Highlighting 101 (or “Strobing,” if we must)

 In How to, Products, Trends

If you pay attention to the buzz in the beauty world, you might have recently come across a “new” term that is being touted as the “next big thing” in makeup: strobing.


Photo: Luis Aragon; makeup by me. (See the areas that reflect light?)

Well, I’ve got news for ya: it’s not new. (Contouring – which was trending last year but is now apparently “passé” – wasn’t new, either.) Strobing is just a fancy term for highlighting, which is a very old makeup technique that actually goes hand-in-hand with contouring.

While contouring is meant to shadow and recede planes of the face, highlighting does the opposite: it lights up and brings forward those parts of the face we wish to showcase with a healthy glow. Products that “strobe” contain light-reflective ingredients that create shine on the skin. Both contouring and highlighting work together to enhance bone structure and create dimension.

Yup, that’s all it means. And I’ve got good news for you: not only is highlighting a lot easier than contouring, but – despite what the makeup companies will say (!) –  you probably already have something in your makeup bag that will do the trick.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Choose products with very finely milled shimmer, not glitter or frost. Generally speaking, glitter is too particulate, creating small specs on the face which may not reflect light evenly, and dry-looking frost finishes can look very dated (hello, disco!) What you want to achieve is subtle luminescence along the areas you wish to bring forward, so look for products where you can’t see space between the pigments. You can also skip shimmer altogether and highlight by using a rich, dewy moisturizer in strategic spots.
  2. Highlight only the parts of the face you wish to bring forward and emphasize. Generally speaking, you may want to avoid the T-Zone (because shine along the center of the forehead and sides of the nose may read as oil). Start with the tops of the cheekbones, the inner corner of the eye, and just above the Cupid’s bow of the lip. (Some people also highlight the temples, the bridge of the nose, and the chin – your mileage may vary!) And don’t neglect other exposed skin – highlighting looks great on the collarbones, limbs, you name it!
  3. Don’t go overboard! You’re not trying to signal aircraft, right? So don’t luminize your whole face. (Your foundation can be a bit dewy, but it shouldn’t be sparkly – too much of a good thing will lose the dimensional effect you’re aiming for.)

Photo: Luis Aragon; makeup by me. (Glowy cheekbones are gorgeous!)

Take a look in your makeup and skincare stash to see if you already have a product that creates this effect. For example, I often highlight the face with a soft, shimmery eye shadow (vanilla, champagne, and gold tones are ideal, depending on your skintone), or a creamy, rich moisturizer.

Don’t have anything already in your stash? Here are a few of my favorites:

Yaby eyeshadow in “Seashell” – Yup, you can use eyeshadow on places other than the eyes! I use this particular one the most, but I’ve also had good results with MAC “Shroom” and countless others.

Fortunate Face Minerals Lusters – this is what I mean by finely milled! You won’t see any glitter bits in these smooth powders, and they give the perfect glow. Available in four shades suitable for global skintones (Bare, Golden, Copper, and Pinky).

Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream – A pro classic for a reason: this moisturizer delivers a rich dewy shine wherever it is applied, without having to worry about shimmery pigments at all.

Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat – Contrary to popular belief, this is a luminizer, not a concealer. (It isn’t really pigmented enough to conceal effectively.) So if you’ve been wondering why it seems to highlight your dark circles rather than conceal them, try it on your cheekbones or the inner corner of your eyes instead. Now THERE’S the magic!

Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs – This product has been my saving grace for many beach shoots (such shoots are often scheduled early or even off-season, before the models have much of a natural summer glow!) Apply lightly to the arms, legs, and décolleté and blend out thoroughly with your hand.



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