Cream highlighters deserve a brighter spotlight if you ask us. They often have transparent bases to ensure they flatter all skin tones without leaving skin looking chalky like some powder highlighters notoriously do. Plus, they are an amazing multipurpose product to keep in your makeup bag, adding not only radiance to the high points of your face — cheekbones, brow bones, collarbones, and inner corners are all fair game — but also a playful pearlescence on your lids and lips.
Best of all, cream highlighters are often infused with skin care-like ingredients, particularly vitamin E and nourishing oils, to help them seamlessly glide onto skin and have an imperceptible second-skin finish. If you have skin that’s on the drier side, your complexion is sure to enjoy this aspect of cream highlighters because they won’t annoyingly cling to flakiness and emphasize how parched your skin is.
To help your makeup look impossibly radiant, we asked some of our favorite professional makeup artists, like Yukina Mitsuhashi and Ehlie Luna, to share the best highlighters for a high-shine glaze, strobe-like luminosity, and all-around dewy flush.
Our Top Picks:
- Most Versatile: Chanel Baume Essentiel, $45
- Best 2-in-1 Formula: Pat McGrath LabsSkin Fetish: Highlighter + Balm Duo, $50
- Longest-Lasting Formula: Hourglass Vanish Flash Highlighting Stick, $46
- For Glass Skin in a Tube: Westman Atelier Lit Up Highlight Stick, $48
Most Versatile: Chanel Baume Essentiel
Whether you prefer for your cream highlighter to be transparent or shimmery, the Chanel Baume Essentiel offers up both options in a satin-textured formula. If you want the latter, Los Angeles-based makeup artist Yukina Mitsuhashi swears it’s flecked with just the right amount of shimmer to give your skin, including on your lids and lips, a dreamy incandescence. (You can often catch her using it on Keshi and Mark Tuan.) “Also, once you apply this onto your skin, the highlighter looks and feels like it melting into your skin and appears really natural too,” she adds.
Best 2-in-1 Formula: Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish: Highlighter + Balm Duo
On one side of the Best of Beauty-winning Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish: Highlighter + Balm Duo is a clear balm; the other is filled with a highlighter packed with classic Pat McGrath pearlescence in a delightful mix of natural-looking and fantasy shades, such as gold, bronze, champagne, duo-chrome coral, and lustrous lavender.
All of these elements combined make it a top cream highlighter pick for bicoastal makeup artist Leo Chaparro, who works with the likes of Gabbriette, Charli XCX, and Caroline Polachek, and British-based makeup artist Kenneth Soh, whose clients include several Bridgerton stars. “I really love how buildable and versatile it is,” Chaparro shares. “You can achieve a subtle glow or build it up for a more intense highlight.”
Longest-Lasting Formula: Hourglass Vanish Flash Highlighting Stick
Need a cream highlighter that will work as hard as you do all day long? The Hourglass Vanish Flash Highlighting Stick is Chaparro’s go-to formula for a long-lasting finish. (It just so happened to win a Best of Beauty Award in 2019, too.) Plus, “It gives off a radiant glow,” he adds.
For a Mirrored Effect: Deck of Scarlet Mirror Glaze Highlighting Trio
Flash forward to 2022, this Best of Beauty Award winner took the spot for best powder highlighter, but the cream formula included in the Deck of Scarlet Mirror Glaze Highlighting Trio is just as noteworthy. You can layer the powder formula atop the cream for an ultra-reflective, mirror-like finish — just as its name implies. Alternately, dip into the jar of cream highlighter, and let it shine on its own for more of a frosted glass vibe.
For a Dewy Flush: RMS Champagne Rosé Luminizer
Formulated with a medley of plant-based oils, like coconut, castor seed, and sunflower seed, the RMS Champagne Rosé Luminizer yields a super-glossy shine that neither looks greasy nor feels heavy on skin, says New York City makeup artist Julian Stoller, who often works with Julia Fox and Richie Shazam. Champagne Rosé is his shade of choice out of the five-shade Luminizer selection because it provides a stunning rosy hue akin to a dewy natural flush.
For Glass Skin in a Tube: Westman Atelier Lit Up Highlight Stick
Both Soh and New York City makeup artist Ehlie Luna recommend the Westman Atelier Lit Up Highlight Stick for a glass-skin effect. The pearly stick slicks on with a gel-cream texture and “melts like a dream into skin,” Soh says, “and has the most beautiful, realistic-looking finish.” Luna agrees, adding that the highlighter is like “freshly moisturized skin but elevated” in a chic tube.
For Juicy, Wet-Looking Skin: Danessa Myricks Beauty Dew Wet Balm
Of the six shades that the Danessa Myricks Beauty Dew Wet Balm is offered in, Luna’s favorites are Clear, Sweet Water (coral), and Hot Water (bronze). The glossy, mildly glittery formula creates a “super-hydrated look,” she says. “As the last step in a makeup routine, Dew Wet Balm makes skin look like you’re dedicated to hydration and actually getting your eight glasses of water in every day.”
Best for Sensitive Skin: Tower 28 SuperDew Highlighter Balm
The Tower 28 SuperDew Highlighter Balm is free of any glitz but packed with calming green tea and chamomile extracts to soothe irritated skin while giving it a gorgeous low-key glow, Luna points out. She loves reaching for the highlighter balm whenever her clients’ base makeup starts looking patchy. “Mix in a little bit of the SuperDew, and it’ll reawaken the concealer and make it blendable again,” Luna explains.
Best Vanity Candy: Isamaya Beauty Dazzle Up Highlighter
Playful pony packaging aside, the Isamaya Beauty Dazzle Up Highlighter imparts a dewy opalescence that revives dull skin in seconds. The lightweight stick is even spiked with moisture-balancing jojoba seed oil and emollient-rich shea butter to help make it happen.
Most Otherworldly: Rituel De Fille Rare Light Crème Luminizer
The Rituel De Fille Rare Light Crème Luminizer illuminates skin with a variety of unexpected hues, including an iridescent mauve called Moon Pillar and prismatic coral named Solaris. Only a little bit of the cream highlighter is needed from the tiny compact for a skin-brightening effect in the most subtly otherworldly of ways — without looking like you’re heading to a costume party.
Best for Mature Skin: Rose Inc Solar Radiance Hydrating Cream Highlighter
The buttery Rose Inc Solar Radiance Hydrating Cream Highlighter effortlessly disperses onto skin like a hydrating serum and doesn’t settle into lines in the process. (It’s even infused with squalane, vitamin E, and skin-plumping marine plant stem cells like one, too, making it a dream for dry skin types.) Warm it up with your fingertips and tap it onto your cheeks for a hint of radiance or blend it in with a synthetic bristled brush to amp up your glow.
Best Rold Gold: Laritzy Cream Highlighter
When the Laritzy Cream Highlighter in Virtue hit Allure‘s Beauty Box in November 2022, our editors quickly fell in love with the rose gold formula. It “has a slightly-shimmery finish that reads as dewy, not disco ball-ish, which is just the way I like my highlighters,” shared Allure associate features director Dianna Mazzone. “Dab it on the tops of your cheekbones, over your lids, and along your cupid’s bow for a hint of sheen.”
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