Battle of the Highlighters: Beauty’s Best Highlighters, Ranked

As you all saw in 2016, highlighters are in vogue and probably here to stay.

Highlighting—or strobing—doesn’t have to be an elaborate process or an entirely new skill to your beauty arsenal, it’s just an extra step that brings attention to the high notes in the bone structure of your face–your cheekbones, nose, cupid’s bow—by artificially making them lighter and bringing light to them, via mica pigment.

In 2017, we’re likely to see bright and bold highlighters take a back seat to more natural-looking highlighters. (Bye, bye Jeffree Star bright blue highlighter..). Without further ado, from the extremely natural to the outer edge of work-wearable, here’s the top highlighters that have come across my desk:

Best Highlighter for a Natural Glow

If you’ve spent any amount of time on Instagram, you’ve surely seen the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Edit Palette. With a marbleized plastic palette and a full contour range in swirled, packed powders, it’s truly a work of art.

For those with warm undertones (or even a slight tan), this palette will help bring out your natural glow. 5 shades in total, including 3 warm tones (best used for bronzer), a highlighting brick and a rosy blush. The palette includes an instruction sheet, to show how to best highlight your assets.

Best Highlighter for the Beach Babe

Whether you want an icy highlight or a warm, golden glow, the Anastasia Beverly Hills Ultimate Glow Kit has you covered. Though the 5 golden tones seem redundant, up close you’ll find the right shades and undertones to fit any skin type.

For a cool look, use “Snow” to highlight your cheekbones any day. With a fresh tan (even a fake baked one!), any one of the golden shades will upgrade your look in an instant. For the true strobing goddesses, contour with the palette: use one shade of gold for strobing and another for bronzer.

Best Highligher for An Other Worldly Glow

Another Anastasia Beverly Hills hit, the Moonchild Glow Kit lives up to the hype. From blue-tinged to pink, purple and even yellow-tinged highlighters, this palette has every shade of highlight, without straying into eye shadow territory. As I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Anastasia Beverly Hiills really knows how to make a highlighter.

Best Affordable Highlighter

In my full E.L.F. face, I didn’t give the highlighting palette much of a thought: it really didn’t live up to the standard set by designer beauty brands. A few readers pointed out that I didn’t give E.L.F. a fair shot. While some of the products were total no-gos for me, I believe that some could be decent substitutes when used alone. In other words, you can’t let one bad tomato ruin the whole bushel.

The ELF illuminating palette was one of those products that deserved a second chance.

With a yellow-toned, light pink, a light cocoa bronzer and another light (admittedly, orange-hued) bronzer. The pink is too light for a blush and the orange-hued bronzer is pretty much useless, but the yellow and pink tones can both be used as very, very subtle highlighters. Both are low on mica, so they don’t fall in line with 2016’s interpretation of the strobe, but they are lighter, ever-so-slightly mica-laced highlighting tones that wear very, very nicely with a natural day look. They are 110% work-wearable highlighters.

For just $6? It’s pretty darn affordable.

“What’s Next” in Highlighting: The Glossy Strobe

Because glossy strobing was predicted to be one of the biggest beauty trends in 2017, I knew I had to try it. So I picked up the most talked-about glossy highlighter out there: Josie Maran’s Surreal Skin Argan Finishing Balm.

Surreal Skin blurs the line between skincare and makeup; it might be better categorized as a hybrid of the two. It works best with a clean face—or at least a clean look, you don’t really have to be makeup free. It gives the most subtle glow you’ll ever experience, and does just enough to highlight your high points without being perceptible as makeup.

If you put as much work into your skin as I do, you’ll be happy to show off your #skingains with this awesome product.


Takeaways: The Best Highlighters

So that’s it! These are the best highlighters I’ve come across. I hope you’ll all give at least one highlighter (whether listed here or not) a try! Some will push you out of your comfort zone, but highlighters can help add an edge to an otherwise natural look.

What’s your favorite highlighter? Did I miss any?


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Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez is a board-certified general practitioner with more than 15 years of patient care experience. She takes an integrative approach to patient care that considers the whole person – mind, body, and spirit – and is deeply committed to assisting her patients in achieving and sustaining optimal health. Dr. Vanessa is also a skilled writer and medical reviewer, specializing in preventive care and health promotion. Her articles are written in an approachable manner that is simple to comprehend and implement in one’s own life. Dr. Vanessa’s mission is to equip her patients and readers with the knowledge and resources necessary to live their greatest lives.

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