5 Steps to Hotter Highlights

Published in: Makeup Tips/How To

5 Steps to Hotter Highlights

Wearing one of my favorite highlighters, MAC Extra Dimension Skinfinish in Fairly Precious, on my upper cheekbones, down the bridge of my nose and atop my cupid’s bow

I cannot believe there was a time in my makeup life when I thought of highlighter as something optional, and a time before that when I didn’t wear it at all.

That is just so crazypants to me, because now, I think of it as an absolute, can’t-live-without-it necessity…like caffeine in the mornings and wearing a bra.


Nowadays, I wear highlighter almost every single day, and I think it makes a huge difference in my overall look. I feel like everything looks livelier, and my face appears just so much brighter when I wear it.

The three MAC Magnetic Nude Extra Dimension Skinfinishes, $30 each US and $35 CAN

A few of my current limited edition highlighting faves — the three Magnetic Nude Extra Dimension Skinfinishes ($30 each US and $35 CAN)

So, I guess you can tell — I’m on Team Highlighter, LOL! ๐Ÿ™‚

To share the highlighter love, here are five things you can do to make your highlighter hotter…

1. It’s prime time, baby!

mac prep prime natural radiance review

OK, now, I know that adding a face primer into the mix is an extra step, but it’s so, so worth it, especially if you have pores for days (like moi).

You know the deal: primer evens out the surface of your skin, creating a smooth surface upon which to apply products. So, if you apply primer before your foundation, powder, etc., everything you layer on top, including your highlighter, appears that much smoother.

Which is great, because highlighter shimmers, and that shimmer can draw unwanted attention to pores and imperfections, so anything you can do to create a smoother canvas beforehand helps you get you closer to a flawless look.

It’s probably not a big deal in your teens and 20s, but as you get up into your 30s (and beyond), primer can make a bigger difference, especially when you’re wearing shimmer on your cheeks.

As far as brands, I swear by MAC Prep + Prime Natural Radiance. I’ve literally gone through cases of the stuff (OK, bottles), because it does a number on my pores and fine lines. Plus, it layers nicely with skincare products and makeup, and it doesn’t give me breakouts.

2. “T” for tapered (as in tapered eye brush)

mac 224

I learned this tip from one my favorite MAC Senior Artists, Keri B, who introduced me to the MAC Iridescent/Loose Powders (fantastic for highlighting).

Keri suggested that I apply it with a MAC 224 Tapered Blending Brush, and I did.

Totally changed my life.

I’m particularly fond of using the 224 with high-shine highlighters, like the Iridescent/Loose Powders and MAC Mineralize Skin Finishes. Compared to a bigger blush brush, the smaller, thinner 224 brush head gives me a lot of control over the product I’m applying, and anything that reduces mistakes gets a big win from me.

3. Play with different levels of shimmer

Hourglass Dim Light Ambient Powder

Hourglass Ambient Powder in Dim Light, a neutral peachy beige ($45)

Dramatic, shimmery highlighters look super cool! — but they aren’t the only highlighters around. There are also highlighters designed for toned-down looks with softer sheens, and their glow is just as gorgeous.

MAC Shaping Powder in Lightsweep

Shaping Powder in Lightsweep (MAC Pro)

These are really great for mature skin, or for anyone of any age who wants a subtle effect. A couple of the ones I love: MAC Shaping Powder in Lightsweep and Hourglass Ambient Powder in Dim Light. They don’t look heavy on the skin, and they’re super forgiving.

4. Highlighter, meet Mrs. Matte Blush

Another “changed my life” moment! I picked up this tip from Marc Reagan, Bobbi Brown Manager of North American Artistry, and I use it often.

If you want the look of highlighted skin but don’t want your face looking shockingly shiny, apply your highlighter first on your upper cheekbones, and then layer a matte blush directly on top. That way, you still shimmer as it shows through the matte, but you don’t shimmer quite as brightly.


5. Highlight here and there

When I first started wearing highlighter, I only wore it on my upper cheekbones, but it wasn’t until I started wearing it on different parts of my face — down the bridge of my nose, my cupid’s bow, on my brow bones, and sometimes even above my brow bones — that I really fell in love with it.

The trick is to not over-apply and end up looking like a shiny light bulb, which is where the tapered brush comes in.

Now go forth, friends, and highlight hotter! ๐Ÿ˜€

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



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So far, 35 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Lauren says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve always been to afraid to wear highliters as I thought it would make me look oily but I will definitely try that matte blush truck now!
    Lauren recently posted … December Empties

  2. Red WeatherTiger says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I love when you write about brightening and highlighting. I have the Hourglass Dim Light, but I find the effect so subtle that I’m not sure it’s even doing anything…must experiment with placement and application.

  3. Lulle says:

    I also used to think that highlighter was for party nights… Like you I changed my mind and I started wearing it very regularly. With a light touch and the right product it really gives skin that fresh glow!
    Lulle recently posted … Almay Shadow Softies: my new morning savior

  4. Kiara says:

    I always struggle so much with highlighters! Thanks for the tips Karen!
    Kiara recently posted … MAC Tempting Eyeshadow | Review and Swatch

  5. Allison C says:

    This post was obviously written for me since I am that girl. I have no clue how to highlight, in spite of the fact that I own several highlighters. I will refer to this post, and give ’em a shot!
    Allison C recently posted … Studio Gear CC Cream SPF 20: Natural

  6. camille says:

    Oh, Karen. More great pointers ๐Ÿ™‚

    I picked up MAC Mineralize Skinfinish, about a week/2 weeks ago (along with the Oval 6 brush!). I was a little skeptical about using it, since I was a highlighter newbie.

    I mean, I bought the Tokidoki highlighter powder when it first came out, but soon exchanged it for the bronzer because I had no idea what benefits a highlighter offered.

    Fast forward to a few years when I finally found your blog (how? I have no idea, but I’m hela glad I did!). You have me excited about new makeup products, painting my nails, and many more things.

    I don’t know if I’m using a light hand, or what, but I don’t see a BIG difference with the highlighter. I’ll experiment a bit more this weekend, but I am adding highlighter to the places you mentioned. I have been using my MAC 188 brush to apply the highlighter to the tops of my cheeks. I would like to find a different brush, but it’s a behaved January of no shopping for myself. :/

    Keep the posts a comin’! The Man is probably more appreciative of my improved made-up look, but he doesn’t know the dollar amounts of some of these items. hahah.

    • camille says:

      P.S. I’m sorry if I post a short story most of the times. I’m a written word kinda person. When I see the quick replies others leave, I feel like a space hog.

      • Karen says:

        Oh, gosh, no need to apologize! I love reading long comments. It makes me feel like you’re actually reading the posts and not just skimming through the pics, LOL! Don’t stop with the novels!

    • Karen says:

      Hey Camille,

      Try your MSF with a 224. And if it’s still not shimmery enough for you, then try wetting your 224 first very lightly with some Fix+, and then run it across your MSF. That will turn up the intensity of the shimmer. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Phancy says:

    Super helpful post! I’m only now getting into serious makeup. I got the Dim light, but will have to try with a smaller brush and with matte blush on top. These how tis and tips are my favorite.

  8. Agata says:

    Great highlighting tips. I also like using a small brush. I actually use Real Techniques setting brush. A little over a year ago I didn’t even own a highlighter. Now I couldn’t live the house without it.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Agata,

      I haven’t tried that brush but have heard good things about it. Will have to look into it when I finally go to the new Ulta in the next town! Are you still using Lightsweep?

      • Agata says:

        You should definitely try that brush, I am thinking of getting another one because I like it that much! And yes, I am still using Lightsweep, I love it!

  9. I’ve been wearing Fairly Precious too!
    Rikki Poynter recently posted … “PERFECT” RED LIP TUTORIAL – 3 WAYS | closed captioned

  10. EmJay says:

    Thanks for the tips! Love the one about using the 224 brush, I love finding new ways to use brushes then for what they are usually used for!

  11. hanna says:

    Going to have to try these tips!
    hanna recently posted … Peta2 Street Team

  12. sylirael says:

    I’ve only ever tried one highlighter, Benefit’s high beam (I got a little sample pot). I thought it was quite nice, but I was at a bit of a loss when thinking about incorporating it into a regular routine…

    I would like to try a powder highlighter though…
    sylirael recently posted … Like Epic Loot, A Perfect Purple Polish is Worth Working For

  13. breyerchic04 says:

    I only have and use liquid highlighters (strobe cream, sunbeam), and while I can do ok with them, these tips are exciting. So I’ll need to pick up some kind of powder highlighter, and I’m guessing that my love Blushbaby will work for the matte blush trick?

    • breyerchic04 says:

      Oh I know what I’ll do, I’ll try my Dandelion mini for a while, and if it doesn’t seem like quite enough, I’ll invest in something. I’ve tried Stila Kitten shadow as a highlighter because I know they sold it that way for a while (in a larger pan) but it was too disco ball, and I think it would be even with blush on top.

  14. Katherine M says:

    Thanks for the tips! I am currently using a sample of Benefit’s High Beam that I got in a sample from Sephora for my birthday. I would love to try Hourglass, though. Sometimes I feel like High Beam has a little too much shimmer and shine, though maybe I’m using too much of it. I also need to get some better brushes for contouring, so I will be brush shopping soon. Thanks so much for sharing your tips! Your blog is the only one that I have really found to be user-friendly and I love that you respond to your readers as much as you can.

  15. Mandy says:

    Great blog post! Thanks so much ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Eli says:

    Thanks for the tips – I always do something wrong and it’s due to mistakes you state above ๐Ÿ™ I’m not a great fan of layering products but I’ll have to somehow deal wit it, obviously ๐Ÿ™‚
    Eli recently posted … The Body Shop Moringa Body Butter

  17. J says:

    Great tips! I’m so on and off with my highlighters, but this makes me wanna bust out my whisper of gilt again – my fav! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  18. fancie says:

    This is such an excellent post for highlight whores like me! I don’t skip a day without a nice highlight lol. On a regular basis I only bother withย brows, lashes and lipstick so highlighting adds that extra oomph! I’ve fallen deeply for Magnetic Appeal from this collection. It is so dang pretty on my skin tone! Superb is gorgeous on me as well. I like the Skinfinish powders from this collection so much I’m thinking of going back for Fairly Precious lol. It’s gorgeous on you!
    fancie recently posted … Milani Color Statement Lipstick Haul & Swatches

  19. Nicole says:

    I’m a big fan of highlighters as well, an interesting one from LORAC in Spotlight almost seems to give a little coverage which can help with pores. I’ve noticed Lucy Liu on Elementary always seems to have a highlight above her brow bone too and it looks amazing. ๐Ÿ˜€
    Nicole recently posted … My Favorite Eye Brushes – Sonia Kashuk, MAC, Sigma and more

  20. Majick says:

    It’s funny, I never knew how or why to use a highlighter until I got IT cosmetics vitality disk with the bronzer/blush/highlighter in one pan. I started getting many compliments after I started using it and my one friend ALWAYS knows when I have that particular brand on. I don’t know if the highlighter has anything to do with it but I put it in all the same places you do.

    My problem? I look in the mirror and I don’t see it. I know it’s there because I dosed the brush and put it to my skin BUT… nada, I can’t see it. I think I look pretty good but it really is a subtle change.

    I have Hourglass Dim Light (new aquisition this year) and I’m not sure if I’m using it correctly. I almost use it as a finishing powder on the bridge of my nose, cheeks, and the outsides of my face. It’s a beautiful subtle powder but I wish I had someone to show me different ways to wear it. WHo knows, maybe I AM doing it right. LOL

  21. Erin says:

    I’m currently obsessed with highlighters. Not kidding! (My next purchase is going to be the Hourglass Mood light!) I do the highlighting trick you posted- try Benefit’s Watt’s Up with their Dandelion over it if you love pink blush. Looks great. But, I do have problems with getting the placement right and avoiding lines and wrinkles. Being 50 can be so unforgiving! I’d like to try that taper brush, but need some instructions.

  22. Your post has really got me reconsidering highlighter! I never usually wear it. On my next MAC visit I will check out the 224 and some of their highlighting powders. Thanks!

  23. Natalie says:

    Excellent tips! I’ve had a couple of MSFs in various shades for a few years now and always relegated them to night out looks. At the same time, I’ve recently felt my make up looked a bit flat and haven’t been able to work out what that missing element is!
    After reading this post I took my trusty 224 and used it to apply some MSF to the very tops of my cheekbones, then dusted a little finishing powder over the top to knock out the shine (I have the Blonde MsF and it is pink and shiny), et voila! Instant amaze balls face! Thank you so much!
    I now want to buy a skin finish from the Magnetic Nudes collection (BTW how awesome a colour is Silver Dawn?) But alas they are sold out online in Austria, so I have to hope that the store in town has some when I go at the weekend!


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