Madina Milano’s highlighter stick is allegedly a cult beauty product within the professional makeup artist community, but there really aren’t citable sources for these things. I mean, it’s been called “Pat McGrath’s go-to highlighter” by Into The Gloss but who really knows, right? So after swatching it next to some other stick highlighters I finally put it to the test on myself to see what all the fuss was about.
I applied after I’d already set my base with powder, which is typically how I test for blendability, texture, and how forgiving a cream product is when applied in the least ideal way possible. This passed my test with flying colours – it was neither too dry nor too slippery, so I was able to blend this into my skin (and base layers) without upsetting any underlying product.
My first thought was, wow. This sure is subtle.
Not in a bad way, but enough to make me wonder what all the fuss was about.
I had a hard time getting it to show up in photos. On most angles, my skin looked downright normal. Yes there was obviously some glow, but it was nothing my skin couldn’t work up on it’s own. I was a little disappointed, but I left it on my face and went out to run some errands without giving it much more of a thought.
And then something weird happened. It got better!
It’s STILL hard to see in photos, but for some reason it was a heck of a lot more impressive once my face naturally got a little shinier all around. Usually when I go out I have to blot like crazy because other highlighters + oily skin in the heat = grease ball, but the overall effect of this was more “intentionally dewy” than “girl you need to blot”.
I tested this on un-powdered skin the day after and had similar results: subtle and kind of meh on first application, but very flattering once it started to really melt in and blend with my natural oils. I can understand why makeup artists (supposedly) love this: it’s easy to work with/layer, plus it wears in exceptionally well, making it perfect for runway shows and photoshoots where there’s a lot of very hot lights around.
So is it worth all the hush-hush hype? To me…no.
I still treasure mine because it’s one of the few souvenirs I brought back with me from Italy, and makeup bought on holiday always carries some extra sentiment, but at the end of the day I just don’t find it all that special. Maybe it was a few years ago by virtue of it existing before the strobing trend took off, but I don’t actually think it would have achieved such cult status if it had launched in the current market. I also don’t think it would be able to maintain its cult status if it were easily accessible outside of Italy.
It’s kind of crazy that I seem to be the ONLY person on the internet who isn’t completely infatuated with this highlighter, but I promise I’m not writing any of this just to be different. ‘Tis simply my two cents, and I’d love to hear yours as well whether or not you agree with me!
It was actually Pat McGrath’s much-hyped Skin Festish 003 highlighters that turned me on to Madina Milano. When SF003 launched, I was torn. On one hand, they were beautiful, limited edition highlighter kits. On the other hand, out of the 4 items each kit came with I was really only interested in the cream highlighter stick. (The pigments weren’t my colour, I didn’t need another brush, and a solid balm stick for my already-oily skin was a terrible idea.)
What’s a highlighter junkie to do?
Thankfully some fellow makeup addicts came to rescue and pointed me in the direction of Madina’s Chic and Shine Highlighter Stick. Apparently, Pat McGrath (along with lots of other celebrity makeup artists) is a long-term devotee of the product…so much so that it was rumoured that she’d based her own highlighter on it. Needless to say, Madina Milano was the first stop I made when I got off the plane in Milan!
I just love their ribbon-tied carrier bags!
And the sequin embossing on their blushes is so pretty.
But back to the star of the show.
Chic and Shine comes in 2 colours: a a twist-up, packaged in no-nonsense black plastic. My only gripe is that the actual stick of highlighter was not anchored down to the base very well, and popped off into the cap when I first opened mine. I’ve since pressed it back into place and learned to open it more gently.
On my skin, it leaves a very natural, dewy finish. The formula has a sheer base with very fine shimmer particles suspended in it, so when blended out the effect is a translucent radiance rather than a reflective sheen. I’d describe the colour as a nude/pale champagne that works well on my NC15-20 summer skin tone.
I swatched it next to the only other stick highlighters I own – e.l.f. All Over Colour Stick in Spotlight and Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Highlight. As you can see, Madina’s stick is nowhere near as opaque as ELF’s, and although its not apparent in this photo, its also ‘s less pigmented and less frosty than Clinique’s Chubby Highlighter Stick.
The real magic happens when I tilt my arm away from the camera: Chic and Shine completely disappears without even a hint of colour. The transparent base is no doubt what allows it to look so darned natural on the face. There isn’t an angle you could catch this on and have it look like a solid stripe of white or pink; you’re seeing dewy skin, and nothing else.
Since neither of the highlighter sticks I already owned were good matches, I popped into Sephora to see if anything fit the bill. The first thing I swatched was Benefit’s Watt’s Up because it’s pretty ubiquitous and therefore seemed like a good point of comparison. As you can see it’s a lot darker, peachier and a lot more shimmery.
The closest match I found turned out to be the Marc Jacobs Glow Stick in Spotlight. It was more intense, plus lighter and cooler in tone than Madina Chic and Shine, but it had a transparent base as well.
It faded completely into my skin when I turned my arm on an angle away from the light.
This is a pretty big deal to me because I’m usually very pale, and any hint of colour in a highlighter’s base inevitably becomes apparent on me on some angles. Pink-based highlighters are the worst offenders…they make me look as though I’ve painted blush up to my temples!
So although I can’t declare Marc Jacobs Glow Stick in Spotlight an exact dupe, it’s definitely got my attention. If you have this highlighter, I’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, I’m working on a FOTD with the Madina highlighter, so check back soon for that post.
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Vibe Tribe is one of the more completely-wearable collections that MAC has launched in a while. In my opinion, it hits that sweet spot between a tightly executed theme and user-friendly colours, which makes my inner designer as happy as my outer makeup addict.
The standout product in the collection to me is of course their limited edition Gleamtone Powder in Dunes at Dusk, which you know I had to chronicle. Technically it’s meant to be sort of an overall illuminating powder, but since I have normal-oily skin I much prefer it just on my cheeks. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous southwestern-inspired motif (that extends from the packaging to the actual product, woohoo!) before I dig into it:
It includes 4 shades with a fairly uniform frost finish: a warm white, a golden peach, a dusty mauve and light lilac which has a faint pinky-purple iridescence. As you can see, it’s well named: there’s an earthy dustiness to the hues that really does echo the colours of a desert landscape at sunset. Trust me. I’m in California a lot.
You can wear the colours individually or swirled together to create a beautiful, shimmery dusty rose shade. I believe this is MAC’s first iteration of a “Gleamtones Powder”, so I have nothing to directly compare it to texturally, but I found it was less dry and had more slip than MAC’s Mineralize Skinfinish highlighters like Lightscapade and Otherearthly (reviewed here and here).
Since the colours were quite sheer, I was able to be a little more liberal with my placement…which is another way of saying I went a little crazy and brushed it all over my cheeks. Needless to say, I’m very happy with the sheerness – though the colours looked dauntingly pigmented in the pan, they didn’t register as a distinct tint on my skin.
And although it did add a visibly shimmery topcoat to my skin it didn’t emphasise pores. I went over my cheekbones with a mix of the white and lilac to give the area more pop.
The colours were a bit too sheer to wear alone as eyeshadows but (for science!) I used it as sort of a shimmer-boost, layered over MAC eyeshadows in Beautiful Iris, Haux and Deep Damson. It was a nice way to tie in the tones of my eyeshadow with my cheeks/highlight, so although the colours didn’t stand out on their own I liked the harmony it created on my face.
I definitely need to play with Dunes at Dusk more, but so far I’m really liking it. The individual colours are beautiful, and I enjoy the mix of conventional (white and bronze) and unique (mauve and lilac) highlighter/cheek colour shades. The dusty rose colour you get from mixing everything together was a lovely neutral blush-topper on me, but would no doubt look gorgeous as a lightly-applied finishing powder on someone with a deeper skin tone. I might get brave and try that on myself once I get a little bit of summer colour!
This product was provided as a press sample, however all opinions and observations are my own and not influenced by the brand or its PR team. This post contains affiliate links.