Can You Use Highlighter Without Foundation?

Long-term sun exposure, stress, or other environmental factors can all contribute to the loss of radiance in your complexion. Thankfully, a highlighter can help bring back the glowy look to the skin.

A common question we get asked is: Can we use a highlighter without foundation?

The purpose of a highlighter is to reflect light to give the face a radiant and dewy appearance. As a result, your complexion will appear more youthful and rested.

Generally, a highlighter is applied after foundation, but you can also use a highlighter without foundation for a natural look. It is possible to wear a highlighter alone without any other makeup too. Make sure to prepare the skin before applying the highlighter to prevent it from emphasizing any flakiness or skin texture.

Keep reading to find out how you can just wear a highlighter and make it last longer on the skin.

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How To Use Highlighter Without Foundation?

Following these simple steps will ensure the highlighter blends perfectly and lasts all day long.

Prepare the skin

skin hydrating creams

To get a long-lasting look, it’s important to prepare the skin for the makeup application.

Use a gentle yet effective cleanser that will not irritate your skin and give it a deep clean. This step can make all the difference in achieving a long-lasting look.

Choose a cleanser that is appropriate for your skin type. Go for a formula that’s not over-drying so that it doesn’t strip the natural oils from your skin.

This gel-based cleanser is one of the best cleansers for oily skin. It has a light formula that cleanses the skin effectively without stripping the skin barrier.

A great tip is to wet your skin with water before applying the cleanser. This helps the cleanser to massage easily into the skin.

cerave foaming cleanser

If you have dry skin, opt for a lightweight cleanser that doesn’t leave your face feeling tight or dry. According to Healthline, cleansers containing hydrating ingredients, like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin, can work great on dry skin.

This Hydro Boost Hydrating Cleansing Gel is a nice option. It has a light formula that contains hyaluronic acid to increase the skin’s hydration level. To cleanse the skin effectively:

  1. Wet your face with water.
  2. Apply the cleanser to your hands and add some water.
  3. Massage the skin gently to remove all the dirt and impurities.

If you have dry skin, applying a highlighter on bare skin can accentuate dry patches.

The next step is to moisturize the skin with a lightweight moisturizer.

It’s important to hydrate the skin so that the highlighter blends easily and gives it a natural yet glowy look.

Avoid using heavy and thick moisturizers during the day as they might not wear well under makeup. Opt for a lightweight formula instead. 

This Hydro Boost Water Gel moisturizer contains Hyaluronic Acid, which helps to keep the skin feeling soft and smooth. It blends easily into the skin and doesn’t leave any greasy residue.

If you have oily skin, you may not make a highlighter last all day without primer or foundation underneath, and your natural oils might prevent the highlighter from lasting on the skin. 

Applying an oil-control primer or matte foundation helps prevent your skin from looking shiny throughout the day. 

If you have large pores or skin texture, applying an illuminator or highlighter on bare skin might emphasize your problem areas. 

Exfoliating the skin before makeup helps make the skin look more soft and smooth. Gentle exfoliators are always a great addition to your skincare routine.

If you have oily skin, use an exfoliator with Salicylic Acid that helps to smooth the skin.

For dry or dull skin, use an exfoliator with glycolic acid to remove dead skin cells.

You can also apply a silicone-based primer underneath to help minimize the look of big pores and fine lines. Another great trick is to use a pressed setting powder by itself underneath to help the bronzer blend into the skin.

Depending on your skin type, you can apply a primer or a moisturizer under your highlighter to make it last longer.

Choose The Right Formula

liquid highlighters

When you apply highlighter without foundation underneath, there is no base for the highlighter to adhere to. 

Highlighters come in many different formulas. Try out what you have and see what works best for your skin type. You might find that some of them last longer than others.

Cream and liquid highlighters might last longer than powders on the skin. They can also look more natural when applied to bare skin. 

Avoid glittery highlighters as they might look greasy and opt for a subtle highlight instead to get a natural look. 

This liquid highlighter has a light formula that blends easily into the skin. It has a beautiful finish that doesn’t emphasize large pores or skin texture. 

Many stick highlighters are easy to apply. This cream highlighter has a sheer but buildable formula that blends easily into the skin. It comes in four different shades, giving the skin a natural glow.

milk makeup stick highlighter

If you still prefer powder highlighters, try this nude highlighter. It looks very sheer, but it gives the skin a healthy glow. This highlighter has been my go-to product for a minimalist makeup look.

Pick The Right Shade

persona caliglow zuma highlighter swatch

For a simple and natural makeup look, use a shade that is close to your skin tone or one shade lighter.

Avoid using a very dark shade as it might look obvious on the skin. 

At the same time, using a very light shade might cause your highlighter to look ashy.

When applying only a highlighter to the face, opt for a shade that is neither pink nor bronze. It gives a gorgeous glow without looking over the top.

Find your perfect shade match by relying on your skin tone and undertone. 

If you have a pale skin tone, go for a highlighter with a silver-tone. This liquid highlighter might be a great choice. It blends easily on the skin and doesn’t emphasize fine lines or wrinkles. 

For light skin tones, a champagne highlighter gives the skin a natural glow.

If you have a medium skin tone, go for a lhighlighter with bronze tones.

For deep skin tones, look for highlighters with gold tones and avoid silver or white tones.

Use The Right Application Tools

face brush

When you want to achieve a natural-looking finish, use your fingers, a soft brush, or a damp sponge.

Dense brushes might not be the best tool for applying highlighter on bare skin as they are more likely to create a bolder look.

For powder highlighters, we recommend you use a fluffy brush as it can apply the highlighter in a subtle way.

elf brush

Cream and liquid highlighters can be applied using your fingers or a makeup sponge.

The warmth of your fingers can help the product to melt into the skin, which gives a natural but dewy look.

Makeup sponges are also a great tool to blend liquid and cream highlighters. They absorb all the excess so that the makeup looks natural on the skin, leaving a dewy finish behind.

No matter what tool you use, start with a lighter hand and build up the product if you need it. Apply the highlighter to the areas where the light naturally hit the face, such as on:

  • The Cheekbones
  • The Bridge of the nose
  • Under the eyebrows
  • The inner corners of the eyes
  • The Cupid’s bow


There’s nothing wrong with just wearing highlighter without any other makeup, and it’s a great way to light up your face while maintaining a natural look. Foundation is not necessary for everyone and you can skip using it if you have clear skin.

Always make sure your skin is well hydrated and exfoliated to prevent the highlighter from accentuating dry or flaky skin.

If you have oily skin, use a mattifying primer to control oil throughout the day so that the highlighter lasts longer on the skin.

For large pores, apply a pore-minimizing primer that helps to smooth the skin before applying a highlighter.

To get a natural yet glowy look, choose a lightweight highlighter. Cream and liquid highlighters might last longer than the powder ones. Check out what you already have to know what works well for your skin type.

Choose a shade that’s the same as your skin tone or one shade lighter.

Apply the highlighter using a fluffy brush, your fingers, or a makeup sponge to get a natural and glowy look.

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Claire is a beauty enthusiast and lover of all things makeup. Her blog is a resource for makeup tips and tricks, product reviews and beauty tutorials.

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