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How to Apply Eyeshadow Like a Pro, Even If You’re a Beginner

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Photo by Carol Yepes / Getty Images

We get it, eyeshadow can be intimidating. There’s an infinite number of colors to choose from; a million eyeshadow brushes; and jargon like “cut crease” and “smoky eye” to make matters even trickier. But here’s the thing—that’s what makes eyeshadow so fun.

Once you know how to apply eyeshadow and have the basics behind you, the options are endless. And thanks to color-coordinated eyeshadow palettes that do the work for you, our guide to makeup brushes (more on that below), and a few beginner-friendly tricks, creating any look you want is easier than ever.

And to make it all even easier, we spoke to three experts to share tips on how to apply eye makeup like a pro. These makeup artists share how to create the ultimate eyeshadow look with an easy-to-follow tutorial you’ll master in no time. Keep reading to level up your eyeshadow game.


About the Experts:

Tai Young is a Los Angeles-based makeup artist and founder of Tai Young Beauty makeup brushes.
Michael Ashton is a celebrity makeup artist and groomer. 
Jeannie Giannone is a Los Angeles-based makeup artist.

HIPDOT All in One 4 Piece Brush Set

First, Choose Your Tools

To get you started, here are a handful of brushes you can use to build your beginner eyeshadow application kit. “The right tools make any job easier, and great makeup brushes are no different,” says makeup artist Michael Ashton. “A small—but well-curated—collection of brushes will really help elevate your eyeshadow game.” Here are the four makeup brushes you need to help you achieve any look.

Here’s How to Apply Eyeshadow Like a Pro

Woman with eye make up brush on eye

Photo by Emma Innocenti / Getty Images

Step 1. Prime Your Eyes.

In essence, eye primer helps your eyeshadow last longer by preventing it from sliding off your eyelids when faced with heat or moisture, the same way face primer works to keep your foundation in place. As a general rule, the more eye makeup you’re using, the greater the need to apply primer.

Using an eyeshadow primer or not depends on what you want your final look to be. “Primer aids in eyeshadow color opacity and staying power,” says makeup artist Tai Young. “If you're going for a light wash of the color, it's not necessary.”

Eyeshadow primer may also be necessary if you have oily lids. Some eye primers, like the ELIZABETH MOTT Thank Me Later Eye Primer, not only control oil, but also have added ingredients (like pearl powder in this case) to brighten and intensify your eyeshadow.

Apply your favorite eyeshadow primer using your ring finger. Your ring finger is the best for applying eye makeup because it has the lightest touch and won't irritate your skin (plus, the heat from your fingers helps melt the primer in). Gently sweep the primer across your entire eyelid, up to your eyebrow, around the inner corner of your eye where your tear duct is, and even along your lower lash line for stay-all-day wear.

Step 2. Build Your Base.

Time to add your color. Most eyeshadow looks can easily be created with four shades: a neutral shade for your lid, a medium shade for your crease, a dark shade for your outer corner, and a light shade to highlight your inner corner and brow bone.

No matter what makeup look you're going for, your first layer of eyeshadow will most likely always be a neutral shade swept all the way across your eyelid with your fluffy blending brush. You can choose a color close to your skin tone for natural looks, a lighter shimmer for sparkly styles, or go darker for smoky eyes.

Not sure which eyeshadow to reach for? An eyeshadow palette like ITEM BEAUTY On The Daily Eye Shadow Palette offers an array of neutrals that flatter every skin tone. If you have fair or light skin, try the taupe shade LIKE A LOT from this palette. Medium and darker skin tones look great in gold or beige shades, like RIDE OR DIE and SIDEKICK.

You can also choose your eyeshadow shades based on your eye color. Green, gold, purple, and gray shades can help brown eyes pop, while colors like red, yellow, orange, and purple make blue eyes sparkle. For green eyes, try playing around with red, yellow, purple, and gray shades.

You can also skip primer and apply a cream shadow as your base. “Start by using a [cream] product, blend it out using your fingers, then go back in and use a medium-sized blending brush to buff your eyeshadow of choice over top,” says Ashton. “By layering your eyeshadow over a base, you’ll get maximum color payoff, product performance, and your eye makeup will last the distance without needing any touch-ups.”

Mature Afro female beautician applying eyeshadow with brush at home

Maskot / Getty Images

Step 3. Define Your Crease.

Now we're going to define your crease to give your eye makeup more definition. This will also make your eyes look wider and bigger overall. “You can define your crease by going heavier with a color that's darker than what you used on your lid,” says Young. For a natural look, dip your fluffy or angled crease brush into your medium eyeshadow shade. Then, close your eye and apply the eyeshadow along where your eyelid meets your brow bone, creating a wash of color (as opposed to a thin, hard line).

If you have deep-set or hooded eyelids, you can apply the crease shade with your eyes open to see where it'll be most visible—likely above your actual eyelid on the lower brow bone. To define your eye shape even further, dip your angled brush in your dark shade and use it to define the outer corner of your crease, making a V-shape from the lash line to the outer crease. Pro tip: Keep a light hand as you apply your pigment. It's always easier to add more color than it is to remove it.

Step 4. Blend, Blend, Blend.

Blending is one of the most important—and often overlooked—steps when applying eyeshadow. The technique helps to “marry as many colors together without being able to see where they start or stop,” says Young. “Think of a watercolor painting and how each color flows into the next.” If at this point your eyes are looking more painted-on than perfectly blended, don't worry: This is where those extra blending brushes come in.

Use a clean blending brush to diffuse the shades on your crease and outer V until they blend seamlessly into your lid. If you end up over-blending some of the medium or dark pigment, no worries. Just use your original crease brush to press some more shadow in, then continue to blend.

If you’re having a hard time diffusing the colors, makeup artist Jeannie Giannone recommends using translucent powder on your fluffy brush to blend out any hard lines from the eyeshadow. You can also use a matte eyeshadow the same color as your skin on the same fluffy brush (make sure to wipe off previous product onto a towel), and buff that color onto the brow bone. “This will help to blend out the transition of color on the lid even more,” says Giannone.

Step 5. Define Your Lash Lines.

Once your shadow is blended to perfection, you can go in and define your lash line. If you want, go in with a liquid eyeliner or pencil eyeliner first. You can either stop at the end of your eyelashes or build a winged liner look, whichever look you prefer. Then, dip your angled eyeliner brush in the medium or dark eyeshadow (whichever matches your eyeliner color), and use it to set your eyeliner.

Don't want to use eyeliner? Simply dip your angled eyeliner brush into your medium or dark eyeshadow color, and sweep across your upper and lower lash line to create a soft, smoked out line.

Beautiful Muslim woman applying makeup,

Johnce / Getty Images

Step 6. Highlight Strategically.

The finishing step is to use your lightest eyeshadow and make your eyes pop. “A highlight under the brow is nice to pop the brows from the eyeshadow,” says Young. “Some people even place a little highlight in the inner corners to wake up a tired eye.”

In general, a light matte eyeshadow will give you a fresh, natural look perfect for daytime. For more drama, use a shade with some shimmer. You can also use your favorite cheek highlighter for megawatt shine.

Whichever shade you decide to use, you'll want to apply it along your brow bone (just below the arch of your eyebrow) to give your face a wide-awake and lifted look. To implement Young’s idea, you can also fake a full night's rest by dotting it along the inner corners of your eyes. Both of these techniques will make your eyes look bigger, brighter, and more alert.

Finish with a couple coats of mascara, and don’t forget to fill in your eyebrows (this step makes a big difference in the balance of your makeup look). Give your glam one final look to make sure any harsh edges are blended, and that's it—your eyeshadow is done.

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About the author
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Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated March 3, 2022 12:00 AM