Eyeshadow goes on and around the eyelid and, sometimes, the lower lashline to add definition and emphasis to your eyes. It comes in cream and powder formulas. Powder eyeshadow is applied with brushes, while cream eyeshadows can be applied with brushes or with a finger. (Powder eyeshadow can even be applied with fingers as well, but brushes allow more precision.) Some drugstore eyeshadow recommendations:
- Wet n Wild (only their Color Icon shadows)
- Maybelline Color Tattoos
- L’Oreal Infallibles
- Rimmel Scandal Eyes eyeshadow stick
- Milani Shadow Eyez pencil
- Jordana 12 Hour Made to Last eyeshadow pencil
Eyeshadow can be very tricky for beginners, especially if you have a non-“standard” eye type/shape (ex. hooded eyelids, protruding or deep-set eyes, monolids – see here for more). If you keep following “standard” eyeshadow advice but feel that it’s not doing anything for you, you may have a non-“standard” eye type and may need to follow different advice for a more flattering look.
As a general principle, keep in mind that light and/or shimmery colors bring an area forward, while dark and/or matte colors make an area recede. This is the principle behind contouring, and it’s also important for eyeshadow. Essentially, eyeshadow is used to accentuate the natural shape of the eye, by highlighting areas that already extend outward (typically the eyelid) and contouring areas that are recessed (typically the crease of your eye).
If your eyes are pretty “standard” in their shape, the diagram shows a typical eyeshadow look:
- 1 – a light highlight color on your brow bone (just below the arch of your eyebrow)
- 2 – a light highlight in the inner corner of your eye
- 3 – a medium-to-dark matte color in the crease
- 4 – a shimmery light-to-medium color on the lid
- 5 – a dark color on the outer corner of your lid (the “outer v”)
For beginners, I would recommend starting out with just one color on your lid and one in your crease, or an all-over lid color only, then going on to more complex looks.
Don’t put eyeshadow too far down/off to the side; this will drag your eyes down rather than giving them lift. If you draw a line connecting the outer corner of your eye with the tail end of your eyebrow, then your eyeshadow shouldn’t extend past that line (aside from maybe putting a little on your lower lashline). Also, don’t bring your eyeshadow all the way up to your eyebrow (aside from a highlight color).
Make sure to blend your eyeshadow with a separate clean fluffy brush, using light circular motions, so your eyeshadow looks like a nice gradient and not blobs of color sitting on your eyelid. Tips for blending:
- Use a very light hand; try holding your brush towards the end rather than close to the bristles.
- Applying a matte eyeshadow that matches your skintone all over as a first step (after primer) will help you blend your eyeshadow.
- Using a “transitional” shade (a few shades darker than your skintone) around the edges can help with blending, as it will create more of a gradual gradient between the eyeshadow colors and your skin.
- When using multiple shades, go from light to dark; start with a skin-colored eyeshadow, then add your transition shade, then your crease color, then your darkest color in the outer V (if using a standard eyeshadow application as shown above).
- Don’t blend across colors; only blend at the edges. If you blend all over, it’ll get muddy-looking/overblended.
- Put down your shadow at the place where you want it to be darkest (for instance, the outer V), then blend away from that area towards where you want the shadow to be lighter. See here for more.
There’s a wide variety of eye shapes/types.
- Protruding vs. deep-set – Hold a pencil up to your eye vertically, so one end rests on your browbone and the other end rests on your cheek. If your eyeball is set forward so that the pencil touches your eyelid without touching your browbone or cheek, then you have protruding eyes. If your eyeball is recessed so that the pencil rests against your browbone and cheek without coming very close to your eye, then you have deep-set eyes.
If you have protruding eyes, using darker matte shadow all over the lid will help your eyes recede. You don’t necessarily need to use a dark color – just something darker than your skintone. Smokey eyes work particularly well for protruding eyes.
If you have deep-set eyes, using relatively light, shimmery shadow on the lid will help bring your eyes forward.
- Downturned vs. upturned – If you drew a horizontal line across your eye starting from your tearduct, is the outer corner of your eye above that line or below it? If it’s above the line, you have upturned eyes; if it’s below it, you have downturned eyes.
If you have downturned eyes, concentrating color on the outer corner of the eye, including the lower lashline, will emphasize the downturned shape. Conversely, keeping your eyeshadow and eyeliner on the top lid/lashine and doing a cat-eye look will lift your eyes up visually.
- Wide-set vs. close-set – If your eyes are set further apart than one eye’s width, you have wide-set eyes. If your eyes are set closer together than one eye’s width, you have close-set eyes.
If you have close-set eyes, concentrating dark eyeshadow at the outside corner of the eyes and using a highlight color on the inner tearduct will make your eyes look wider-set. Winged eyeliner can have a similar effect.
If you have wide-set eyes, concentrating darker colors on the inner corners of your eyes can make them seem closer together, if that’s what you want. Doing a sort of reverse cat eye can have a similar effect.
- Round vs. almond – If you can see the white of your eyes framing the bottom of your iris, you have round eyes. If not, you have almond-shaped eyes.
If you have round eyes, concentrating dark eyeshadow at the outer corner of the eye and extending it out and up, as shown here or here, can help elongate your eyes. Winged eyeliner can have a similar effect.
- Monolid vs. hooded vs. non-hooded double lids – If you have no crease, then you have monolids. If you have a crease, but the skin above your crease hangs down and covers most or all of your eyelid while looking straight ahead, then you have hooded eyes. If you have a crease and can see your eyelid while looking straight ahead, you have non-hooded double lids.
If you have monolids, try doing a gradient of eyeshadow as shown here, with a dark color along the lashline transitioning to a medium color, then a light color at the top of the lid.
If you have hooded lids, try extending your crease color up above your actual crease. Here you can see demonstrations of a lot of advice for hooded eyes.
Of course, eye shapes/types are not mutually exclusive – your eyes are likely a combination of several types, and in that case there’s probably one characteristic you’ll most want to address with your eyeshadow. For instance, I have protruding, round, wide-set eyes. I personally don’t care about making my eyes look closer-set, and the round shape isn’t really a big deal to me either, but eyeshadow looks much, much better on me if I follow advice for protruding eyes. So experiment with different application styles to see what works best for you.
Regarding choosing eyeshadow colors, I have recommendations, including specific products for each color, here:
Other eyeshadow application tips:
- Apply your eyeshadow first; that way, if you have any fallout (bits of shadow that fall onto your cheekbones), you can just wipe it away, without your foundation being messed up.
- There are some eyeshadows that will work without primer, but as a general rule, eyeshadow primer helps your eyeshadow look more vivid, makes it last longer, and keeps it from creasing (sinking into the lines in your eyelid during the day). Use only a tiny amount of primer; slathering it on can be counterproductive. A few drugstore eye primer recommendations:
- Black Radiance eyeshadow primer
- NYX HD eyeshadow base (in a tube)
- Milani eye primer
- If you’re using bright-colored eyeshadow, using a base (a light-colored eyeshadow) after your primer will make your eyeshadow look more vivid and true to the color you see in the pan, as opposed to being “muddied” by your skin color. A couple of drugstore suggestions:
- NYX jumbo eye pencil in Milk
- Jordana 12-Hour Made to Last eyeshadow pencil in Eternal White
- To increase wear time, you can layer powder eyeshadow over a cream eyeshadow base in a similar color. Keep in mind that each layer should be thin.
- If regular eyeshadow is difficult for you, I recommend trying cream eyeshadow like Maybelline Color Tattoos; you just dip a (clean) finger in the eyeshadow pot, pat it on your lid, and blend it out around the edges with your finger. Very easy for beginners.