What Is Strobing? How to Apply Highlighter With the Strobing Technique

Updated on November 22, 2019
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Punkmarkgirl is a freelance writer with a passion for DIY projects, natural health, and makeup featuring the best products for oily skin.

Is it just me, or does the latest makeup trend “strobing” sound slightly wrong? I couldn’t help but feel a bit ashamed as I typed “picture of strobing” into my Google search at work today. Turns out this is just the latest term for “highlighting” your face. So… if your roommate finds you strobing in the bathroom, don’t be ashamed. Tell her you’re just getting ready for girl’s night out!

Strobing is the new Highlighting
Strobing is the new Highlighting

I’m a big fan of highlighting and contouring, as it has a miraculous ability to transform your face. Wide faces can look slimmer, large noses appear smaller, long foreheads are instantly shortened—all without one lick of plastic surgery.

Many beauty blogs are now claiming that highlighting/contouring is “out” and strobing is “in.”

I, for one, will probably continue to use both contouring bronzer and highlighter, as there are areas of my face which I prefer to minimize. Strobing is more appropriate for those who already have perfectly aligned and proportionate faces that need no improvement.

Is Strobing the Same as Highlighting?

There seems to be a debate on whether strobing is the same as highlighting. If somebody could actually tell me HOW strobing is not the same as highlighting, I would be impressed. The argument was probably started by the same group of people who insist that Low Carb and Paleo Dieting are not nearly identical. Every few years, people just find the need to reinvent the wheel in an attempt to make it look exciting again. From what I can tell, on all of the highlighting maps I’ve seen, the areas to apply highlighter are exactly the same as the areas to “strobe,” and therefore strobing is the same as highlighting.

What Is the Purpose of Strobing?

The main goal of strobing is to achieve a glow that seems to come from within. Distracting from dark circles and sallow areas, strobing adds brightness and clarity. The result is a healthy-looking complexion that translates to you looking relaxed and rejuvenated.

Think “two-month spa retreat at a mountain top resort in the Caribbean” type of skin!

Contouring & Highlighting VS Strobing—What's the Difference?

Looking at the before & after images below, you can see how contouring adds more distinction to the features of the face. Strobing simply adds lightness and brightness to certain areas. It's a more simple way to add achieve a natural glow, and does not require the precision of bronzing.

Highlighting and Contouring VS Strobing: Before and After. What is the difference between Strobing, Highlighting and Contouring?
Highlighting and Contouring VS Strobing: Before and After. What is the difference between Strobing, Highlighting and Contouring?

How do I Apply Highlighter Using the Strobing Technique?

Follow the map below and place highlighter on some (or all) of the areas in white. Highlighter can be applied by itself, or after foundation. You can choose from a variety of highlighters on the market, ranging from liquid to cream to powder. For dry and combination skin types, liquids or creams work best. For acne-prone or oily skin types, use a powder highlighter so it won’t clog pores.

Highlighting / Strobing Map for Application
Highlighting / Strobing Map for Application | Source

Which Types of Highlighter Are Best for Strobing?

Those with dry skin will do well with liquid or cream highlighting products, like MAC's Stobe Cream or NARS Copacabana Illuminator. These add moisture to the skin while imparting a dewy glow. Combination skin contains enough natural moisture to work well with a stick highlighter, like Benefit's What's Up. Oily skin is most compatible with an oil-free powder for strobing, like Mattify Cosmetic's Strobing Highlighter. Skin oils can dissolve a liquid or cream base—causing you to look greasy instead of glowy.

Best Highlighters for Strobing
Best Highlighters for Strobing

Does Strobing Work on Oily Skin?

Women with oily skin may think that strobing will make their skin look shinier. If the wrong products are used, that indeed can be the case. When you’re prone to oiliness the trick is to first apply foundation and an oil absorbent matte setting powder. Make sure you're using an oil-free foundation, and set with Mattify Cosmetic's ULTRA Powder, which absorbs an amazing amount of oil. This matte base will prevent greasy shine from peeking through underneath your highlighter. After foundation and powder are in place, follow the strobing map to apply highlighter.

Those with oily skin will find that powder highlighter for strobing works best (as opposed to liquid or cream highlighter). Cream bases can contribute to extra oiliness & can become muddy when applied along with matte makeup. Powder highlighter will look freshly applied for hours, keeping its sheen while also helping to absorb excess oil.

IMPORTANT TIP: Since strobing attracts light and draws attention to certain areas of the face, it’s best to avoid placing highlighter directly onto acne, or on pitted acne scars. It accentuates any blemish or mark that's composed of uneven, raised, or indented skin.

Did Celebrities Start the Trend of Using Strobing Highlighter?

Probably. As you can see in any fashion magazine, numerous A-listers are sporting an inner glow, compliments of strobing. Celebrity makeup artists continually invent new ways for clients to stand out at events and on screen. Whether light-skinned or dark-skinned, strobing can brighten the entire complexion. It's a look you've been seeing on runways for years (a previously a well-kept secret that allowed models to showcase "glowing" skin). It's now a common knowledge beauty trick that has taken the beauty world by storm.

  • The use of strobing highlighter on fair skin types adds a bit of variation. Without brightening certain areas, fair skin has a tendency to look monotone and flat.
  • Strobing on light skin types adds vibrancy, along with brightening eye and lip color.

Celebrity Makeup: Bryce Dallas Howard & Lauren Conrad Strobing Makeup Techniqu
Celebrity Makeup: Bryce Dallas Howard & Lauren Conrad Strobing Makeup Techniqu
  • Medium skin tones can achieve a sun-kissed glow from using the strobing technique. Jennifer Lopez, who always seems to be wearing some type of highlighter, is famous for her amazingly youthful look and glowing skin—will this woman ever age?
  • Strobing highlighter is most striking on darker skin tones. It can be used to accentuate one’s best features, such as cheekbones, under eyebrows, or on the cupid’s bow.

Celebrity Makeup Tips: How to Apply Strobing Highlighter (Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna
Celebrity Makeup Tips: How to Apply Strobing Highlighter (Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna

What Are the Benefits of Strobing VS Contouring?

Strobing allows for a more natural look than both contouring and highlighting. It's also less time-consuming. Contouring can appear a bit harsh, especially if over-done. It works best for events where you will be photographed, as the contours will allow your face to look more flattering in pictures. For low key daytime events, strobing works well because it creates a beautiful natural glow. It requires minimal effort and accuracy, making it perfect for those who want the look of perfection with minimal time invested.

The Down-Side to Strobing Instead of Contouring?

If you have less than symmetrical features, you will need contouring to re-shape desired areas. Also, if your face and nose are wide, they may appear even wider if highlighter is applied alone (without contouring to create contrast).

What's Your Opinion on Strobing?

Will you try the strobing technique for highlighting your face?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Ashley Bergin


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    • Mariana Fuzaro profile image

      Mariana Fuzaro 

      4 years ago from São Paulo, Brazil

      Punkmarkgirl, Wear pancake instead of foundation, and only powder make-up. It's the ideal for extremely oily skins.

    • punkmarkgirl profile imageAUTHOR

      Ashley Bergin 

      4 years ago from san francisco

      @ Motherbynature - yes it's definitely tough to wear foundation in high temps! Have you ever tried a makeup setting spray? I swear by the Model in a Bottle Spray, and Urban Decay also has one called All Nighter. Don't know what I'd do without these during summer! My skin is also super oily, which causes foundation to streak - but the setting spray prevents that from happening.

    • Mariana Fuzaro profile image

      Mariana Fuzaro 

      4 years ago from São Paulo, Brazil

      The effect is the same, but lighter, brighter.

    • Motherbynature profile image

      Liv Carradine 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I plan to try this...just as soon as it's not 90 degrees here with 90% humidity. I haven't even been able to wear foundation lately. I end up looking like a big oily mess...lol. Great article, btw.


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