What is the difference between luminizer and highlighter?

Images: Instagram

This is how a recent conversation went down at The Glow HQ (it’s also worth noting it was during the People’s Choice Awards red carpet and we’d consumed a lot of sugar):

KP: I think you spelt luminizer wrong.

NC: Sh*t, did I?

NC: No, I don’t think I did.

KP: Yeah, luminizer isn’t a word.

NC: Huh? It totally is…

NC: Isn’t it? Did I just makeup a word? Lum-in-izer… Ill-um-in-izer?

EV: Do you mean illuminator?

NC: No, luminizer is definitely a thing. You know Benefit’s Watt’s Up and Stila’s got one…

EV: Aren’t they highlighters?

NC: I think they’re called luminizers in the US, but highlighters and illuminators here.

EV: Ahh…

KP: Really?


*Ends in sugar crash*

Some days I yearn for the 3-step skincare routine of my youth. I had Blackmores cucumber cleanser, nettle toner, marshmallow moisturiser. Once a week, if I was feeling particularly diligent, I'd slather on Red Earth's Mud Mask,  that was it. There was no serum, no micellar water, no precleanser, no 50 different face oils clogging up my bathroom cabinet.

Since confusing products and product names aren't just limited to skincare, we asked product guru, Paula Begoun, founder of Paula's Choice Skincare and Co-Author of Don't Go To The Cosmetics Counter Without Me, about the difference between illuminators, luminizers and highlighters.

Paula writes:

In the world of skin care and makeup terms such as these are bandied about interchangeably without any real specific definition. However we would say that these three terms can generally be described as this:


Highlighter is any whitish, pinkish, or glowing powder or liquid that is meant to enhance the top of the cheekbone, centre of forehead, down the centre length of the nose and sometimes the centre dented area just above the lip (technically called the philtrum), directly under the eye brow. Highlighters are often also used with concealers to brighten the undereye area while further minimizing dark circles. Yves Saint Laurent’s  Touche Eclat Radian Touch is a classic example. I love the combination of a liquid or cream concealer topped with a sheer highlighter, though you can also choose a slightly lighter shade of concealer for use under the eyes and approximate this effect with just one product.


Illuminator is generally considered to be an all over face product that can be a foundation or a cream, powder, or liquid serum applied over a foundation that contain some amount of subtle shine (not glitter) meant to give the entire face a soft natural glow. The emphasis is on natural, these shouldn’t deposit obvious glitter on the face. These types of products can be extremely problematic for someone with oily skin as this technique can make the face look oilier that it actually is.


Luminizer is pretty much the same as an illuminator and as a term in the world of makeup is used far less often than illuminator. However, some makeup artists consider lumnizers as similar to illuminators only with a touch more of obvious shine.

Furthermore, depending on the consistency of the product, color and the application technique these types of products can be used interchangeably so some highlighters can be used as an overall face illuminator and some illuminators can be used as a highlighter." (Post continues after gallery.)

Got it?

We think we do...

So luminizer, highlighter and illuminator. Do you use any of these??