Strobing: How to get killer cheekbones without going near a bronzer

Wow, everyone and his dog seem to be banging on about STROBING this month. Yes, you did read that correctly. Strobing is an official makeup term that is providing light relief in response to contouring fatigue.

What is it?

Strobing is essentially the yin to contouring’s yang. A way to sculpt the cheekbones without bronzer (ideal for those who feel they’ve seen one too many paint-by-number Kim Kardashian looks).

Also referred to as highlighting or illuminating, the inventors of strobing (so they claim) are that well-known powerhouse of colour, MAC, although it’s highly possible the technique was developed decades before by another makeup artist/s. Whatever the case, MAC’s cult Strobe Cream* (£24.50 full size or £10 travel edition) is seriously worth checking out.

Strategic strobing

Strobing (highlighting) is all about creating the appearance of good lighting by highlighting the areas of the face where light naturally hits. Think…

                               ARCH UNDER THE BROW            
                                                                                                                            CUPID’S BOW

…You can also highlight the nose and forehead but I’d be sparing with these areas as a shiny nose and forehead can look sweaty in flash photography, even when you’re dry as a bone.

Places to avoid when strobing: cheeks (Shiny cheeks = Santa. Not a great look).

* MAC Strobe can look ashy on deep skin tones. Please see my note below re. the right shades for highlighting all skin tones.

Strobing powders: Hourglass (left), Kevin Aucoin (right)
Strobing powders: Hourglass (left), Kevin Aucoin (right)


Clockwise from left: MAC Strobe Cream; Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow (more of a primer but you can wear it on top of makeup); Clarins Beauty Flash Balm (cult product, again,  wear as a primer or on top); Kryolan ‘Cashmere’/Illusion ‘Silk’


MAC Strobe
MAC Strobe

The choice is yours

Your strobe or highlighting product will come in one of two forms: cream or powder. 

Cream: Apply a little to the back of your hand then mix it using the flat of your ring finger. Gently pat the product onto the areas you wish to highlight.

Powder:  Use a fan or tapered brush (two examples below).

All age types can wear both cream or powder but it’s been my experience that some highlighting powders can end up sitting in fine lines on more mature skins (and by that I mean if you’re over 30). That’s the reason I love the Hourglass Ambient Lighting series (£38) as the powders are so delicate on the skin and never feel heavy, even when I apply several layers.


Kryolan fan brush (left, £10.50), Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush (right, £35)
Kryolan fan brush (left, £10.50), Charlotte Tilbury Powder & Sculpt Brush (right, £35)


Different shades of strobe

It’s not a one-shade-suits-all game with strobing so it’s important you choose the right shade for your skin tone. Here’s a quick guide:

  • PALE: silvery / champagne / light
  • OLIVE: pink / golden hues
  • INDIAN: as above but add to that ‘coral’ hue
  • DEEP: golden / deeper coral / warm (avoid silver which will look ashy)
Is strobing appropriate for work?

Absolutely, but as with all business makeup it’s important to strike the right balance.  I’d opt for a low shimmer powder that’s 2-3 shades lighter than your natural skin tone or a cream/lotion of the same shade. Dab/apply only very lightly and avoid the nose and forehead altogether.

The strobing jackpot

There is one product in my kit – Glamcor’s Glamor Glow Ultra Sheer Skin Brightener (£30) – that simply cannot be surpassed when it comes to highlighting. It works brilliantly on both younger and more mature skins (particularly on mature skin because it doesn’t settle into fine lines). It comes in a light liquid form that’s easy to blend and layer up.
I. Absolutely. LOVE. IT. (Word of warning: This one’s an absolute pain to track down…but if you can get hold of some it’s worth it! Main stockists now seem to be States side).

Practice on the cheap

Applying a little rich moisturiser such as Nivea cream to your cheekbones, over the top of your makeup, is a great way to practice. The really dewy photos you see in magazines? Makeup artists have generally reached for Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream or a face oil but this can be impractical in everyday life as the oiliness either doesn’t sit well on top of makeup or will easily slide off as the day progresses (not a good look, particularly in a meeting!). A good strobing cream product will dry quite matte on the skin whilst leaving a subtle ‘shine’.
Do you have a favourite highlighter? Or does the idea of highlighting scare you?

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