What’s the difference between highlighters and illuminators?

With the ‘glow up’ being a thing even more so this spring and summer, a ton of products have hit the market to help.  Illuminators and highlighters can be found at various price points to make it accessible: from your favorite drug store brand to your favorite high end brand – if you want to glow this season, you can.  Now, before you can go out there and stock up on your favorite illuminators and highlighters, you have to know the difference.  Yes, there is a difference.  If you were anything like me, you may have not known what the difference was and potentially was using them in a way that did not really showcase what they did.  So, yeah, your ‘glow up’ may have been on the struggle bus…no, worries though, boo.  I got you!

Ok, my ‘glow up’ was struggling.  What’s the difference between highlighters and illuminators?

Well, they actually do the same thing, but aren’t the same.  Know what I mean? They were both created to give you a glow and give the appearance of healthy skin. The difference is how they are used and their intensity.  Highlighters are generally more intense than illuminators and are therefore best when used to highlight certain areas: the high points of your cheeks, cupid’s bow, brow bone and bridge of your nose ( I like to also highlight the tip of my nose).  Illuminators are generally less intense and are therefore best when used to highlight all over for the appearance of a subtle glow from within.  They work amazing on their own, mixed in moisturizers and foundations.

Ah, I see.  So, what are some of your favorite highlighters and illuminators?

I’ve had this obsession with highlighting and illuminating lately, so I have several that I love, but I’ll spare you and suggest three highlighters and three illuminators to start you off.  If you want more information on highlighters, check out my post about the difference between liquid and powder highlighters here.


Black Radiance True Complexion Contour Palette

This whole palette is dope.  The highlighter in this palette is a pretty gold color that looks amazing on women of color or tanned skin.  The highlight is buildable, so you can make your glow as lit as you’d like.

Benefit Watt’s Up!

I was sold on the packaging on this.  A highlighter in a stick? I’m here for it.  The glow on this is buildable, but is more on the lighter side so if you are looking for a subtle glow, this one would work perfectly.

Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector 

This is my fave.  The texture is so buttery for a power making the application of this highlighter easy and pleasant.  The glow is medium to intense, but buildable.  A little goes a long way with this one.


Pixi by Petra Glow Booster

On its own or mixed with your favorite foundation, this gem gives you a natural and healthy glow.  When I wore this on it’s own I got so many compliments on my skin and how healthy it looked!

NARS Illuminator in Orgasm

The OG…I love this illuminator.  It looks great on other areas than your face.  If you are looking for a glow on your collar bone, cleavage, or legs, NARS has you covered!

St. Tropez Gold Skin Illuminator (wish list!)

I’ve heard some great thing about this illuminator.  It’s on my wish list as my next illuminator that I want to try.  This illuminator comes in three different types to match up with your skin tone: violet, gold, and rose.  Gold is for tanned skin, while rose is for more fair complexions and violet can be used on any skin type.


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