Face highlighter is a makeup bag mainstay for many. A dusting atop each cheekbone, a sweep along the bridge of your nose—the right highlighter has an almost magical ability to brighten up your face. That being said, you don’t need an entire highlighter palette at your disposal to fake a lit-from-within glow. The right skincare products can also help emphasize your favorite features (no makeup necessary).
Here, we’ll teach you how to highlight your face without makeup. You’ll learn a few tips for keeping your skin looking smooth, glowy, and even, plus discover some of the best Kiehl’s products for the job. Stash your makeup bag and settle in to learn how to highlight your face with skincare.
Start With a Clean Canvas
It doesn’t matter if you’re planning to highlight with makeup or with skincare—you always want to begin with a clean, fresh canvas. To start, we recommend washing your face with a gentle, non-stripping cleanser, like Ultra Facial Cleanser. This iconic cleanser with squalane and avocado oil helps dissolve excess oil, dirt, and debris without drying out the skin. The pH-balanced formula also helps maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier, and it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. We recommend using it with lukewarm water, as hot water can strip your skin, leaving it feeling dry and uncomfortable.
After cleansing, remove any lingering debris with an alcohol-free toner, such as Calendula Herbal-Extract Toner. The soothing formula, which contains calendula extract, helps calm the skin, leaving it feeling refreshed. Over time, it also helps diminish redness, improve skin texture, and reduce the appearance of enlarged pores—all of which will help your skin appear more glowy over time. We recommend applying it using a clean cotton round, though you can splash it directly onto your face if desired (just avoid your eye area).
Exfoliate, But Gently
Exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells, allowing your skin to take on a smoother, more radiant appearance. It also helps with glowiness: Whether you’re using makeup or skincare products as your highlighter, smooth skin reflects light better than bumpy, uneven skin. We recommend adopting a gentle approach to exfoliation by incorporating Ferulic Brew Antioxidant Treatment Essence into your daily skincare routine. This facial essence with lactic acid and ferulic acid helps remove dull surface skin to improve skin tone and texture. It’s shown to visibly minimize the appearance of fine lines and smooth the skin within one week, while continued use leaves your skin looking more refined and even over time.* We recommend using the powerful formula daily to help give your skin a healthy-looking glow.
*Results based on expert grading in a four-week clinical test on 60 subjects.
Another exfoliation option is Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner. Formulated with lipo-hydroxy acid (a salicylic acid derivative), 23% emollients, and almond milk, it sloughs skin without causing discomfort. The result is visibly smooth, bright skin and a hydrated, comfortable feel.
Load Up On Moisture
Moisturizing is imperative, especially if you’re after a dewy, radiant look. After cleansing and toning your face, we suggest hydrating your skin with a lightweight serum, like Hydro-Plump Hydrating Serum. This gentle serum provides deep hydration to help improve the appearance of dull, dehydrated skin. It also helps boost elasticity and plumps the skin to help reveal a smoother appearance over time.
Of course, serum alone isn’t enough for hydration: You also need to use moisturizer. For radiant-looking skin, we recommend Clearly Corrective Brightening and Smoothing Moisture Treatment. Made with glycolic acid and activated vitamin C, this rich moisturizer provides continuous hydration for up to 24 hours while helping to smooth and brighten dull skin. In addition to providing long-lasting hydration, this potent formula is also clinically-demonstrated to help reduce the appearance of skin discolorations, leaving your skin visibly brighter with continued use.*
*Results based upon a clinical study of the upper layers of the skin.
Finally, don’t forget sunscreen—it’s a must every day (not just when it’s hot and sunny). For maximum protection, seek out a broad-spectrum formula with an SPF of at least 15. Try Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+, which is non-greasy and suitable for all skin types.
Opt For Oils
Generally, the goal of highlighter is to draw attention to the high points of your face. With makeup, this effect can be achieved by using shimmery, light-reflecting products to make your skin look glowier. It works, but the effect can appear a bit unnatural, especially if the product is too glittery. Highlighting your face with skincare can result in a more natural-looking glow.
Daily Reviving Concentrate
To mimic the highlight effect sans makeup, you’ll want to strategically apply oil to the areas of your face that you want to emphasize. We recommend doing this with Daily Reviving Concentrate, a lightweight, non-comedogenic face oil made with sunflower oil and tamanu oil. The antioxidant-rich formula helps defend against the visible signs of fatigue and leaves the skin looking fresh and radiant.
As for where to highlight your face, we recommend adopting the same approach that you would with highlighter makeup. Use clean fingertips to press the oil onto your cheekbones, cupid’s bow, and the bridge of your nose. These are the areas that naturally reflect light; applying oil to them can help enhance that natural reflectivity, giving your skin a subtle, healthy-looking glow. Note that it’s best to start off slow: You can always add more oil if you want to up the wow factor.
Nourish Your Under-Eye Area
Lastly, don’t forget to pay special attention to your under-eye area—highlighting is meant to give you a healthy appearance, and tired-looking eyes convey the opposite. To help keep your under-eye area looking (and feeling) its best, we recommend reaching for the cult-classic Avocado Eye Cream. Made with avocado oil and shea butter, the creamy under-eye treatment provides all-day hydration and immediately improves the appearance of under-eye skin texture. Over time, it also helps de-puff to give the eye area a brighter, fresher appearance. If dark circles are still getting in the way of your glow, you can apply under-eye concealer over your eye cream, as the unique formula doubles as a skin-smoothing eye makeup primer.