We probably don’t need to tell you that your skin looks different after a stretch of good sleep, than it does after a super late night or two (or ten). After a good eight hours, it looks fresh and radiant, while the latter makes skin appear dull, sallow, and dehydrated overnight, literally. If only there weren’t deadlines (don’t we know it), parties, and the latest Netflix series always getting in the way of our precious beauty sleep.
Unfortunately, scientists have not yet figured out how to literally bottle the skin-flattering effects of a good night’s sleep, but radiance-boosting cosmetics (a.k.a. highlighters, strobing creams, luminizers) come pretty darn close. In just seconds, these illuminating cosmetics can make skin look glowy, vibrant, and well-rested—kind of like you’ve just applied an amazing Instagram filter, only you get to own the look IRL, not just in your photo gallery. It’s no wonder radiance-boosting cosmetics are the secret weapons in the kits of most pro makeup artists.
They work like magic, yes, but radiance boosting cosmetics still require some know-how. First off, they’re available in quite a few different formats: there are highlighting creams, sticks, powders, and concentrated drops that you can mix into your other products. And the amount of glow you get can vary depending on the formula you use and the way in which you apply it. We asked pro makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci to shed some light on the radiance-boosting cosmetics category—and to share her best tips on how to use them to maximize your glow. Then check out our most favorite light catching cosmetics. Ready, set, glow!
What is it: A cream highlighter has the same texture as a cream blush, only instead of delivering a pop of color, you get a serious strobe effect. Cream highlighters usually come in a few different shades: golden or champagne for warm skin tones. Pink or icy white shades for cool complexions.
Who needs it: Creams are a go-to texture for normal-to-dry skin. Not too wet, and not too dry, “they mimic the skin's texture and give the most natural glow,” says Ciucci.
How to use it: After you’ve applied your liquid base product (that could be a tinted moisturizer, BB cream, or liquid foundation), blend the cream onto the high points of your face—your forehead, the bridge of your nose, the tops of your cheekbones—using a foundation brush. “Then set your makeup with powder, avoiding these spots,” says Ciucci. Who shouldn’t wear a cream? Skip it if you wear powder foundation. “Creams tends to lay on top of the powder as opposed to blending out,” she says.
Our favorites: IT Cosmetics Hello Light Crème Anti-Aging Radiance Crème Luminizer has no shimmer or glimmer, but instead, liquid crystals that give skin a believable glow and a soft-focus finish. NYX Cream Highlight & Contour Palette has three shades (and is available in three different tones) that you can use to not only highlight your features, but also define them.
What is it: With the thin consistency of a serum or a liquid foundation, this type of radiance-booster gives skin more of a dewy, luminous look. But don’t mistake its thin texture for weakness; liquid highlighters tend to be highly concentrated cosmetics compared to other types.
Who needs it: Like a cream formula, a liquid formula works best on someone with normal or dry skin. It makes these skin types look healthy and fresh, but can make oily skin appear greasy.
How to use it: For an all-over glow, mix a small dollop with your foundation or tinted moisturizer in the palm of your hand. Blend, and then apply to skin. Or, use the liquid highlighter spot treat: Once you’ve applied your foundation, apply it to the high spots on the face using a brush or your fingertips. Again, you don’t want to layer a liquid luminizer over powder. The two formulas don’t play well together.
Our favorites: Lancôme Click & Glow Liquid Highlighter is a liquid formula inside an easy-to-wield pen with a built-in sponge-tipped applicator. L’Oréal Paris Pro-Glow Concealer is a liquid concealer than can be used as a highlighter thanks to its illuminating formula. Dab it on your cheekbones, the bridge of your nose, your forehead, and the inner corners of your eyes to attract light. YSL Touche Éclat Glow Shot Liquid Highlighter embodies the same über-glowy formula as the original cult fave Touche Élcat pen, only now it comes in a larger tube that allows you to apply it all over skin, or just in targeted areas.
What is it: A stick highlighter is a solid, but goes on skin rather creamy. “Sticks are great because they're super convenient and don't require any tools other than your fingertips,” says Ciucci.
Who needs it: Because it’s technically a cream, sticks work best on normal to dry skin.
How to use it: Straight from the stick, swipe it right onto those high points of the face. Then tap with your fingertips to blend the creamy highlighter into your skin, says Ciucci.
Our favorites: NYX Strobe of Genius contain super-fine holographic pearls that give skin an iridescent highlight. It comes in a pale pink or a cool purple tone. The Body Shop Honey Bronze Highlighting Dome is a bronzy stick with subtle shimmer that warms and brightens skin; and Maybelline New York Strobing Stick Illuminating Highlighter relies on micro-pearls to give skin a luminous look wherever you swipe it.
What is it: Typically pressed, highlighting powder is similar to powder blush, only it comes in gilded, pearly, or champagne shades, usually flecked with metallic or opalescent pigments. Bonus: “Powders pack the most punch and are more long-wearing than other formulas,” says Ciucci.
Who needs it: Powder highlighter is a good choice for anyone with oily to normal skin. It won’t make naturally dewy skin look greasy, and it won’t disappear minutes after you apply it to your face. Skip this formula if you have a dry complexion. Powder tends to call attention to flaky skin—not exactly something that you want to highlight.
How to use it: If you wear powder foundation, lay powder luminizer right on top. If you prefer a liquid base, set it with translucent powder before applying your highlighter. “If you apply it onto un-powdered skin the pigment will catch and not blend properly,” Ciucci says. Use a fan brush (we love IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Mega Fan Brush #9) to dust the highlighter over your high planes, says Ciucci.
Our favorites: Urban Decay Afterglow Highlighter Palette contains four different skin-illuminating powder shades: a champagne hue, an iridescent pink, a peach, and a gold tone, so you can completely customize your warm glow. Giorgio Armani Limited Edition Sunrise Face Palette looks almost too pretty to use, but trust us, you’ll want to see these beautiful shades on your skin. Swirl a brush over all three tones and apply wherever you want to look sun-kissed. Or, use the lightest shade as a highlighter in key spots like the tops of your cheekbones.
What are they: Super-concentrated liquid luminizer that you can add to your existing products such as your face cream, tinted moisturizer, or foundation. They’re the dewiest option available, says Ciucci. How are they different than other highlighters? “Mix-ins give skin an all over radiance—not just on targeted areas,” Ciucci says.
Who needs them: “Drops are great for mature or dehydrated skin because they give your complexion an instant boost,” says Ciucci.
How to use them: In the palm of your hand, mix the drops one-to-one with your foundation, BB cream, or moisturizer. Then apply to skin as you would your foundation (with a brush or your fingertips), says Ciucci. You can also control the intensity of your glow, by using more or less of the liquid drops.
Our favorite: Urban Decay Liquid Aura Illuminating Mix-In (available exclusively at Sephora/Sephora.com) is a pearlescent, silvery white liquid that comes in a dropper bottle for easy mixing.
What’s your favorite radiance booster? Tell us in the comments below!