The good, the bad and the ones to avoid. (2021 review)
Face highlighters are one of my favorite makeup products I can’t live without. I only really got into highlighters back when Instagram started and the full contoured face beat became popular. I’ve been a fan of contouring and highlighting ever since, as you can create more definition and shape. The issue is there are so many face highlighters, creams, drops and highlighter palettes it gets really confusing. Which is why I wanted to try as many as I could including 3 Charlotte Tilbury highlighters, COVER FX, Iconic London and Becca Cosmetics and find out what truly is the best highlighter makeup.
What’s the best highlighter?
I’ve tried so many different cruelty-free highlighters over the last few years as I wanted to try as many as possible to see what the difference is between all of them. That way I’m able to compare and truly call something the best highlighter or at least my personal favorite.
Before I made the switch to 100% cruelty free makeup I was using Bobbi Brown Highlighting Powder in Sunset Glow (pink with a gold shimmer) back in 2017 as a blush and highlighter in 1 as its radiant enough. It’s too pink to be used just as a highlighter.
Which is better, cream, liquid or powder highlighter?
When it comes to face highlighters I personally prefer powder and liquid highlighters as they don’t mess up my makeup underneath which creams can do, however lightly they are dabbed on.
I’m sharing the worst, ok, and best highlighters I’ve tried so far that are cruelty-free. I’ll keep adding to this list as I try more. Feel free to leave your best highlighter recommendations, as well as the ones to avoid, and your reason(s) why in the comments at the bottom.
Best Highlighters for Your Face and Body | The Good, The Bad & The Fabulous (2021)
Charlotte Tilbury Bronze and Glow sculpting and highlighting kit (light/medium).
The travel size of this is great bronze and glow, bronzing and highlighting palette is great for throwing in your bag but the bronzer is a lighter shade than I’m used to. I’d order a darker shade next time since I contour and bronze with the same shade. Both the highlighter and bronzer in this palette blend really easily. The highlighter is a light shimmery but not sparkly beige that was too light for me (and I’m pale) and very light and subtle. It’s probably best for Winter, paler skins and those who prefer more subtle makeup. Personally I prefer more of a golden rather than pale highlighter.
Charlotte Tilbury Highlighter Superstar Glow
This is my favorite Charlotte Tilbury highlighter. It only comes in 1 shade which is a soft focus peachy gold. It’s a natural but buildable pressed powder highlighter and lasts well when used with a setting spray over the top. If you prefer a beaming face highlighter you’ll prefer a cream or liquid highlighter to this which is more natural especially when buffed and blended in. For me this is the best highlighter in powder form that I’ve tried so far.
This Charlotte Tilbury highlighter can also be used as a body highlighter over your collarbone, shoulders, décollatage and chins. It’s $55 but it’s a large compact and will last a long time if you don’t drop it like I did with my first one!
Highlighter application to make your eyes pop: spray a small makeup brush with setting spray to apply this highlighter to the inner corner of your eyes to make them pop.
Charlotte Tilbury Bar of Gold Palette
I’d heard great things about Charlotte Tilbury Bar of Gold so I was expecting this to be one of the best highlighters. But none of the shades worked for me on their own. I feel like Goldilocks saying this but there’s 3 shades in this highlighter palette:
- The original bar of gold which is too yellow for me
- A pink tinted rose gold which is too pink for my complexion
- A deep shimmer bronze gold which is too orange and a little dark.
To get the right shade, I blended all 3 together. This Charlotte Tilbury face highlighter looked good going on (see the video) but decided I preferred the Superstar Highlighter as it was less warm. I think this might be better suited to olive and darker skin tones.
Charlotte Tilbury Highlighter Comparison Review
I promise the lighting’s better after the first clip (from about 1:35). Charlotte Tilbury highlighters review, comparison and my top pick.
Iconic London Liquid Highlight
I love Iconic Prep Set Glow Hydrating Setting Spray, it’s one of my favorite primers and setting sprays for the flow it gives. I’d seen a few influencers say this was the best highlighter and they loved the ‘dolphin skin’ effect. I personally was disappointed in the Iconic highlighter drops which weren’t for me.
I normally love liquid highlighters as they tend to be less aging than powders which settle in lines more. These liquid highlighter drops come in 3 shades: original, blush and glow and can be added to your primer, moisturizer or foundation or used on their own. Due to the highly pigmented color, they are super intense and hard to work with as they dry down too quickly before you have a chance to buff and blend them out.
The reviews on Sephora about the Iconic London liquid highlighter are very mixed so if you prefer liquid products and a high shine finish for your face highlighter then give it a go. If you don’t love it, it does work well at creating a lovely lit within glow when you mix a couple of drops with your primer. You can also mix it with your body lotion for an all over glow.
COVER FX Custom Enhancer Drops
These are the most beautiful, flattering and best highlighter makeup drops in my opinion. They’re so easy to blend, come in 7 beautiful colors for all skin shades, are hydrating and multi-purpose.
I sometimes find powder highlighters drying and aging, this liquid highlighter isn’t glittery and doesn’t settle in lines around the eyes but instead reflects light which is so much more flattering.
Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops are ultra-concentrated illuminating drops that can be used to create a buildable highlight or all-over glow by mixing a few drops in with your moisturizer, primer or foundation. Obviously, the more drops you use, the more luminosity you’ll get. I’ve found mixing it with my primer works best as mixing it with my foundation can thin it out and give less coverage. You can also use it on your eyes, lips and body.
I use the shades candlelight or moonlight but I might try sunlight next. I need to stock up again as I haven’t been keeping track of what I have as well as normal as I haven’t been doing my makeup as often since the pandemic started.
A few other things I love about COVER FX makeup is that they’re vegan, cruelty-free, and formulated without talc, parabens, mineral oil, gluten, alkyl sulfates, phthalates and fragrance.
BECCA Cosmetics Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter
These are my least favorite pressed powder highlighters, I don’t want to say they’re horrible but…I tried 5 of the 11 shades of this highlighter in a Christmas gift set of mini highlighters.
At first I thought the rose gold and pop of champagne would work until I saw myself in a photo with a flash! These face highlighters and super pigmented and look harsh on camera however much you blend them. I also found this formula drying and aging as it settles in the fine lines around eye. It looks like cheap glitter when applied and isn’t finely milled like Charlotte Tilbury’s highlighters.
- Pop of champagne: a soft white gold highlighter with pinky peach undertones. This was the best shade for my skin but way too sparkly and overwhelming.
- Opal – golden opal pearl
- Moonstone – pale gold
- Rose Gold – soft gold infused with rose tones
- Vanilla Quartz – light gold infused with pink pearl. This was a yellowy white and way too light and sparkly.
Where to highlight your face and body
Where to put highlighter on your face depends a lot on your face shape and the areas you want to bring forward. A quick tip for applying it is to highlight your face and body wherever the light would naturally hit or on any features you want to bring forward:
- Brow bones
- Bridge and/or end of your nose
- Cupids bow
- Collar bones
Highlighter application tips
To get the best highlighter makeup application I find using either a double ended makeup brush if I’m using powder face highlighters or my ring finger and fleshy part of my thumb for liquids works best. The double ended brush I’m using in the video is my Tarte Cosmetics and has been discontinued but I’ve linked some alternatives. It’s so convenient for doing both highlighter and blending, travel and having less clutter in my makeup bag.
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Eve Dawes is a Blogger, Podcaster, Mrs. England World 2021, a WBFF Pro Diva, SAG-AFTRA actress, NASM certified Personal Trainer, Founder of Dawes Custom Cosmetics and GlamourandGains.com. Eve's also the host of BFF (beauty, fitness & fashion) segment on Spill The Tea Live! The show for British Expats.Eve has over 15 years experience in the fashion world, is an avid traveller and cruelty-free beauty advocate.