. No big deal; I just wiped the shimmer off and rubbed it all over my appendages. Makes for a great “TA DA!” moment. On its own, sans mix, this one felt a bit more “thick” (but it really looked highlighter-y — you could take some serious selfies with this stuff). Mixed with moisturizer or foundation, I found that I could control the effect to my liking.
Because each one offered something different, it was hard to pick an overall winner, but if we’re playing favorites, and if it were a hypothetical tie between RMS’s Living Luminizer and Glossier’s Haloscope in Quartz, Glossier’s price would win me over. The trophy is my face, so really, everyone’s a winner!
Photos via Amelia Diamond.