Listen, I get that highlighter can be intimidating.
The very idea of adding shine to your face is a tough sell, especially in a country as hot and humid as the Philippines. Shimmer doesn’t sound particularly attractive when standing outside for two minutes can leave you looking like a fried egg dipped in butter.
That said, highlighter isn’t supposed to make you look oily.
The keyword here is “highlight”. We’re talking strategic shine on the high points of your face, not unbridled greasiness. When it comes to highlighting, the goal is to look like a glorious glazed donut, not oily bicho-bicho.
So how exactly are you supposed to achieve that gorgeous glow without crossing over into disco ball territory?
Precision, precision, precision. Choosing the right makeup tool is the key to getting your highlighter exactly where you want it, how you want it.
I have a couple of personal favorites, but I’d like to talk about a few other options first, just to get them out of the way. When it comes to your highlighting technique, so much relies on the type of highlighter you’re using and the level of intensity you want to achieve.
For cream highlighters, for example, there’s really no reason to muck around with tools because your fingers are more than sufficient. The warmth from your fingers will make it easier to blend the highlighter into your skin, giving you a more natural and seamless finish.
Your fingers are precise and easy to work with, so what’s not to like? The problem is that they aren’t as efficient once you move away from creams, and picking up a brush becomes unavoidable.
(Quick note: some cream highlighters now come in stick form, and though brands will tell you to just swipe them on directly, I find that this isn’t a very good idea if you’re already wearing base makeup underneath. Swiping erases your carefully applied foundation, so it’s better to run your finger over the stick a few times and pat the highlighter gently on your face.)
I’m not a big fan of liquid highlighters but I have tried several over the years, like MAC’s famous Strobe Cream and the BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector. I don’t like the way they feel on my face and I find the application quite messy, so I avoid them now as much as I can.
If you really want to work with liquid highlighters, though, I suggest using a flat paddle brush (the same type normally used for foundation) or a very small stippling brush that’s precise enough to use over your cheekbones. These brushes will let you apply the highlighter in thin layers and help you build up slowly to the intensity you want. No mess, no fuss.
Where do sponges come in? They’re not ideal because they aren’t very precise and tend to soak up too much product, but you can use sponges to finesse your highlighter application. Use fingers or brushes to apply the highlighter and then go over it with a sponge to blend and make it look more natural.
Since I prefer powder highlighters, my weapon of choice is the makeup brush. I’ve tested several brushes and there are two I really like, but first let’s talk about the one I hate: the fan brush.
The fan brush is the clear fan favorite among Youtube gurus, so it was the brush I bought when I first started highlighting. Sure, it gives you a soft and diffused application thanks to the loosely packed bristles, so it seems great when you’re a rookie and afraid to get heavy-handed with the shimmer.
The problem is that fan brushes aren’t very good at blending, and they’re not very precise. The weird shape makes it less flexible than other makeup brushes and you’re essentially just pushing the highlighter around your face. You’re also wasting a lot of product for very little payoff.
Of course, if fan brushes work for you, great. I just think there are better options that are easier to work with and can give me the perfect highlight that I want.
ZOEVA 134 Luxe Powder Fusion
The 134 isn’t the “official” highlighting brush from the brand, but its smaller head makes it more precise and easier to use. It grabs a decent amount of product from the pan but because the bristles are fluffy and not too dense, the result is a softer, almost diffused application on the cheekbones.
If you have a highlighter that you think is just a little too intense for everyday use, try the ZOEVA 134. The soft and flexible brush head makes it easy to deposit just the right amount of intensity and then blend it into a more natural, seamless finish. You’ll never have to worry about that tin foil stripe when you use this one.
As good as the 134 is, though, it plays second fiddle to my one true love:
REAL TECHNIQUES Setting Brush
Ah, my beloved. Let me start by saying that I am the sort of person who loves, loves, loves an intense highlight. I want my face to look wet. That’s clearly a tall order when you’re using powder highlighters, but not impossible. The NARS Highlighting Powder in Fort de France does just that, but let’s leave that story for another day.
Now the ZOEVA 134 is very good, and I always get a good highlight when I use it. But the REAL TECHNIQUES Setting Brush gives me a finish that is just… beyond.
It’s a setting brush, as the name clearly states, but pretty much everyone uses it for highlighting. The bristles are just a tiny bit shorter than the 134’s and they are a little denser, so it packs on a much more intense shine.
The base is also flatter compared to the narrow 134, which to me makes it easier to control. The brush head is still soft (not scratchy at all) but it doesn’t have as much “give”, so I can really build up to the intensity I want.
The Setting Brush is just a little less flexible than the 134 so it takes a little more time to blend, but I don’t mind since it gives me my perfect highlight.
Both brushes are excellent and pretty affordable, so you can get them both and figure out which one works better for your specific preference. In fact, just go ahead and check out all the brushes ZOEVA has to offer.
I’ve tried a lot of brushes from different brands, ranging from the very cheap to the very expensive. I haven’t found any that are as good as ZOEVA, especially given the price. I’ve washed my brushes so many times since I got them and they’ve never shed on me. They also dry fast and don’t lose their shape even without a brush guard.
In fact, I’d like to talk about one more ZOEVA brush that I use for highlighting.
ZOEVA 230 Luxe Pencil
This tiny little brush was designed for precision work, which is exactly why I love it. I use the 230 to apply highlighter on my lower lash line and on my tear trough, just to brighten up my eye area without having to add more concealer. (I have allergic shiners so I always look like I either got beaten up or that I haven’t slept in five years.)
You can use the 230 for detailed highlighting under the brow bone, on the bridge of your nose, or on your cupid’s bow. This is controlled highlighting at its finest.
And that’s it! I hope you figure out the right tool for the job so you can get your perfect highlight. Go forth and be brighter than the sun.