My face looked like Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar.
“That extra-glowy, extra-wet, extra-shimmery look is really relevant right now,” makeup artist Nam Vo told me as she covered my cheeks in Cle de Peau Radiant Fluid Foundation. “But it’s not going anywhere. Who doesn’t want moist-looking skin?” She handed me a mirror. It was indeed moist. “You see how it looks really wet still, but not oily?” She was dabbing my face with a pink Beauty Blender. I nodded, amazed at what she’d done in only two minutes.
Nam is known for this signature makeup technique, which the internet has dubbed the “Nam Vo Glow.” Her Instagram, a scrollable portfolio of her work, is straight-up highlighter porn.
“I always treat the face like there’s a spotlight on it,” Nam told me. I believe it — there’s not a face in her dossier that doesn’t resemble the sun itself.
Highlighter, which mimics the effect of light hitting skin, isn’t new, but its popularity has seen exponential growth over the past ten years. Per Refinery29’s breakdown of the trend, highlighter got its start as a tool to define faces on early 20th-century film. It picked up in the 80s with MAC’s inaugural strobing cream — the first of its kind — and has been gaining traction ever since. But it wasn’t until Instagram, YouTube and selfie culture blew up that the technique blew up, too, Refinery notes. The NPD Group reported a 21% increase in sales last year in the highlighting makeup category.
That sales jump doesn’t surprise me. The beauty community’s obsession with highlighting — which has been on an unrelenting trajectory for years now — has clearly gone mainstream. Every makeup brand now has a highlighting kit. And don’t forget: 2016 was the founding year of the “what highlighter does she use” meme. What’s a meme if not a perfect cultural temperature check?
damn what highlighter she using pic.twitter.com/shRUNh291W
— merry (@GlNSBERGS) June 1, 2016
The highlighter meme may already be “over” (unfortunately), but highlighter very much isn’t. Nam believes the glow is here to stay because it’s tied to another millennial obsession: health. Specifically, skincare.
“It really starts with good skin,” she said, as she dabbed Shiseido Future Solution Foundation on my face (as a concealer), before grabbing her Becca Prosecco Pop Highlighter to get to work on my cheeks. Her mother stressed the importance of skincare throughout her childhood. “I’ve been wearing SPF every day since I was six years old. Every single day.”
The connection makes sense. The “skincare as makeup” movement definitely crested alongside the highlighting one. That infamously shiny, plump, uber-healthy skin of, say, Glossier ads looks like the naked cousin of the Nam Vo Glow.
Highlighting is kind of like a dialed-up, blown-out imitation of that natural sheen. It’s healthy skin on steroids.
“Now I’m doing Hourglass Ambient Light Palette all over,” Nam said, lightly brushing my face. “It’s nice because it’s not shimmery — it just has a little bit of pearlescence.”
Pearlescence. Yes. Why didn’t I think of that word?
“My favorite highlighter is by Colourpop,” she added, grabbing yet another highlighter from a sea of highlighters. “The glow is real.” After some finishing touches — her custom blush palette for Oribe, Givenchy Rose Powder, Tom Ford bronzer and a Rose Quartz finishing spray (full list of products used below) — I was all Nam Vo Glow’d up.
I held up the mirror. Holy shit. I looked like a newborn pearl inside a clam of my own bangs. “This is the glowiest I’ll ever be,” I announced, certain the statement would hold true through potential child-bearings and/or professional successes.
As Edith snapped my “after” photos, I suddenly wished my hair resembled Sofia Vergara’s mid-movie premiere instead of Mia Hamm’s mid-game. If not for my sake, at least for Nam’s. My disheveled bun wasn’t doing her work justice.
As we were packing up, Nam called me over to take a selfie in front of the sunny window. “I’m an expert selfie-taker,” she said while snapping away, directing the angle of my chin and instructing me to gaze directly into my own eyes (sensual). I was blown away at how much glowier I looked through her iPhone lens than through Edith’s professional one. We looked spray-painted gold.
“I know,” Nam conceded, when me and Edith expressed our surprise. “iPhones capture highlight really well.” I’d argue it did it better than my own eyes. IRL, I was wearing quite a bit of makeup, but in the photo, I looked accidentally angelic, like I was en route to frolic in a butterfly meadow. It reminded me of how, the other day, my boyfriend commented that I looked a little sweaty, as though I’d just returned from a run. I brimmed with pride and told him I’d been as sedentary as ever. It was just MAKE Face Gloss. In both situations, I’d somehow cheated reality.
Something clicked. How did I not think of that before? Glowing is the beauty trend of the internet generation for good reason: It’s the picture of health, if not health itself.
Follow Nam Vo on Instagram here.