If you’re new to makeup, the world of highlighters and illuminators might be confusing.
Both products create a glowy finish, but they work in different ways. So, which one should you use? And how do you apply them?
In this post, we’ll discuss the difference between illuminators and highlighters and how to use them.
This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure.
What Is A Highlighter?
A highlighter is a makeup product used to emphasize the high points of the face, such as the cheekbones, brow bone, and bridge of the nose.
Highlighters come in different formulas, including powder, cream, and liquid. They are also available in various finishes, from shimmery to glittery.
This shimmery pressed powder is an example of a powder highlighter. It has a soft and creamy formula that blends easily on the cheekbones to create a stunning glow.
You can also use highlighters without foundation for a natural-looking glowy look. They give the skin a radiant finish while emphasizing the high points of the face.
Related: Concealer Vs. Highlighter
What Is An Illuminator?
An illuminator is a makeup product that adds a natural-looking glow to the entire face.
You can apply it all over the skin over or under the foundation, and you can also mix it with your moisturizer, primer, or foundation for a lit-from-within glow.
Illuminators come in different formulas, including powder, cream, and liquid. They do not contain any glitter, which makes them ideal for those who want a natural finish.
This liquid illuminator can be mixed with your foundation to create a dewy finish, and it can also be applied on its own for a natural-looking glow.
A liquid illuminator can also be used as a highlighter for a subtle glow.
Illuminator Vs. Highlighter: What’s The Difference?
Highlighters and illuminators differ primarily in their formula and the face area they are used on.
Highlighters are usually more pigmented than illuminators and contain shimmer or glitter.
They emphasize the high points of the face, such as the cheekbones, brow bone, and bridge of the nose.
Highlighters shouldn’t be applied to the entire face, as they can make the skin look like a disco ball.
Illuminators are sheerer and more natural-looking than highlighters. They do not contain glitter chunks and can be applied all over the face.
You can apply an illuminator under foundation for a natural dewy finish or mix it with your foundation for a natural-looking glow.
When choosing your highlighter, opt for a shade one to two shades lighter than your skin tone. If you have fair skin, look for a highlighter with a pink or pearl undertone.
For medium skin, choose a highlighter with a gold or champagne undertone.
If you have dark skin, look for a highlighter with a bronze or copper undertone.
Avoid choosing a very light shade, as it can cause your highlighter to look ashy.
As for illuminators, choose a shade close to your skin tone that will help create a natural-looking finish.
Avoid going too light, as this can make your makeup look grey.
Also, choosing a dark illuminator can make your foundation look orange or muddy.
These are our top three picks for the best illuminators:
This luminizer is one of the best products from MAC. It can be used on its own or mixed with your foundation to create a dewy finish.
It comes in three different shades, so you can choose the one that works the best for your skin tone.
If you have a fair skin tone, use the shade ‘Pinklite‘, which has a soft pink undertone.
For a medium skin tone, use the shade ‘Peachlite‘.
And for a dark skin tone, use the shade ‘Goldenlite‘.
This cream has a lightweight formula that blends easily into the skin. It is also hydrating, so it won’t leave your skin feeling dry.
I like to mix it with my foundation to create a dewy finish. But you can also apply it on its own for a natural-looking glow.
- It has a very lightweight formula
- It Can be used on its own or mixed with foundation
- It doesn’t emphasize fine lines or wrinkles.
- It’s only available in three different shades
This product is a face primer that you can use to create a dewy finish. It can also act as a luminizer, giving the skin a glowy finish.
The formula is very lightweight, blends easily into the skin, and doesn’t leave the skin feeling oily or greasy.
You can wear it on its own or under foundation, and I like to mix it with my foundation for a natural-looking glow.
- It has a lightweight formula
- You can use it on its own or under a foundation
- It doesn’t leave the skin feeling oily
- The price is very affordable
This illuminator is a good choice if you want a luminous glow without using any foundation.
It can be used on its own or mixed with your favorite moisturizer.
The formula is buildable and gives the skin a dewy finish, so it’s best suitable for normal to dry skin.
It can make the skin very shiny, so it might not be the best choice for oily skin.
- It has a lightweight formula
- It comes in 11 shades
- It gives the skin a very dewy finish
- It can make the skin very shiny
These are our top three picks for the best highlighters:
This highlighter is very pigmented and gives the skin an intense glow. It has a soft and creamy formula that blends easily into the skin.
The key is to tap off the excess product before applying it to avoid looking like a disco ball.
I like to use it on the high points of my face, such as my cheekbones and brow bone.
It doesn’t settle into fine lines and comes in five different shades, which is excellent.
- It’s very pigmented
- The formula is soft and creamy
- It comes in five shades
- Highlighter can look oily when you apply too much.
This highlighter is one of the best drugstore highlighters. It has a natural finish and is perfect for everyday use.
You can build it up for a more intense glow or keep it sheer for a natural look.
The formula is smooth and easy to blend and doesn’t emphasize texture or pores.
This has been my go-to highlighter for the days when I want a natural finish. It’s also very affordable, and it suits all skin types.
- It has a natural finish
- The formula is smooth and easy to blend
- It’s very affordable
If you like intense highlighters, then this one is for you. It’s very pigmented and gives the skin a metallic finish.
The formula is creamy and easy to blend. I like to use it on special occasions or for a night out.
However, it can emphasize texture and pores, so it’s not the best choice for oily or mature skin.
- It’s very pigmented
- The formula is creamy and easy to blend
- It can emphasize texture and pores.
How To Use Illuminator With Foundation?
You can use an illuminator under, over, or mixed with foundation.
If you want to use it under foundation, apply it all over your face or the areas where you want to add a glow.
You can blend the illuminator with your fingers or use a damp makeup sponge.
Take a small amount and lightly press the illuminator all over your face.
You don’t need to apply too much; a little goes a long way.
Wait for a couple of minutes before applying the foundation on top.
You can also use it over foundation by dabbing a small amount after your foundation has been set.
Blend it gently using your fingers, a soft brush, or a sponge. Avoid rubbing or applying too much pressure as it can cause the foundation to come off.
If you want to mix it with your foundation, take your usual amount of foundation and add one or two drops of an illuminator. Mix it well on the back of your hand or using a mixing palette.
Apply it to your face using a damp beauty blender or a brush.
If you are using a powder illuminator, it might be better to apply it after blending your liquid foundation. Avoid applying powder products before a liquid foundation, as it can cause the makeup to separate and look cakey.
Cream illuminators can be used the same way as liquid illuminators, although they can be easily applied on top of foundations.
Do You Need Both Highlighter And Illuminator?
Whether you need a highlighter or an illuminator depends on your preference and the finish you want to achieve.
An illuminator is all you need if you want a natural glow. It can be used all over the face or in areas where you want to add a healthy glow.
A highlighter is better if you want a more intense glow or a metallic finish, and it’s also perfect for special occasions or a night out.
Since highlighters are more pigmented than illuminators, you can use them during the summertime or on days when you want your skin to look extra glowy.
You can use Illuminators during winter to boost your skin’s radiance.
If you have oily skin, using a strong highlighter or illuminator can make your skin look greasy, so opt for a lightweight formula.
If you have dry skin, using a liquid illuminator or mixing it with your foundation can help add hydration and make your skin look dewy.
Can Illuminator Be Used As Primer?
Yes, you can use an illuminator as a primer, but it will not make your makeup last longer. An illuminator can help your foundation go on smoothly and make your skin look glowy.
Some illuminators like this strobe cream are silicone-based, which can help to give the skin a blurred effect. These illuminators can be used as a primer and provide the skin with a smooth, even canvas for makeup.
An illuminator with hydrating ingredients can help prep the skin and add a dewy finish if you have dry skin. It might not completely replace a primer, but it can help your foundation go smoothly.
Highlighter Vs. Illuminator And Bronzer
The difference between bronzer and highlighter is that bronzer is used to create a sunkissed look, whereas highlighter adds glow and highlights the face.
Bronzers are available in powder, cream, and liquid formulas, and they can be matte, shimmery, or satin. You can use a bronzer on top of the cheeks, top of the forehead, and bridge of the nose.
Bronzers help to add warmth to the face and create a healthy, sunkissed look.
When choosing a bronzer, pick one or two shades darker than your skin tone.
Highlighters can be shimmery or glittery, and you can use them on the cheekbones, brow bones, and cupid’s bow. They are used to highlight the high points of the face.
Highlighters should be one or two shades lighter than your skin tone. If you want to use bronzer and highlighter, apply bronzer to the areas where the sun would naturally hit your face. Then, use a highlighter on the high points of your face that you want to accentuate.
Illuminators can be used all over the face to add a natural-looking glow, and they can also be mixed with foundation or primer for an extra dose of radiance.
The main difference between illuminators and bronzers is that illuminators are used to add a glow, whereas bronzers are used to create a sunkissed look.
So, what is the difference between a highlighter and an illuminator?
Highlighters are more pigmented than illuminators and are used to emphasize the high points of the face.
Illuminators add a natural-looking glow to the face and can be applied all over the skin or mixed with foundation, primer, or moisturizer.
If you want an all-over natural glow, then an illuminator is all you need.
A highlighter is better if you want a more intense glow or a metallic finish.
I hope this article helped you understand the difference between a highlighter and an illuminator. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.