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Best highlighter: The best liquid and powder highlighters from £5

Caroline Preece Philippa Pearne
17 Jul 2019
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Looking to give your face a glow? Here are the best highlighters you can buy from £5

The contouring trend has soured in recent years and it’s all thanks to an abundance of new wonder products such as bronzers and concealers that enable you to enhance your bone structure, or create an illusion of it. But it’s the highlighter that creates the ultimate finishing touch to a contoured look.

Where a bronzer or concealer add depth, a highlighter provides that much sought-after healthy glow on the areas that sunlight would naturally hit; the middle of the forehead, tops of the cheekbones and down the nose as well as in the centre of the top lip, under the brows and in the corners of the eyes. Aimed to make you look more awake, dewy-skinned and oh-so-pretty, you could say the highlighter is one of life’s little miracle workers.

But with so many different formulas and textures to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you and your desired look? Which highlighter cream will blend easiest? Which liquid highlighter is just the right consistency to be not too thick but not too runny? And which powder highlighter will give me a glow, not a sparkle? Read on to find out which products earn our highest accolade.

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How to buy the best highlighter for you

Which formula should you choose?

It depends on your skin type and the finish you want to achieve. Powder highlighters are usually buildable, so opt for these if you want a sheer glow to start off with a view to add more if you feel you need it. We’d advise against a powder highlighter if you have dry skin, since these can sometimes enhance the look of dry skin.

If you’re at the other end of the spectrum, however, sporting an unwanted greasy sheen then a powder highlighter can act as a great mattifier at the same time. As for a cream or liquid highlighter, they’re ideal for dry skin as they add a touch of moisture. They also provide a stronger glow; but where a powder can be swished casually onto the face using a brush, a cream or liquid will require greater precision on application. A cream will be easier to apply on the go, so consider when and how you’ll be using the product when you’re mulling your purchase.

What’s the difference between an illuminator and a highlighter?

To be perfectly honest, not a great deal: you can dab or swish illuminator anywhere on the face and get the same effect as a highlighter. However, most illuminators come in liquid form and are meant to be applied all over the face – sort of like a base for your foundation so that you glow from beneath the second layer. You wouldn’t usually apply a liquid highlighter all over since they often contain too much brightener or “sparkle”. They’re much more area-focused and create a less “thrown on” finish.

How much should you spend?

It depends on how highly you regard that “finishing touch”. Is it an added bonus, or do you see it as the main event of your makeup look, so much that you’d be naked without it? If it’s the latter then treat yourself – especially if you’ve found one by a professional makeup artist – but don’t spend more than around £30. If it’s the former, you can buy decent highlighters from high-street pharmacies for under £10. Be warned, though: a lot of cheap and cheerful highlighters contain a high amount of glittery-sparkle to make up for the lack of “glow” in the actual formula itself, so do try before you buy.

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The best highlighter you can buy

1. Laura Mercier Face Illuminator Powder: The best powder highlighter

Price: £32 | Buy now from Space NK


The first thing you’ll notice on opening it up is the utter beauty of this highlighter in the pallette. Forget standard-looking compact powders, this is a feast for the eyes, thanks to the gorgeous, rippled shimmery pattern – trust us, you’re likely to want to slap it on as soon as you set eyes on it.

Use a small to medium highlighting or blusher brush to swish some onto the recommended areas, and you’ll notice a healthy sheen straight away. It will be neither too strong, nor too sheer – just perfect to fool people into thinking you’ve just had a really good facial. It’s available in four shades, ranging from bronze-golds to pinky-pearls, depending on your skin tone. It might be on the expensive side – it was created by a top makeup artist, after all – but true makeup addicts will know that eye candy such as this doesn’t come cheap.

2. Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Beauty Light Wand: The best liquid highlighter for under £30

Price: £29 | Buy now from Charlotte Tilbury


When a makeup artist as talented and critically acclaimed as Charlotte Tilbury brings out her own makeup range, you know it’s going to fly off the shelves and become your new makeup addiction. Famed for creating makeup looks for Kate Moss and Jennifer Lopez, you know you’re in good hands – and this highlighter proves just that.

With its pearly liquid finish and easy-to-use sponge applicator, it’s all you need for a radiant finish. It blends easily, too, and there’s no fiddling around when it comes to adding more product to the sponge: simply squeeze the tube as you’re blending, if you need to add a little more. Beautiful with a side of bronzer and a touch of blush, this is the real deal when it comes to liquid highlighters.

Buy now from Charlotte Tilbury


3. Benefit High Beam: The best liquid highlighter for under £25

Price: £22 | Buy now from Boots

This liquid pinky pearl highlighter is an all-round crowd-pleaser – it doesn’t exactly go beyond the call of duty, but it offers everything a highlighter should and at a decent price, too.

It comes in what looks like a nail polish bottle, and it can be tricky to know how best to apply it – do you dab it straight onto the skin using a brush, or drop some onto your hand from the brush to apply with your fingers? We recommend the latter, but we’re sure you’ll agree that it isn’t the easiest applicator in the world. That said, the formula itself is pretty; there’s no sparkle, just a pearly finish. The liquid isn’t too runny either, so application is easy to control. A little goes a long way, so beware when using it on areas such as the nose and beneath the brows (you don’t want gleaming eyebrow hairs now, do you...?). For £22, you may need to touch up half way through the day, but overall it delivers.

4. Kiko Radiant Touch Creamy Stick Highlighter: The best highlighter for under £10

Price: £9.90 | Buy now from Kiko

Cream highlighters in a handy stick form are great for slipping into your handbag for times that you’re on the go, so the fact that this particular one is so creamy and therefore ridiculously easy to blend makes it perfect for the morning commute.

You can use the stick directly on your skin, or work the cream onto your face via a brush or finger – either way, it provides a touch of sunlight to your face, working wonders even after the heaviest of nights out. It comes in two shades – rose and gold – so whether you’re after a sun-kissed or pretty-in-pink look, all bases are covered. It’s so creamy that it could even double as a shimmery eyeshadow, as long as you wear a shadow primer beneath it to keep it from straying. 

Buy now from Kiko


5. Mac Strobe Cream: The best moisturising highlighter

Price: £25 | Buy now from MAC Cosmetics

Let’s just start with the size of the tube – how many other liquid highlighters have you come across that are as generous with quantity? Even if a little didn’t go a long way (which it does), you’d still have plenty here to last you for months.

Don’t be put off by the colour of the liquid – it’s white at first sight, with a hint of purple-ish iridescence. Once it’s blended into the skin it becomes a clear, pearly colour – and the best bit is that it provides a touch of hydration for the skin, too. It’s also an exception to the “apply all-over” rule – it could probably pass for an all-over illuminator – but only if you apply a very small amount. It’s impressive at highlighting in the normal way, too: dabbing it onto more targeted areas is easy, and while it might not last all day, it certainly makes your skin look fresh for most of it.

Buy now from MAC Cosmetics


6. e.l.f Baked Highlighter: The best highlighter for £5 or under

Price: £5 | Buy now from Superdrug

At first sight, you’ll notice the dreaded sparkle on the surface of this baked powder highlighter, but don’t let it put you off – most of that will settle after the first swish of the brush. And we advise that application is best via a brush – go in with your fingers and your face is likely to resemble that of a five-year-old who’s been let loose on your makeup bag!

Once the glitter has calmed down, you’re left with a subtle sheen. The powder is available in four shades, but in our opinion ‘Moonlight Pearls’ will work best for most skin tones and creates the most natural finish. The pigment is pretty amazing for a powder highlighter, so be careful not to overload your brush – but, conversely, this also means it will last you a decent amount of time. All this for a fiver: what’s not to like?

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