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The 8 best budget-friendly highlighters, according to makeup artists

Celebrity makeup artists reveal which drugstore highlighters are worth the hype.
Woman putting on makeup
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

There's nothing like skin with a natural, sun-kissed glow. Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky enough to have a perfect, radiant complexion.

Makeup artists have a secret weapon they use to create a subtle glow without spending hours in the sun: highlighter! (No, not the marker kind. Makeup!) It's the perfect complement to bronzer, boosts your foundation's finish and best of all, gives skin a sheer touch of radiance.

While you won't find a shortage of high-end highlighters, makeup artists agree: drugstore highlighters are worth the hype. So we asked a few celebrity makeup artists to share their favorite drugstore highlighters that are actually worth it.

Expert-recommended drugstore highlighters

Physicians Formula Butter Highlighter

This makeup artist favorite comes in two shades and is easy to apply. Champagne has more of a bronzed glow best suited for darker skin tones, while the pearl shade is flattering on lighter skin tones.

“This makes your skin really radiant, and it comes in beautiful shades for various skin tones,“ said celebrity makeup artist Merav Adler. "It just gives you a really nice effect."

Celebrity makeup artist Megan Lanoux agreed and pointed out that this formula can go on sheer or give off a more intense look depending on how you apply it.

"If you use a brush to apply, it would be a bit more intense," she said. "If you use a sponge or your fingertips, it gives off a more natural look.”

e.l.f Baked Highlighter

This highlighter is budget-friendly, but it doesn't lack in quality. If you're new to using highlighter but don't want to splurge on your glow, this is a great option.

“This baked highlighter is amazing," raved celebrity makeup artist Jeannia Robinette. "It’s really pungent, opaque and they’re so cheap!”

This highlighter is infused with vitamin E and jojoba, rosehip, sunflower, apricot and grape oils to nourish and hydrate your skin.

Revlon PhotoReady Rose Glow Finishing Primer

Revlon's PhotoReady Rose Glow Finishing Primer is great if you're looking for a sheer, natural look. It's incredibly lightweight and absorbs quickly absorbs into skin for an instant radiance boost.

“If you want a J.Lo glow, this is the best way to do it on a budget!” said Robinette. "It will give a stunning natural glow.”

She recommends using this product as a primer before your foundation or mixing it with your face makeup of choice for a subtle effect.

Revlon Skinlights Prismatic Highlighter

This highlighter will help you achieve a bold, radiant glow, said Lanoux.

“I love this highlighter because the shine gives an intense glow," she explained. "It's a really versatile product that you can use as an eye shadow in addition to a highlighter."

If you want that look, Lanoux recommends applying this product with a dense makeup brush. You could also sheer out the formula a bit by using a wet beauty sponge.

Glossier Haloscope Stick

This Glossier highlighter is perfect for warmer months and when you're traveling or on-the-go. Since most of us don't love wearing makeup when it's hot outside, this will give you a hint of radiance even when you're bare-faced.

“This is great for the type of girl who doesn’t want to wear any foundation. You just put it on your cheekbone, rub it in and you’re good to go," said Adler.

She says you can certainly wear it with your favorite tinted moisturizer, but it makes bare skin so flawless you can skip it! Either way, this versatile highlighter comes in three different shade: topaz for a sunny glow, quartz for a pearlescent highlight and moonstone for an opalescent wash.

L'Oreal Paris Makeup True Match Lumi Glow Amour Glow Boosting Drops

If you want a highlighter that not only gives you a glowy finish but also helps the foundation go on smoother, look no further.

“I was doing a bride’s makeup not too long ago and I put these drops in her foundation and when I showed her makeup at the end, she started to cry because she said she had never looked so good," said Robinette.

If you don't regularly wear makeup, this is a great way to bring attention to all of your favorite features instantly.

"If you don’t wear foundation, you could also just dap this onto your cheeks," she added.

Mac Cosmetics Strobe Cream

Whether you have dry skin or are looking for a highlighter you can even use on your body, this makeup artist favorite is a must.

“I love this highlighter!” Adler raved.

She said it gives skin a "beautiful glow," and the creamy formula is great for those with dry skin. Mix it with foundation or apply directly on skin, from your face to your arms and legs. Either way, this versatile formula has a beautiful sheen and is incredibly easy to use.

Maybelline FaceStudio Master Strobing Stick Illuminating Highlighter

If you're a makeup bag minimalist or want something travel-friendly, this is an excellent option because it doesn't require makeup tools and comes in a compact tube. Robinette describes this product as "easy, fun, on the run.”

“This is a fun tool. You don’t need a brush or even your finger — you can just swipe it on your face, and it’s as simple as that," she said. "It comes in a great color selection, is easy to use and the texture is amazing."

Meet the experts

  • Merav Adler is a Los Angeles-based celebrity makeup artist.
  • Megan Lanoux is a New York-based celebrity makeup artist.
  • Jeannia Robinette is a Los Angeles-based makeup artist with decades of experience in editorial, commercial and celebrity.