The magic wand of the makeup bag

YSL’s iconic highlighter has topped women’s must-have lists for 20 years

The magic wand of the makeup bag

Photograph by Jenna Marie Wakani

“There we were, four women lined up at the bathroom mirror in the gym, each with our Touche Éclats,” laughed Liza Herz, a Toronto-based beauty industry writer. “We just smiled at each other.” Touche Éclat is Yves Saint Laurent’s wildly popular beauty product—the first complexion highlighter in a pen for easy application around the brow, cheekbone or anywhere that benefits from added light reflection. Touche Éclat turns 20 next year, and the momentum behind it has yet to subside. Firmly embedded in the canon of beauty tools, it frequently gets unsolicited shout-outs from starlets like Salma Hayek, Demi Moore and Victoria Beckham. Last spring, Touche Éclat was in Kate Middleton’s wedding makeup kit.

“A friend buys Touche Éclat for me at Holt Renfrew in Montreal,” said Maura Smith, a retired ballroom dancer in London, Ont., where she has trouble finding Yves Saint Laurent. “I simply can’t go someplace dressy without it.” Denise Fraser, an assistant director of nursing in Brockville, Ont., uses hers every day. “One tube lasts me about eight months because I only use it under my eyes,” said Fraser, who was stocking up at the Yves Saint Laurent counter in Montreal’s Holt Renfrew earlier this month.

Some people consider it a professional essential. “Couldn’t live without it,” said Scottish actor Lisa Gardner, who was rehearsing for a play called Ana at Espace Go in Montreal. “It’s perfect for the stage, for reflecting light, and it’s also quick and easy to use on TV sets.”

How does a beauty product reach this level of acclaim and market saturation? One pen of Touche Éclat is sold every 10 seconds, worldwide. “It took everyone by surprise,” said Shelley Rozenwald, who goes by the title of chief beauty adventurer at the Bay. “The brand had been a sleeper, but then Chantal Roos and Tom Ford were brought on at YSL and everything changed.”

“Before, we had to contour with powders and creams, then along came this pen,” recalled makeup artist Diana Carreiro. “First it was a cult favourite, then it became a staple. Women are like lemmings. We all want it.”

Surprisingly, the beauty editor at Flare isn’t currently carrying Touche Éclat in her purse. “I ended up loving a competing product, the Dior Skinflash Radiance Booster Pen,” said Carlene Higgins. Dior’s pen is just one of the many respected imitators that stormed the market in response to Touche Éclat, including products by Estée Lauder, Clinique, Sephora, the Body Shop, Chanel, Smashbox and Nuxe. When L’Oréal Paris launched a highlighter pen in 2010, at a third the price of Touche Éclat, the beauty industry had high hopes. “L’Oréal bought Yves Saint Laurent in 2008,” recalled Higgins. “So I anticipated it would be virtually the same thing as Touche, but in mass packaging. But the formula just wasn’t the same. It’s thicker.”

“The irony is that Touche Éclat is known as the first light-reflecting concealer, but it isn’t a concealer at all,” commented blogger Janine Falcon of “It’s really a highlighter—then it’s brilliant. Despite the price, I haven’t detected a backlash and doubt there will be one.”

“Most beauty bloggers talk about Touche Éclat like it’s the unicorn water that flows through the fountain of youth,” noted an amused Jane Almirall, an artist and writer for “Sometimes people just want to believe.” Another skeptic is screenwriter Nancy Steadman: “I can actually see it around people’s eyes, like white saucers—especially in wedding photos,” said Steadman. “It can look a bit silly.”

Still, the Yves Saint Laurent counter in Holt Renfrew is kept busy on a Saturday with requests for Touche Éclat, which will launch a special anniversary edition this spring. “About one in four people ask me for Touche Éclat,” said Véronike Bouchard, the YSL counter manager in Montreal. “You can tell. They have that look in their eye.”

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