How to Use Eye Shadow Like a Pro

No, you’re not terrible at makeup if you don’t know how to use eye shadow. It’s just that eye shadow looks can be extremely difficult to master. There are tens of thousands of tutorials online—if not more—that can quickly become overwhelming. And if you’re a newbie, applying eye shadow in a way that doesn’t just look like you gave yourself a black (or pink…or blue) eye can be a complex and time-consuming process. Many demos detail steps that include applying a primer, a base color, a crease color, a highlight, a glitter—and on and on it goes. 

The 30-piece palettes in the beauty aisle don’t help to simplify things, either. So we talked to Joey Maalouf, cofounder of The Glam App, and celebrity makeup artist Lindsay Ebbin, cofounder of BeYu Cosmetics, to parse through the classic eye shadow mistakes most people make. Read on to learn how to use eye shadow like you actually know what you’re doing—because, after reading this, you will! 

1. Mistake: You’re skipping primer.

Both of our experts agree that using eye shadow primer is an essential first step. “I think the biggest mistake people make is they don’t wear a primer or a cream shadow or some type of base before they apply a powdered eye shadow,” Maalouf tells SELF. Primer has many purposes: It can moisturize dry lids, it helps shadow stay on longer, and it acts like a magnet to stop loose shadow from falling on your cheeks. If you don’t want to purchase a separate product to put in your makeup kit, you can use a fragrance-free lip balm or salve, or any eye cream as a substitute.

2. Mistake: You’re applying concealer to your lids before shadow.

While applying a primer is an important step, you can skip color correcting and concealing your lids if you’re going to apply shadow. “Sometimes concealer is too cakey,” Maalouf says. “Then it changes the color of the eye shadow and it doesn’t look too good.” 

3. Mistake: You’re applying eye makeup before foundation.

Both of our experts agree that it’s best to apply foundation before any eye makeup. “I start with [taking care of the] skin because it takes the longest, and I think it’s most important,” Maalouf says. “Instead of using 19 eye shadows, make your skin look perfect and use one eye shadow.”

4. Mistake: You’re buying nude shades that “match” your skin tone.

It makes sense on paper: Buy a few nude shades, and they will coordinate with every look you have in mind. But in reality, that’s not your best bet for an all-purpose makeup arsenal. In fact, you’re better off reaching for something metallic to really make your eyes stand out. “People get afraid of color, but sometimes a color can actually be less noticeable than a beige or brown,” Maalouf says. “You’re instinctually going for your version of neutral, but a metallic bronze or rose gold can be really minimal.” 

5. Mistake: You’re using only a makeup brush to apply eye shadow.

Brushes aren’t always required to get a good eye look—your fingers are your greatest secret weapon, and can actually do a lot of things even a fancy brush can’t. For best results, apply the shadow to the back of your hand first. Then use your middle finger (on your opposite hand) to pick up the product and swipe it across your lids. For a smoky eye effect, apply liner to your lash line and waterline. Then smudge with your index finger.

6. Mistake: You think you need four different shades of eye shadow for a proper look.

Maalouf believes wholeheartedly in a minimal approach to eye shadow. So while those four-step tutorials on Pinterest are gorgeous, you can most definitely get away with using just one shadow shade. “Take a really fluffy eye shadow brush and a matte shadow a couple of shades darker than your natural skin,” Maalouf suggests. “Then do a haze around your whole eye. When you take your look from day to night, you can add an eyeliner to it.” That’s it! Bye, eye shadow palette.

7. Mistake: You’re putting too much product on your brush.

Ebbin says the number one cause of eye shadow fallout—or what happens when color ends up all over your cheeks instead of just on your lids—is too much product on the brush. This is especially common with more glittery shadows. Good news, though: There’s a tried-and-true hack to avoid it. “Wet your brush, take a little glitter, and gently press it into the areas you want,” Ebbin tells SELF. When you’re using regular or matte, loose shadow, give the brush a few taps to shake off excess product. If you’re going for a super-pigmented look, you can still do so without fallout. Just start with a little powder and build slowly in layers. “The best part about makeup is that when you start with a little, you can always add more,” Maalouf says.

8. Mistake: You’re using black eye shadow to create a smoky eye.

Put down the black eye shadow and slowly walk away! A smoky eye can come from many different colors—from a subtle brown, to a dark gray, or even plums and navy shades. Yes, applying a super-black shadow is one way to do it. But you will get a more natural effect just using black eyeliner and another smoky shadow color. Ebbin recommends using a soft pencil across the lash line and then smudging with a brush for the optimal effect.

9. Mistake: You’re skipping shadow underneath your eyes.

We get it. You do not want to look like a small woodland critter. Yes, putting shadow on the small lid underneath your eyes can be intimidating, but it might actually be the thing that completes your look. Ebbin recommends using a small tapered brow brush to get in that delicate area. Then take the color you’re using back up to the crease in a sideways V-shape for a messy but put-together look.

10. Mistake: You’re limiting your eye makeup to eye shadow products only. 

Get creative! There are many different products in your makeup kit that you can use as eye shadow. “Use wet blush and create a sunset eye shadow effect,” Ebbin says. “You can also use your bronzer as an eye shadow to create a suntan look—but too taupe looks sickly, so choose more a golden pigment.” You learn something new every day! Experimenting with other types of makeup on your lids is nothing short of a work of art. And if it doesn’t go your way? The worst thing that happens is you wash your face and start again. 

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