You know makeup artist Nam Vo for her mesmerizing (and often blinding) “highlighter porn” that racks up hundreds of thousands of likes on Instagram. Her loyal followers, a group she affectionately refers to as “my dumplings,” gathered recently at Milk Studios in Los Angeles to watch the goddess of glow in action at her masterclass. But long before Vo developed her signature #dewydumpling look embraced by everyone from Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to Chrissy Teigen, she was working with an entirely different set of celebs. The pro got her start painting faces at a strip club in New York City, which means she knows a thing or two about creating melt-proof makeup that lasts all day and night even if things get a little steamy. Here, Vo reveals her best tips and tricks for creating a glowy—not greasy—summer sheen from head to toe.
“The highlighter is just the finishing touch,” says Vo of her signature glow that starts from the ground up. To kick off her LA masterclass, the makeup guru gave the model’s skin “a drink of water” with a complexion-plumping essence, like , and pushed it into the face with a clean Beautyblender. “The leftover essence on the Beautyblender makes anything else [you apply with the same sponge] even more dewy,” she explains. When the heat is on, Vo reserves heavy oils for night and opts for a featherweight and fast-absorbing hydrator, such as La Mer’s The Concentrate, during daylight hours. “I like to let skin breathe,” she says of the fancy fluid that hovers between a light moisturizer and a serum. “It’s very expensive, but so are you,” laughs Vo of the many pricey products in her arsenal. (Another option: Grown Alchemist Instant Smoothing Serum Tri-Hyaluronan Complex.) Before moving on to base, the face painter presses the Beautyblender Blotterazzi over top to remove any residue that could cause a makeup landslide.
Bare it all.
“Since I try to keep things light, I might skip foundation and only spot treat,” says Vo of her summertime approach. “Then, I’ll use something for a warm, all-over glow.” Her go-to at the moment: Westman Atelier Super Loaded Tinted Highlighter. Need more coverage? Instead of reaching for heavy concealers that can cake and crease, the pro swears by Shiseido Future Solution LX Total Radiance Foundation. She likes to apply the buildable, full-coverage formula in a triangular shape under eyes, down the bridge of the nose, across the chin, between the brows, and onto the middle of the forehead. For added depth, she applies a slightly deeper shade of foundation (like Ilia True Skin Serum Foundation) around the perimeter of the face. “It’s like burnt toast—your complexion should be brighter in the center and darker on the outside,” she says.
Build your bronze.
Instead of piling on powder in hopes of faking sun-kissed skin, Vo layers three different shades—orange, cocoa, and gray—to sculpt and add instant dimension along the hairline, jawline, and underneath cheekbones. She starts with Kryolan Professional Paint Stick in a traffic-cone orange shade that is admittedly a bit scary upon application. Chanel Soleil de Tan goes on second to “soften” the effect. A Kryolan Professional Face Paint in brownish-gray tone acts as the finishing touch and “brings the shadow” for a believable bronze glow. In lieu of chalky powder, Vo sets the effect by mixing all three shades in the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Palette to mattify and add the perfect hint of pearl.
Don’t shy away from neon.
Blush colors that look clownish in the pan actually create the most natural, lit-from-within flush. Vo uses neon shades (like Kryolan TV Paint Stick in 508) as a “backdrop” and follows with sheer, neutral formulas (such as Stila Convertible Color in Gerbera and Petunia) for a “unique brightness” and an almost three-dimensional effect. For a soft-focus finish, dust a light layer of powder blush over top. Vo’s fave: Oribe Illuminating Face Palette in Moonlit.
Double up on highlighter.
The key to replicating Vo’s trademark “glow job” is to use a myriad of highlighters on different parts of the face for “varying dimensions” of radiance. During her masterclass, she applied Bobbi Brown Luxe Eye Shadow in Moonstone along the inner corners of eyes, down the bridge of the nose, and across the cupid’s bow using her fingertip. Cheekbones were swathed with Kaja Roller Glow Roll-On Highlighting Balm and Stila’s Shade Mystère Face Gloss. Then, the pro melded everything together with a Beautyblender for a sheen guaranteed to rival the shiniest of shumai. “If your skin is crepe-y, porous, or you have acne, skip highlighting your cheekbones,” says Vo, who advises hitting the other key spots for an Insta-worthy finish.
Blot away shine.
“I like to embrace oil and encourage everyone to do the same,” says Vo. If you tend to straddle the line between glowy and greasy, try “precision powdering.” The makeup artist uses an eyeshadow brush for more control and dusts a loose powder across the T-zone, being sure to mattify areas prone to shine like the nasolabial folds and sides of the nose. (Try Ilia Fade Into You: Soft Focus Finishing Powder.) “I see people slapping powder all over, but I think it ages you and takes away your glow,” she said. She also suggests using a dry Beautyblender to soak up oil without adding weight.
Glow from head to toe.
Shine shouldn’t stop at your cheekbones. While Vo says she always “slathers her face with SPF,” she lubes up her legs with plenty of oil for a sexy sheen. “I just finished my second bottle of Agent Nateur Holi(Oil) Youth Body Serum and it’s amazing,” she said. On the models at her masterclass, she opted for Sol De Janeiro Glowmotions, an illuminating formula laced with sparkle. For a featherweight spritz that absorbs instantly, try Bastide Dry Oil Mist.
Find your light.
There is undoubtedly an art to creating “highlighter porn,” says Vo, who recommends tilting your chin up and using a fluid motion to swathe the brush across cheekbones. “It’s all in the wrist,” she adds. Then, turn your head slowly away and back toward the camera to capture and bend the light. “You’ll notice my chin is always up because that’s what catches the light. If I tip my face down, it looks like I have a double chin and it creates a shadow,” she says. As for the ultimate filter for spotlighting that cornea-obliterating glow? “I’m all about natural light,” Vo adds. “No filter needed when you find the right light!” In other words, make the most of the summer sun and shine on dumplings.
Written by Amber Kallor
June 10, 2019