Ask a Beauty Editor: How to Apply Eyeshadow Like a Pro

A foolproof guide, even if you’re a makeup beginner.

Blue, brown, green—no matter what color your eyes are, a swipe of eyeshadow can make them pop. But raw color pigments can be intimidating to apply (maybe even the most intimidating, next to eyeliner). In order to prevent looking like you broke into a toddler's Caboodle, strategic swiping is important.

First a disclaimer: There isn't one correct way to apply eyeshadow. The fun part about makeup is that there are no rules, after all. That being said, there are some fundamental techniques, which we'll review here in just a sec.

But first, let's cover picking the right eyeshadow. If you're a beginner, opt for matte shadows, which are more forgiving of mistakes and easy to wear on any skin type. If you're going for a dramatic or festive look, go for loose powder shadows. In a rush but looking for long-term wear? I recommend liquid shadows—just one swipe gets you the most pigment, doesn't require any tools, and won't budge once it's on. And we can't forget about metallic shadows, which are ideal if you want a little sparkle without going overboard with glitter.

Now that we have that covered, let's dive into the process.

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Stock up on the essential brushes.

If you're starting from scratch, there are a few essential brushes you can use to build your beginner eyeshadow application kit.

  1. A wide-domed eyeshadow brush, like Rare Beauty Stay Vulnerable All-Over Eyeshadow Brush ($15;, for covering your entire lid with swatches of color. The stubby compacted bristles help pick up a lot of product and pack it onto the lid.
  2. A blending brush for applying and diffusing along the crease, like Fenty Beauty Precision Blending Eyeshadow Brush ($24; You might want to keep a few types of blending brushes on hand, including an angled blending brush for hard-to-reach areas, like the outer or inner corners of your eye.
  3. An angled eyeliner brush, like Hourglass Angled Liner Brush ($34; to define and emphasize your lash line. The tightly packed bristles work with cream, gel, and powder formulas.

Looking to score all three at once? Try Real Techniques Eye Shade + Blend Makeup Brush Trio ($9;

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Prime your lids.

A non-negotiable step, eye primer helps your eyeshadow last longer, the same way face primer works to keep your foundation in place. Neglecting this step can result in your shadow moving around your eyelids when exposed to heat, moisture, excess oil, or friction. To apply, take a small amount onto your ring finger (your ring finger has the lightest touch) and gently massage the primer into your entire eyelid. Don't forget the brow bone (right under your eyebrow) and the inner corner of your eye (where your tear duct is) where oil tends to settle.

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Apply a base shadow all over your lids.

Sweep the shade of your choosing across the entire lid using an eyeshadow brush (or your fingers if you're dealing with liquid eyeshadow). Gently buff the line and blend it so that most of the product is on the lid and the least amount is on the inside, near the inner corner. Depending on the look you're going for, you can bring this base color all the way up to your brow bone, or you can stop at the crease of your eye for a more subtle, everyday look.

If you want to go for a single shade shadow, you can stop after this step. For something more dramatic, continue to the next step.

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Apply a darker matte color on the crease.

Placing a darker shadow (i.e., chocolate brown) in the crease (where your eyelid meets your eye socket) can help add depth and dimension to your eyes. Taking a rounded blending brush, sweep it over the darker shadow, tapping off any excess, and apply it where the bone hits the crease. Brush back and forth in a half-moon shape several times for a blended contour until they blend seamlessly into your lid. (Note: Don't darken the innermost part of the eyelid—this can close up the eye and make it appear smaller.) To intensify color, repeat with more shadow.

If you have deep-set or hooded eyelids, try applying the crease shade with your eyes open to see where it'll be most visible—this will probably fall above your actual eyelid on the lower brow bone.

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Apply a lighter shade as the highlight on your inner corners and browbone.

Tired eyes? A light eyeshadow shade can moonlight as highlighter and make sunken eyes look more awake. Generally speaking, you should go for a matte, bone-colored eyeshadow for a more natural look, but for more drama, you can also opt for an ivory shade with shimmer. Using the angled blending brush, smudge a bit of pigment in the inner corners and brow bone (right above the crease).

If you're going for a daytime look, stop at this step. For a more smoky eye, proceed to the last step.

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Define your lash lines in a dark color with an angled eyeliner brush.

Run a slanted eyeliner brush over a dark powder shadow to pick up pigment. If you want a more concentrated line, wet the brush before applying. Next, run the brush along the upper lash line (where your eyelashes begin) and lower lash line (near the waterline) to deposit color. You can either stop at the end of your eyelashes or build a winged liner look, whichever you prefer.

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