Isn't "Strobing" Just Extreme Highlighting?

(Yes, but I'm going to show you how to get this trendy, dewy look anyway.)
Publish date:
June 29, 2015
mac, contouring, highlighting, dewy makeup, Strobing

Lately everyone’s been talking about "strobing" as a new makeup technique that’s knocking contouring from its perch as the trend of the century. I have two problems with this, the first being, why do we need to pit makeup techniques against each other? Can’t they coexist? The second problem is that strobing isn’t new at all. You might be more familiar with highlighting, and that’s exactly what this is, taken to its natural extreme.

I have fairly oily skin, so usually I’m not looking for ways to make it look shinier, but after experimenting with all the products I own that have light-reflective properties, I think I’ve found what makes this work. It’s about strategic shine placement. It is also, to an extent, about having really, really clear skin, because adding shimmer to anything is going to draw attention to it. I don’t have that, though, and I still wanted a slice of the strobe pie, so… deal with it.

Step one is to lay down a reflective layer for everything else to build upon. The most obvious thing to use for this is MAC Strobe Cream. I mean, it says "strobe" in the name. I heard the e.l.f. Shimmering Facial Whip is very similar, and also a dollar, which is great.

I slicked that Strobe Cream on like a moisturiser, but in case it wasn’t enough, I followed it up with a luminous foundation. I found the L’Oreal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup in the back of my drawer, which shows how often I go for a luminous finish on my skin, but on it went and so I glowed.

After making everything glowy, you want to go back in and add more shiny stuff to the high points of your face. I find Strobe Cream actually works quite well for this usually, but I wanted to add another component, so here I used Benefit Watt’s Up. It’s a golden-toned cream highlighter, so again, anything similar will do. I went for cream because it’s naturally going to give more of that wet look, and also because you can apply it with your fingers.

Fingers are good for warming up a product and getting it worked into the skin so it looks a bit more organic on the face (although to be fair, no one’s skin is organically glittery). The other good thing about fingers, though, is that you get that tactile element that helps make sure you’re getting the highest points of the face. You can feel the bones under the skin, and I think that makes placement a bit more intuitive.

Usually you’d be powdering before you put highlighter on, but because we’re working with cream products, you’ve got to do those first. So now comes time to powder, and this is the step that makes the difference between effective strobing, and looking like a hot sweaty mess. Because you’re not contouring using a matte, darker shadow, the definition between the highs and lows of the face comes with the finish. You want to go back in and mattify the areas where you’d usually put the contour.

I’d usually powder all over, and at the very least, through the T-zone. Because there’s highlighter there, though, I’m going to keep my powder localised to a few specific areas. I hit the temples and under the cheekbones where I’d usually put a contour. The last spots are the front areas of my cheeks, beneath my eyes and to each side of my nose. This area is key, I think, to making it not look like I’ve just been for a run.

After pushing highlighting to the extreme, I can see the appeal of strobing, although I don’t think we really needed a new name for something people have been doing forever. I do kinda like how it made me reevaluate exactly where I placed my highlighter and which bits I keep matte.

  • Have you tried strobing?
  • What are your favourite highlighters?