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A hand applies highlighter to another womans face.

How and Where to Apply Highlighter Makeup on Your Face

Nothing gives you a healthier glow than the right highlighter, but mess it up, and you might look a little otherworldly—and not in a good way. 

If you’re struggling with how to use highlighter properly, we’ve got your back. We’ll cover when and how to apply it and go over common mistakes that might have you looking like a glazed donut (again, not in a good way).

What is highlighter?

A highlighter is a product that helps draw attention to elevated areas of your face, like the bridge of your nose and cheekbones. You can also use it to add shimmer to other products, like lip color or eyeshadow. 

A highlighter is not a bronzer, which you’d use to add a bit of sun-kissed color to your face. If you mistakenly use a bronzer the same way you use a highlighter, you could end up with a muddy-looking complexion. 

You’ll use a highlighter to help reflect light and make your skin look dewy, moisturized, and radiant. 

Should I apply highlighter before or after foundation?

Highlighters go on after your foundation. Once you’ve moisturized and applied primer, apply your foundation as you normally would. Once that’s dried down, you’ll go in with highlighter, as well as products like contour and bronzer. 

If you apply your highlighter before your foundation, your foundation will likely cover it up, rendering it useless. 

The ultimate makeup routine, by Kinder Beauty

How should I apply my highlighter?

The biggest rule for highlighter application is this: less is more. As with any product, you can always add more if needed, but it’s challenging to remove highlighter if you’ve used too much. Not to mention you’ll end up taking off your foundation and any other products you’ve applied. 

If you want to apply your highlighter like a pro and get glowing skin that looks effortlessly radiant, here’s how. 

Determine your face shape

There are six common face shapes: round, oval, square, rectangle, heart, and diamond. While face shape is usually pretty easy to guess just by looking at yourself in the mirror, here are some tips if you’re having trouble figuring it out. 

  • Find the widest part of your face. Oval-shaped faces have wider foreheads, while heart and diamond-shaped faces are widest at the cheekbones. A square or rectangle face is usually even in width. 
  • Look at your jawline. If you have a pointed jaw, you likely have a heart or diamond-shaped face. Rounded jawlines are characteristic of oval and round faces, and square jawlines are common with square and rectangular face shapes. 
  • Look at the length of your face vs. the width of your face. If your face is wider than it is long, you probably have a square or round face shape. If your face is longer than it is wide, you may have a rectangle, diamond, or oval face shape. 

Applying by face shape

Knowing your face shape will tell you which areas you want to highlight and which areas to avoid. For instance, if you have a long, rectangular, or oval face shape with a long, slender nose, you don’t need to accentuate the bridge of your nose to make it look lengthier. 

If you have a round face, you’ll want to apply highlighter on your cheekbones to add more structure. 

Heart-shaped and diamond-shaped faces both benefit from highlighter applied to the brow bone and chin to bring attention back to the center of the face. 

Choose your product

Highlighters are available in different formulas, and your skin type will determine which is right for you. 

  • For dry skin. Dry skin types love cream highlighters. A highlighter with a natural oil base like coconut oil or jojoba oil will literally melt onto your skin. Just be sure the formula you choose is long-lasting, as cream products are notorious for wearing away. 
  • For normal to oily skin. Powder highlighters sit on top of the skin and help add sheen without shine. This is the perfect solution for skin that is naturally a bit oilier. 
  • For normal to combination skin. Try a liquid highlighter, which is easy to apply and adds hydration to dry areas. 

Make sure you avoid guanine in your highlighter. This ingredient is derived from fish scales and is not cruelty-free. It’s often added to products that create shimmer, but we think we’ll pass on adding fish scales to our beauty collections.

Shop our curated collection of vegan, cruelty-free makeup.


Follow with contour

When applying highlighter, stick to the rule of three. Pick three places and add highlighter. Any more than can be a bit overkill, and you might end up looking a little too ethereal—if that’s even possible. 

You can use your favorite detail brushes, makeup sponges, or your fingers to apply highlighter to your skin. Our favorite spots include:

  • Cupid’s bow. Dab a small amount of highlighter directly in the center of your cupid’s bow, the area above the bow of your lip and below your nose. This will emphasize those luscious lips.
  • Cheekbones. This is one of the most frequently highlighted areas of the face because it really gives you that pop. Apply your highlighter to the tops of your cheekbones, starting with the apples of the cheeks and extending to the middle of your temples.
  • Brows. If you want a little extra highlight near your eyes, use a small brush to create a thin line of highlighter just under your eyebrows. This will give your eyebrows a lift and create a more defined arch. 
  • Lips. A dot of highlighter in the center of your bottom lip creates just enough shimmer to make your lips appear fuller. It’s an ideal way to liven up your favorite shade of lipstick.
    Pro tip: You don’t need to apply any to your top lip; it will naturally grab some of the highlighter from your bottom lip when you press your lips together. 
  • Bridge of your nose. You can lengthen the appearance of your nose with highlighter. A sweep directly down the center of your nose creates length and reflects light, making your nose look longer and more slender. 
  • Center of the chin. Blend a little highlighter on the center of your chin to create the illusion of a fuller bottom lip and add length and structure to your jawline. 

You only need a small amount of highlighter in any of these areas. A little product goes a long way in reflecting light, giving you a flawless complexion that looks effortlessly glowy. 

How to apply and layer makeup, by Kinder Beauty.

Our fave highlighters

Of course, we have recommendations. At Kinder Beauty, we seek out the best cruelty-free products in every category. We do the homework, so you don’t have to. 

Ready to glow-up? Try these glow-infused products. 

  • IBY Beauty. These gorgeous powder-based highlighters can double as bronzers and blush. IBY even offers a precision brow bone highlighter pencil which makes highlighting beneath your brows a cinch. 
  • Inika Organic Baked Mineral Illuminisor. A cross between a highlighter and an illuminator, this powder helps keep your skin looking incredibly natural. The velvety-smooth formula applies easily and is long-lasting, so you can shine on all day long. 
  • Elikya Beauty. Liquid luxury—these liquid highlighters have a beautiful pearl undertone that helps them draw in light. Easy to apply and available in shades that work for light, dark, and medium skin tones, these highlighters are long-lasting and incredibly lavish. 

Go forth and glow

Don’t be afraid to try a highlighter if you haven’t hopped on board just yet. With the right cruelty-free product and these tips, you’ll be able to make it an easy, everyday part of your makeup routine. 

If you still have questions about certain products or want a little more info on techniques, check out The Kinder Beauty Blog. If you aren’t getting our monthly beauty box, you’re missing out. It’s the easiest way to get the newest and best cruelty-free products delivered directly to your door. 

Sign up, grab your highlighter, and glow on. 

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