Confession time: I am a beauty writer who wore highlighter for the first time last year. Don’t get me wrong, I completely appreciate a good glow, but I can never find one that’s truly flattering for my caramel skin tone. The struggle of discovering a highlighter that makes my cheekbones look glowing without being chalky is unfortunately all too real. So, I decided to call up some celebrity makeup artists for their insight on how to find the best highlighters for darker skin tones.
“The best highlighters for deeper skin tones should have a warm, luminous golden, chocolate, or bronze hue,” says Los Angeles-based makeup artist Tasha Reiko Brown, who has worked with Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, and Michael B. Jordan. “Anything with too much opal or pearl isn’t complimentary and won’t have the same natural ‘lit from within’ glow [that] highlighter should accomplish.”
Once you nail down the shade, New York-based makeup artist Alana Wright says that your skin type will determine which highlighter works best for your needs. “The best highlighter for a dry skin type is one that creates a hydrated, glowing sheen rather than a suspended particle frosty finish that makes skin look dry and textured,” she says. “For normal to oily skin types, I love using liquid highlighters that can be blended into complexion products like foundation or layered on top as a finish because of the dry-down quality.” If you’re not into cream or liquid formulas, she adds that a loose highlighting powder is great because the finish “is a lot more skin-like in appearance.”
To make sure that you’re applying your product for the best luminescence possible, pros say that a small amount of product can go a long way. “Less is more when it comes to highlighter,” says Jessica Smalls, makeup artist to Janelle Monae and other stars. “You don’t want to look like you have on highlighter—you want to look like your skin is glowing.” Depending on the look you’re going for, Marc Reagan, director of global education, artistry, and events at Hourglass says that you can adjust the intensity of the light reflection. “Layer highlighters underneath for a lit-from-within glow or as a last step for the ultimate strobed effect,” he says. Keep scrolling for makeup artist-approved products to shop for your highlighter game.
13 of the best highlighters for darker skin tones
Smalls recommends this highlighter for those with darker skin tones who have yellow undertones. “Its coral undertone and golden shimmer make it perfect to enhance these skin tones,” she says, adding that the jet-milled formula makes it super soft and perfect to wear directly over your moisturizer.
Another fave of hers? This palette offers golden, bronze, and chocolate tones that work well with “any darker skin tone,” she says. These have a creamy texture and a lightweight feel, which makes them she says make for great all-day wear. Hot tip: She recommends applying it with a soft, fluffy brush.
“This highlighter is the perfect shade of warm bronze that highlights the richness or deeper tones,” says Brown. The formula is creamy and fine-milled, so you won’t get those large chunks of shimmer. “It glides on and blends down effortlessly into the skin, ensuring the shimmer won’t travel on the face for a lovely summer glow,” she says.
A highlighter in stick form is the easiest way to get a quick luminescence. “It’s a lovely cinnamon bronze shade that works well with the beautiful warm undertones of dark skin,” says Brown. All you need are your fingers for blending.
“This warm bronze tone looks beautiful on different depths of brown skin,” says Reagan of this option by Hourglass Cosmetics. “It will either look seamlessly golden or give a highlight to the skin without looking ashy.” Though it’s creamy, it never feels oily or wet to the touch, and it’s really good for layering.
If you have normal to dry skin, Wright recommends trying this highlighter and balm duo, which creates subtle dimension to your skin. Emily Cheng, makeup artist to Kerry Washington, reaches for the shades Bronze and Golden “for an extra pop of shine.”
Choose from various caramel and bronze hues in this creamy highlighter stick for a dab of shimmer. “It’s creamy and blends right into the skin for a natural radiance, plus the most incredible highlight, especially when the sun hits,” says Cheng, who suggests buying a color that’s the closest to your skin tone.
For normal to oily skin types, Wright reaches for this cream highlighter. “I love that it can be layered or blended into any foundation formula to create a lit-from-within shine and isn’t greasy,” she says. Her preferred way to apply is to tap it onto your cheekbones, then use a makeup sponge to blend any harsh edges.
9. Noorface Skin Glass Powder, $38
The Skin Glass Powder is a golden elixir that brings you goddess vibes. Wright likes to apply this one to the high points throughout the face, directly on top of foundation. To blend it more seamlessly, use a brush to even it out.
Celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose dubs this Giorgio Armani highlighter the “perfect” copper-bronze tone for darker skin types. “For day time I’d just do one coat, and for the evening when you want an extra glow I’d suggest adding two coats,” he says, noting that he recommends applying with a dampened sponge. Also, you won’t need to use a lot: “Just keep it on top of cheekbones, since dark skin already reflects light, and avoid the bridge of the nose since it can look extra shiny.”
This Maybelline highlighter is a steal for the price, and it’s a favorite of celebrity makeup artist Vincent Oquendo. “It’s really really great for medium to deep skin tones, and it sort of melts into the face,” he says. He recommends using just a bit since it’s very pigmented and applying it with your fingertips.
12. Shiseido Aura Dew in Solar, $25
Oquendo also reaches for this golden highlighter. “It’s a ground-down pearl so it doesn’t have pigment to it, but gives a sort of otherworldly shine,” he says. “If you have a deeper complexion, you’ll want to go for a warmer color, bronze, or gold to warm up your complexion.”
My personal go-to is this palette from makeup artist Scott Barnes (who gave Jennifer Lopez her signature glow). You have eight very pigmented shades to choose from that feel buttery-soft to the touch. There’s zero kickback when you dust on the highlighter using a brush. The combo I always turn to for Zoom meetings is a blend of Candlelight, Twilight Sand, and Bronzerella on my cheekbones.