If you’ve been wondering what the difference is between an illuminator and a highlighter then by the end of this post you’ll still be confused! lol I hope not!

(more pics below of each individual brand)

HAC (Highlight and Contour), bronzers, illuminators and highlighters are the newest and most fab trends. In fact I’ll be doing a video very soon on how I HAC! Can’t wait…ok so on to the difference between highlighters and illuminators!

Wow! I wish I could give you a straighforward answer and if you try to google it you’ll be lost in miriads of different explanations which will probably leave you a little confused but don’t fret.

Let me try to help you solve the mystery. In the end there really isn’t a right or wrong way to use these products and they are interchangeable in my humble opinion.

When I started to use these products I was overwhelmed and quite frankly intimidated by them! I didn’t want to ‘mess up’ and accidentally add years to my face or worse accentuate the flaws…i.e. dark circles and fine lines!

So, by trial and error, I found what worked for me. It may not work for you but these are general guidelines made to help you.

Forst of all, I love both products. I love them each for differnt reasons. I use both. Period. Do I use both of them all of the time? Mostly yes but I have skipped one or the other on a few occasions.

I’m going to give you a very brief attempt at my own definition of what each does and where on the face they should be applied (or at least where I apply them).


As the name suggests, the illuminator’s role is to ‘illuminate’ your beautiful face. Brilliant!

This is really helpful especially on those days when you need all the help you can get or even just a pick-me-up to freshen up your tired looking face! If you’re one of those gifted individuals where little sleep doesn’t affect you then YOU ARE SO LUCKY! The rest of us could use a litle help 😉

– give you that brightened ‘glow’
– usually come in a bright white or pearly color tint (however YSL Touche Eclat does come in some shades and Revlon too has 3 shades worth looking at).
– they’re designed to reflect light and add depth
– make you look well rested and radiant 🙂
– worn alone it doesn’t conceal
– Comes in liquid, cream and I believe in powder form as well
– It can be worn alone or under foundation. What I like to do is mix a tiny bit with my tinted moisturizer (although some might argue against applying over  your entire face but adding a tiny amount is key here and what works great for me)

WARNING: do not overdo it! Applying too much especially during the day or applying too much over your entire face will have you looking too sparkly and noticeable for the wrong reasons! Also, if you have blemishes, fine lines, wrinkles or large pores, applying too much will emphasize these more so be light handed with this.

Where and how to apply an Illuminator:

In addition to wearing alone or UNDER makeup or mixing a tiny bit with your foundation or tinted moisturizer or bb/cc/dd cream is one way. But you can most definitely use it as a final touch (and this is where it becomes a gray area as this is where I would use a highligter but an Illuminator can definitely work!). You want to add depth so you would apply the illuminator where natural light would hit. Illuminators should be used to ‘bring out’ areas that you would like to highlight such as:

– the eye area to create a ‘lifted’ effect
– in the hollow of your chin
– right above the cheekbones
– above the brow bone
– adding a tiny bit to the center of your lips will give the illusion of fuller lips
– don’t forget the cleavage area
– for areas such as the bridge of your nose, you want to be extremely precise here. To create the illusion of a thin, straight nose I use a pen illuminator such as L’Oreal’s Dream Lumi

Remember LESS IS MORE! Make sure to blend blend blend super well…you should only have a hint of luminosity and should be invisible to the eye..


This will be short and sweet! I use highlighter as a finishing touch after I’ve applied all my makeup, blush and shadows.

A highlighter may come in a few colors but i always opt for the softer pinks or light gold! Gold/Champagne hues will flatter anyone in my opinion. Again, the key here is to make sure that you don’t apply too much. Simply dab on to desired areas.

I apply it to:
– my cheekbones
– over the cupid’s bow
– the hollow of my chin
– and if I’m not using a sparkly one I’ll apply it on the bridge of my nose as well

I’m sure you noticed that the same areas to apply showed up in both the illuminator as well as the highlighter…so you see what I mean? When you look at it you might think that these products are interchangeable and you wouldn’t be wrong either….they are interchangeable in my very humble unprofessional opinion.

So here you have it.  In the end use what looks great on you and what achieves the results you want! Look fabulous and have fun doing it!

Here below are a few of my favorites and what I’m currently using (the Maybelline is perhaps the most subtle of all but you still get nice results) BUT I have a question for you and hope you can help me! I’ve only used liquid/stick illuminators and highlighters but never tried cream or powder. Who has used these and how are they working out? Are they easy to blend? Do they look too thick? Thanks for your comments! I’ll be reading them all 🙂

Happy Illuminating and Highlighting! 🙂







By Nuccia Ardagna




    December 16, 2017

    Powder illuminators and highlighters are just absolutely perfect in my opinion. They work well. I am using the ColorStudio Professional illuminator.



      December 17, 2017

      Hi Ayesha! I so love them too! I haven’t tried the ColorStudio though…does it deliver a dramatic efdect or is it more subtle? I’m curious!

  2. Kathy

    June 16, 2017

    Hello, I don’t know when you posted this, but you asked about liquid and powder highlighter/illuminator. I have both large pores mostly on my Apple cheeks and oily skin. I use powder as it doesn’t make me more oily. I’ve only used Stella liquid on top of cheekbones, over powder blush both worked well. I’ve always heard if you have oily skin you should use powder or powder based products as they help absorb oil. I apply with a brush. I do use Revlon colorstay foundation for oily skin, best stuff I ever used, doesn’t come off on clothes, tissue, men’s jackets, even sweat it doesn’t run. Or feel to heavy or thick, great product. Used it on my wedding day, no prob and even close ups were great



      December 17, 2017

      Hi Kathy! I agree with all your comments..I used to use the Revlon Colorstay foundation many many years ago and totally loved it for the very reasons you mentioned. The only complaint I had at the time was that it came out lookibg gray and ashy in pictures, but I’m pretty sure they’ve perfected their formula since then! In fact thanks for reminding me of how great it was…I will pick up a bottle this week!
      P.S. sorry for the late reply 🙁 it was a difficult year for us and lots happened…i really appreciate you stopping by to share this **muah**

Comments are closed.