The 90s may be over, but a few key makeup trends from that iconic era are truly timeless. Exhibit A: the grunge aesthetic. We’re talking matte lipstick, dark nail polish, generous mascara, a killer smoky eye, and smudgy, bold eyeliner. “That was my personal look back then,” says LA makeup artist Esther Foster. “I loved skinny brows, a smudge kohl pencil, and dark brown lip pencils.”
Armed with the right tips and tricks, you can achieve this slightly moody 90s makeup look for yourself, but with a stylish, 21st-century twist. That’s why we’ve put together this guide of easy-to-follow grunge makeup tutorials that look just as stylish in the office as they do out on the town. So press "play" on that 90s greatest hits playlist, turn on some "Boy Meets World," and get ready to rock with these 7 modern grunge makeup looks.
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No grunge style is complete without dark nail polish and, honestly, you can’t go wrong with this sultry manicure, no matter what decade you’re living in. Opt for a glossy blood red-that’s-almost-black polish like this WE ARE FLUIDE 7-Free Polish in Bon Soir for an extra witchy vibe (think Melissa Joan Hart in “Sabrina”). Burgundy or deep plum shades will look fabulous as a substitute, too.
Pair your polished nails with a dramatic, slightly-messy winged-tip eyeliner. The key is using a thick gel eyeliner, as opposed to a more precise liquid liner, like this ARACELI BEAUTY Ojos Perfectos Gel Pencil Eyeliner in Black/Negro. It allows for a semi-smudged, charcoal-rimmed lash line that’s a signature element of grungy eyes.
Remember Gwen Stefani’s mini pigtails, pale foundation, and dark lipstick combo from the 90s? We sure haven’t forgotten it. Update her same rocking grunge makeup look for the present day by coupling a burnt red lip color with a super light eyeshadow.
For the perfect 90s pout, this terracotta LOTTIE LONDON Slay All Day Liquid Lipstick in "Fleek" is a solid option. It’s richly pigmented, matte, and reliably long-wearing. You can even add a similarly-colored lip liner for extra 90s lip swag, or go a shade darker and blend in for a more goth-grunge look.
Finally, tie this grunge makeup masterpiece together by dusting a few swipes of the LES BEAUTY City Chic Eyeshadow Quad in a shade (or blend of shades) that’s close to your natural skin tone.
Mauve lips are a serious throwback to the early age of Jennifer Anniston’s Rachel in “Friends,” but they’re also a super flattering, super wearable pare-down of a more intense dark lip.
Nail this 90s look by applying a creamy mauve-toned lipstick, like ANASTASIA BEVERLY HILLS Matte Lipstick Mini in Dead Roses. This gorgeous lip color dries to a soft matte finish that will stay put for hours. To boost the depth and staying power of this lip look, we recommend topping it with a clear balm. The BALI BALM Lemon and Black Pepper Lip Balm will do the trick, adding just the right amount of moisture and dimension without too much shine.
Not all grunge makeup looks go heavy on the dark colors and smoky eyes. Plenty of 90s beauty icons have blazed the trail before us to perfect the nonchalant natural makeup look (Cher in “Clueless,” anyone?).
One of our favorite, universally-flattering lipstick shades is the THEBALM COSMETICS Meet Matt(e) Hughes Liquid Lipstick in Charming. Halfway between a nude and rosy pink, it will subtly accentuate or deepen your natural lip color (depending on your skin tone).
For the rest of your face, you could go in and apply foundation for more all-over coverage. Or, apply a few dots of a lightweight skin tint just to the center of your face, like this KOSAS Tinted Face Oil Foundation in for a more soft grunge glow. If you want more coverage, feel free to finish up with your favorite concealer, or just set with translucent powder for an instant natural makeup look.
Go for gold with this “grunge meets glam” beauty look that's perfect for a night out. And it's so easy to recreate: all you need is a subtle eyeliner and a creamy, shimmery gold eyeshadow.
For eyeliner, try a makeup artist-approved pick like SUGAR COSMETICS Stroke of Genius Heavy-Duty Kohl. It has a velvety texture that’s easy to build, blend, and smudge. Try it in dark brown for a more natural slightly-smoky eye, or stick with black for the ultimate dark eye.
To create a gold smoky eye perfect for your skin tone, choose IBY BEAUTY’s Carry On Eyeshadow Duo Glamping and First Class. This pair of deep cocoa and gold foil shadows will seamlessly take any 90s inspired makeup look to the 21st century.
In all seriousness, though, sultry eyes paired with an understated nude lipstick will probably never go out of style. Especially if you use a dark, matte black eyeshadow like the “Turban Legend” shade in the ONE/SIZE PATRICK STARRR Visionary Eyeshadow Palette with a shimmer shade like “Rebel Grey” on the inner corners. A few swipes and you’ve got yourself a near-perfect smoky eye. Add a touch of mascara and some kohl eyeliner—then, fill in lips with a nude pigment (like DOUCCE Lip Liner in 491) and top with a swipe of your favorite balm. Ta da! You've got your modern grunge look locked in.
The only thing that could make this look more reminiscent of the 90s would be a studded collar choker and black spaghetti strap dress. The classic grunge eyes are given a goth twist thanks to this highly-pigmented, ultra deep burgundy shade and matching merlot lip—think of this grunge-goth combo as the predecessor of early 00s emo makeup.
For wine shades that will truly pop, reach for LES BEAUTY’s Punk Rock Eyeshadow Quad. Use them wet or dry for a flawless 90s grunge style eye makeup look that won’t fade throughout the day. Finish off the look with some volumizing (but smudge-proof) mascara, like the DOUCCE Punk Volumizer Mascara in Black (to keep your punk theme consistent, obvi). Its jumbo brush will make sure every lash is coated. Now watch The Craft and recite some incantations, stat!
No 90s makeup list would be complete without the iconic brown lipstick. Rocked in its heyday by celebs like Drew Barrymore and Winona Ryder, brown shades that ranged from soft cocoa to deep rust were the ultimate “cool girl” lips colors.
To make this look modern, opt for a lipstick containing warm undertones and complete the rest of the face in tones that fall into the same family—think pinky-brown blush and caramel shadows. We love “Cyprus Umber '' from ANASTASIA BEVERLY HILLS’s Modern Renaissance Eyeshadow Palette topped with a gold foil on the center of the lids for extra dimension.
In contrast to the silvery, shimmery metallics that dominated the pop side of makeup in the 90s, gunmetal grey was its grungey alter ego that definitely had a Nirvana cassette in heavy rotation.
To get the look, reach for a steel shade like “Tekkno” in the NOMAD COSMETICS Berlin Underground Palette—which coincidentally was inspired by 90s counterculture! Rihanna obviously knew what she was doing by pairing this stormy shadow with a glossy brown lip, so don’t miss this opportunity to swipe on your favorite gloss. Need a rec? We are 100 percent obsessed with the chocolatey NABLA Shine Theory Lip Gloss in RSVP.
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