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Updated November 2022
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Buying guide for Best smoky eye makeup

If you want a sexy, sultry makeup look, it’s nearly impossible to top a smoky eye. But it’s not the easiest look to pull off unless you have the right makeup to get the job done.

Smoky eye makeup contains all the eyeshadows you need to achieve a perfect smoky eye. It usually includes two or more shadows to blend across your eyelids. Most palettes also include more than one shadow finish to add dimension to the look. While smoky eyes are most often worn for evenings out or special occasions, you can also wear the look during the day if you choose lighter, subtler colors.

If you want to add a smoky eye look to your makeup repertoire, start by figuring out if you prefer a powder or cream formula and the colors you like best. You should also consider the number of shades a palette includes, as well as whether you need a brush or other applicator. A good shopping guide and product recommendations can help you find the best smoky eye makeup for you.

a woman putting on makeup
Smoky eyes are usually achieved with deep, dark shades, but you can create a more colorful look. Choose two or three shades from one color family, such as yellow or pink, and concentrate the darkest shade at the lash line.

How to buy the best smoky eye makeup

What is a smoky eye?

This sultry makeup look offers high drama and focuses attention to your eyes. It involves applying darker eyeshadows to the lid and blending them out for a gradient effect up to the brow bone. The look typically uses matte eyeshadows, but one or two shades with a metallic or shimmer finish create contrast for more dimension.

While eyeshadow is crucial to the smoky eye look, eyeliner also plays a key role. It’s often smudged along the upper and lower lash lines to boost the smoky effect.

Powder or cream

Powder eyeshadow is the most popular formula and is used most often to create a smoky eye. This type of eyeshadow is best applied with a brush applicator to ensure that the makeup is fully blended to achieve the classic gradient look.

However, you can also achieve a smoky look with cream shadows. In fact, cream shadows are more easily blended than powder formulas, so beginners might find them easier to use. You can create a smoky look with a single shade of cream shadow if you apply it more heavily at the lash line and blend it with a brush or clean finger toward the brow to get the smoky gradient you want.

Colors

While black and gray are the classic colors for a smoky eye, you can achieve the look with a wide array of colors. The key is choosing shades with the right depth. Some classic colors include the following:

  • Black
  • Gray
  • Navy
  • Brown
  • Taupe
  • Copper
  • Bronze
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Plum
  • Eggplant

Consider your eye color when deciding on the color(s) for your smoky eye effect. Neutral shades like black, brown, gray, and taupe work well for all eye colors.

Brown eyes look great in nearly any color.

Blue eyes look best with warm shades like copper or bronze.

Green eyes look particularly good with a rose gold or plum smoky eye

Hazel eyes pop when paired with shades of purple.

When you go for a smoky eye look, it’s best to keep the rest of your makeup subtle. Choose neutral lip and cheek colors that won’t compete with your bold eye makeup.

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Features to look for in smoky eye makeup

Shades

Most smoky eye palettes contain at least three shades: light, mid-tone, and dark. While you can pull off a successful look with three shades, additional shades add more options and versatility.

A palette with 12 to 15 shades is the best bet for most people, offering plenty of shades for several different looks but not so many shadows as to be overwhelming. You can find palettes with up to 30 shadows too.

Finishes

While you can create a smoky eye with matte eyeshadows, you’ll usually get a more flattering look if you use multiple finishes. In particular, it helps to have a shimmer or metallic shadow in your palette because the added shine adds dimension. For example, you can use a dark shimmer or metallic shadow on your lid and a matte shadow in the outer corner and crease.

Look for a smoky palette that contains at least a few shimmer, satin, or metallic shades in addition to the matte shadows to ensure you can create a balanced smoky eye.

Extras

Brush/applicator: Some smoky eye palettes include an applicator you can use to apply the shadows. You can find brush applicators and sponge-tipped (doe foot) applicators. While these applicators aren’t always as high quality as makeup brushes you can buy separately, they come in handy if you’re traveling or need to touch up your makeup.

Mirror: Many of these palettes have a mirror inside the lid. This can be a convenient feature because you can apply or touch up your makeup even if there isn’t a wall mirror nearby.

Cruelty-free

If you aren’t comfortable using beauty products that have been tested on animals, choose smoky eye makeup with a cruelty-free formula. These products and their ingredients haven’t undergone animal testing, so you can feel good about using them. Look for the Leaping Bunny symbol on the packaging, which indicates that a product has not been tested on animals at any stage of its development.

a woman putting on makeup
DID YOU KNOW?
A pencil makeup brush is a handy tool for creating a smoky eye. It’s precise enough to apply makeup right at the lash line and works well to blend out eyeliner.
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How do you accessorize smoky eye makeup?

Eyeshadow primer

If you want your smoky eye to last all day (or night), start with an eyeshadow primer to lock the shadows in place. Most primers are colorless, so they work well with shadows of any color. However, if you want your smoky eye to look even more sultry, consider a black-tinted primer.

Eyeshadow brushes

For the best application and blending of your smoky eye makeup, you need some high-quality eyeshadow brushes. You can find sets that include several brushes, so you have all the tools necessary for a successful smoky eye. However, for the best results, look for a set with at least a flat shader brush for packing on color and a fluffy blending brush to blend the shadows.

Eyeliner

For the smokiest eye, it helps to pair the shadow palette with eyeliner you can smudge out along the lash line. Pencil, cream, and gel eyeliners work best for this look because they’re creamy and easy to blend.

Mascara

When you wear dark shadow on your eyes, your lashes can easily disappear. However, you can help your lashes stand out by pairing your smoky eye makeup with dramatic mascara that boosts the length and volume of your lashes.

How much does smoky eye makeup cost?

Inexpensive

The most affordable smoky eye makeup includes small to midsize palettes from drugstore brands. These palettes contain 3 to 10 shades but are typically made from lower-quality ingredients, so they might not be as pigmented as high-end formulas. This makeup generally costs $5 to $15.

Mid-range

This smoky eye makeup includes small to midsize palettes from high-end brands or large palettes from drugstore brands. You can find some highly pigmented formulas in this price range, as well as a wider range of colors. This smoky eye makeup generally costs $16 to $40.

Expensive

The most expensive smoky eye makeup includes small to midsize palettes from luxury brands or large palettes from high-end brands. These palettes can contain 4 to 18 shadows and offer highly pigmented formulas. This smoky eye makeup generally costs $40 to $85.

Your finger is usually the best tool for blending out cream eyeshadows for your smoky eye.

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Tips

  • Always start with a shadow primer. A primer creates an even base that’s slightly tacky so the dark colors go on smoothly and stay in place all day. The shadows cling to primer better than to the skin on your eyelid.
  • Keep the darkest shade at your lash line. Applying the deepest shade all over your lid can make your smoky eye look too harsh.
  • Blend the shadows well. For a truly sultry, smoky look, you don’t want any harsh lines. Blend the borders between shadows well so they seamlessly shade into each other.
  • Add dimension. Use a shimmery, sparkly, or metallic shade on your lid to add dimension to your smoky eye. Layering a sparkly shade over matte shades can also hide any patchiness or spots that aren’t fully blended.
a woman putting on makeup
When wearing a smoky eye look during the day, go lighter with your eyeliner to keep the look from being too sultry. You might want to swap your cream or pencil liner for a liquid liner for a less intense look.

FAQ

Q. Should I apply smoky eye makeup before or after the foundation?

A. When you’re applying dark shadows to your eyes, it’s not uncommon for some powder to fall onto your cheeks. If you try to wipe it away after you already have your foundation in place, you can ruin your makeup. It’s usually best to apply your eye makeup before foundation, concealer, and setting powder. That way if any shadow falls on your face, you can wipe it away without disturbing the rest of your makeup.

Q. How many eyeshadow shades do I need for a smoky eye?

A. You can create a smoky eye with just one eyeshadow shade by applying it more heavily near the lash line and blending it toward the crease to create a gradient effect. In general, it’s best to limit your smoky eye to just three shades in the same color family: a lighter shade, a mid-tone, and a dark shade. The dark shadow goes nearly your lash line, while the mid-tone shade helps define the crease. You can use the lightest shade as a base, brow bone highlight, and/or inner corner highlight. If it’s a shimmery shade, you can also layer it over the lid for some subtle shine.

Q. Is this look only for a night out?

A. This look certainly is dramatic, but you don’t necessarily have to save your smoky eye makeup for an evening out. For daytime, instead of using the darkest shadows, focus on mid-tones for a softer smoky eye.

 

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