Liquid illuminator: Should thoust be using one? How? Which one?

That depends.

If you were to have asked me back when I was a gung-ho little squid in my twenties with nay a face crease to be seen, I would have bellowed YES and then roughly thrust several (Benefit High Beam etc) in your face and told you what a moron you were not to use them everyday for all-over glow and delight.

NB: I am referring not to concealing illuminators, such as YSL’s Touche Eclat, but rather the tinted, gleaming skin luminising variety that are used all over the face, or for spot highlighting on cheekbones etc.

But now, as a more mature llama in her early thirties I am a little more reserved on both my use and endorsement  thereof. For while liquid illuminators and highlighters are indeed a delicious way to achieve a flawless dew and gleam to the skin, they are not for everyone.


– Those with large pores, fine lines/wrinkles, scarring or blemishes. This is because just like anything with shimmer, no matter how finely milled, it will exacerbate these things. (This is why you need to get your mum/granny off shimmery eye shadows, by the way.)

– Those with oily or sheeny skin: you should stick to cream or powder illuminators instead.

– Those with a lot of hyperpigmentation will need to fully conceal this before applying illuminator, as illuminators will (some say unfairly) highlight the uneven skin tone.

– Those who cannot be trusted to be light-handed. This is not body glitter, and this is not 1998.

– Those who have a habit of not blending thoroughly, or taking the time to check their makeup in a truth mirror before leaving the house.

However. When used correctly, skin illuminators can be a marvellous thing. Just ask one Cate Blanchett who is rather fond of them, and who has no qualms whatsoever using them on her (admittedly flawlessly smooth and event-toned) skin, and fierce cheekbones in particular.

They can make the skin appear to be well-rested and full of gorgeous, arrogant health, and glow in a way that is usually reserved for several high-strength peels, or taking a new lover. They create fantastic effects in photos, even if you choose to then filter the shit out of them for Instagram.


1. Added to moisturiser or primer for a subtle and believable ‘skin-level’ radiance. Be sure you choose the right tone for your skin, so that it looks like your skin, not something you have put on your skin. Alternatively, choose more of a ‘moisturiser’ style illuminator for this purpose, like MAC Strobe Cream. Just on primers, they are a terrific idea when using liquid illuminators, which have a habit of racking off after a few hours. Also a light dusting of loose powder to finish is not the worst thing you could do. Especially if you feel a bit too … gleamy.

2. Apply one part illuminator with two parts foundation for all over glow. I recommend this as a night time look only, just in case you look a bit too sparkly during the brutal light of day. Having said that, Armani Fluid Sheer is not too shimmery for day, as is hailed as the king for this.

3. Bronze illuminators are a wonderful way to get your face up to the tan level of your self-tanned body, and achieve a soft tanned glow. Apply gently all over the face underneath your foundation. (After primer if you’re using it.) You can also use these buffed gently onto areas you would normally use bronzer after having done your makeup, but be sure to only use over liquid foundation (always keep textures with like textures), be very light handed and if possible, use a cheek stippling brush (like the wonderful MAC 188 brush below) which buffs liquids and creams into the skin perfectly.


4. Use on top of blush. Adding some pinky luminiser on top of creme blush gives the best – and most long-lasting – result. Illuminators by themselves are usually not pigmented enough to act as blush. And nor should they be – their job is to throw light, not colour. This is me with Revlon Photoready Skinlights in Bare Light gently dabbed over my cheekbones, on top of some creme blush. Lovely subtle glow innit.



5. As a finishing product, illuminators beautifully highlight and skim the top of cheekbones and brow bones. Be sure to warm up the product thoroughly in your hand before applying, and it’s best to use a foundation brush for precision, although fingers will be fine, too. If in doubt, apply in a boomerang shape, starting under the highest point of your eyebrow and dabbing down around underneath the eye along the top of the cheekbones. Also on the top of the cupid’s bow. Adorable.

6. As a guitar pick.


Revlon Photoready Skinlights – They took them away from us years back, but thankfully the original skin illuminator is back. There are only three shades this time around (bronze light, bare light and pink light), but I find the bare light the perfect shade for my warm skin tone, (go for pink light, fair-skinned babes) and I happily dab it onto the high points of my face as a finishing product. It’s probably a bit to shimmery for me to blend with my foundation day to day, but if I’ve just had a facial, or am having a great skin day, or am heading out for an event, then I might add a drop (A DROP) into my foundation.


Tom Ford Skin Illuminator Fire Lust – a luxurious, sheer peachy-gold that is perfect for applying over creme blush, (I am not messing around when I say sheer, there is little point using this alone as a finishing product) or, if your skin tone is warm enough, added to your foundation for an all over gleam without any glitteryness or overt pearlescence, Just lovely good-skin-ness.God, Tom Ford is good. Someone let me know if he ever gets it wrong, won’t you? Annoying NB: This is out now but limited edition.


Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector – Wonderful as a skin-perfecting (hence the name) base underneath your foundation, and the perfect amount of glow but NOT shimmer to mix in with your foundation for a genuine your-skin-but-better look. Great too as a targeted highlighter, and I deeply enjoy using the tanned shade, Topaz, as a liquid bronzer on fun summery nights, and mixed with moistirser on my décolletage, or “booby area.”


Armani Fluid Sheer – The high priestess of liquid illuminators, this lush, makeup artist favourite does everything a grown up liquid luminiser should, from being used on its own or mixed with moisturiser for glow-from-within lightbulb skin, to the finishing touch on a perfectly dewy complexion. Shade #11 -a rosy, flushed hue – is extremely enchanting for cheeks and on pinker skin tones, while I love #10 for a more golden radiance.




Responses to this drivel: 18 Comments
Responses to this drivel ( 18 )
  • Melissa

    Zoe, when using a bronzing primer do you recommend going a shade deeper in your foundation as well? x

  • kirsty

    thankyou for nother great post….love the look oft that ‘illuminated’ skin but with pigmentation [as per my ‘comment’on your previous post] useing Becca’s skin perfector has been tricky…thanks agian for the tips/tricks and other products to try..

  • LouAna

    My fav is St.tropez skin illuminator in Rose

  • Hannah

    Perhaps a silly question- though when you talk of putting a drop with your foundation, how does one do this?? Do you mean mix on your hand and then apply or in the bottle? Though I feel you wouldn’t want to put drops in your everyday foundation if you don’t want to be luminous by day. Cheers fruity! 🙂

    • fruity

      No, probably best saved for night (although the less shimmery ones can be used on some, for day)… I drop some illuminator onto my wrist, then double that amount of foundation on to the same spot, then mix with a foundation brush and apply to the mug.

  • Rosie.

    I always wanted to use liquid illuminators and would buy endless variations. This article make me want to try again….Unfortunately I’m super cack handed and it would always look a bit … Xanadu ish. I’m now in love with a Chanel illuminating powder, I find it way easier to blend!
    Zoe I’ve got limited access to facials here in rural Oz and am wondering if you can recommend a do it yourself facial massage? Something to get the blood pumping and eyes clear? There seem to be zillions on the Net but I would love to know if there is a particular style you recommend.
    Thanks again for a great article.

  • Sarah

    There is a Laura mercier primer which is great for this. The radiance one, I think. Perfect under a tinted moisturiser for a lovely fresh day look.

  • Ozlicious

    Um, excuse me Mrs Foster-Blake, but doest thoust have another announcement of the glowy, illuminatey, radiant kind?!

  • Fashion and style

    Really very nice post & good work i love your work and its surprisingly helped me in my research.Thanks for sharing:)

  • Carisma

    Would love to see a how-to for your amazing Derby Day makeup!

  • Mitch & Mia

    I like your #3 tip on THE BEST WAY TO USE YOUR LIQUID ILLUMINATOR. It’s also great that you suggested liquid illuminators that you like. I’ll get one of those for myself. =)

  • Jeanette

    Thank you for shedding some light on the illuminator business.  I finally feel educated enough to go try out the tube I acquired a few weeks back… 

    Love your blog!  

  • iris M

    Have you tried Hard Candy Glow All The Way illuminating lotions? I was thinking of combining that with my foundation for a all over dewy and glowy look but I’m hesistant.

  • Nidhi

    I am wheatish complexion lady of 33years …which shade is best for me..please help I am confused to selection of perfect shade for myself

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