How to apply eye shadow, plus 3 beginner-friendly looks

And we’re back to the Makeup Beginner’s series! Let’s talk about one of my favorite subjects in makeup, eyeshadow. As I’ve said in earlier posts, I wear some kind of shadow on my eyes every day whether it be a cream or powder texture. Most days though it’s a light to moderate wash of one color or perhaps two. I’m usually not wearing ‘big shadow’ looks unless going out at night or to an event (and even then my looks are never that dramatic). But I have a few easy, go-to looks that can be either dialed down for daytime or dialed up for nighttime depending on the colors you use or the amount of shadow(s) you apply. This post will focus specifically on tools and application tips that you can utilize to also achieve some beginner-friendly looks that only require a small amount of skill.

If you struggle with which colors to use on yourself, take a look at my previous post on color theory here.

Essential Tools

Let’s first talk about an eye brush starter kit that will help immensely in eye shadow application. A big fluffy brush, like the MAC 217 for instance, is your best friend. You don’t have to get the MAC brush specifically if it’s too pricey for you – there are plenty of similar brushes at lower price points – but you will need a brush like this if you want to properly blend out your shadows. A so-called packer brush, like the MAC 239 or the Real Techniques Base Shadow Brush, is great for pushing shadows onto your eyelid to get depth of color. For application along the lower lash line, a brush like the e.l.f Contour Brush is great as it fits snugly underneath the eye. You can also use any kind of pencil brush or even the Base Shadow Brush mentioned earlier for underneath the eye. You can use whichever brush you want for whatever purpose, so don’t feel confined by this selection. Lastly, a small detailer brush like the Real Techniques Accent Brush is great for concentrated application along the upper lash line or below the eye.

From L to R: Real Techniques Base Shadow Brush; e.l.f. Contour Brush; Real Techniques Accent Brush; MAC 217 Brush.

Eye Shadow Basics

Matte shadows have no shimmer, glimmer, or shine of any kind. For the most part the color is one-dimensional. This makes them particularly suitable for everyday wear, especially if you work in a professional environment or go to school. Matte shadows are also particularly good for adding dimension and shape to the eyes. For example, when you add a matte shadow to the crease or socket of the eye – where the eyelid meets the brow bone – it knocks back the area (i.e. recession) and creates the illusion of a shadow. Your eyelid then becomes instantly more defined. This is not to say that you can’t apply a shimmer shadow in the crease of your eye, but if you’re after a naturally contoured eye look then go with matte shadows.

Shimmer and metallic shadows have reflective qualities and often contain color shifts or sparkle. By their nature, shimmers and metallics draw attention to an area so they’re best featured on the eyelid or in the inner-most corner of your eyes to give the effect of wider-set eyes. Shimmers can call attention to folds and little lines on the skin, so be forewarned if you have especially crepey textures on or near your eyes.

Hooded eyes comes up a lot in articles and videos about eye shadow application mainly because they’re often a source of frustration for a lot of people who wear makeup. An eye is hooded when the brow bone covers or collapses onto the lid space. You won’t be able to see much or any of your eyelid when your eye is open, which is why it can present a challenge when applying shadow. Eyes can become more hooded as we age, but I for example have had partially hooded eyes for as long as I can remember. It’s absolutely possible to still create shadow looks when you have hooded eyes, you just have to be a bit more crafty. For example, you usually want to refrain from applying shimmers on the so-called hood of your eye, as it will draw attention to that area.

Recommendations for Beginner-Friendly Palettes

If you want a great eye shadow look, you need to use great quality shadows. The good news is that you needn’t spend a boatload of cash to get them. Pictured below are some of my recommendations for beginner-friendly palettes. The Clinique and e.l.f palettes contain all matte shadows, while the Milani has shimmers with a couple of mattes. All three palettes contain muted colors and neutrals that lend themselves very nicely to universally flattering looks. Additionally, the shadows all have awesome pigment so they don’t take too much work to blend.

Top left: Milani Everyday Eyes in Bare Neccesities. Bottom left: Clinique All About Shadow Quad in Teddy Bear. Right: e.l.f Mad for Matte in Nude Mood

Application Tips

Tip 1 – Apply eye primer

In my opinion, good eye shadow application starts with a good primer. I’m a big believer in shadow primers even if you have dry skin like me. A primer’s main job is to keep your shadows in place and to prevent the creasing that can happen when oils start to break down your makeup. There are plenty of good eye primers out there so I’d suggest getting your hands on one. I’ve been using MAC Paint Pots for years for that purpose (in Painterly or Camel Coat). If it’s not obvious already, place your primer down before starting to apply your shadows.

Tip 2: Beware of extra product

When you dip your brush into a shadow make sure to tap out any excess powder before you apply it to your eye. A lot of powder shadows kick up extra product when you swirl your brushes into them, so if you skip this step you might be left with a hot mess underneath your eyes. Most likely you will still get a bit of fall-down, as it’s called, even if you tap your brush and that is why I prefer doing my base & concealer after my shadow application.

Tip 3: Work from bottom to top 

When you start applying shadow to your eye, start from the lash line and work your way upwards towards the crease. This way the most color is concentrated near the lashes and on the eyelid. As you move towards the crease and onto the brow bone, your brush will have less color and will be better able to blend.

Tip 4: Blend, blend, blend!

This is why you need a nice, fluffy brush. Good blending is the key to a polished shadow look. The famous makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury refers to it as “windscreen wiper motions,” so you move the brush back and forth repeatedly until you can’t see where the shadow ends or begins. You can apply all the color you want but if you don’t blend it well, it’ll look very unfinished and sloppy.

Tip 5: Small eyes to bigger eyes

If you have smaller eyes, think about blending your shadow a bit higher than your crease onto your brow bone, and also applying it underneath your lower lash line. This will give the illusion of a wider eye since you’re drawing attention to a bigger surface area. Blend a little further down under your eye than you think; if you keep the shadow too close to the lower lash line, it will close the eye back up. Also think about popping a shimmer shadow onto the lid to brighten the area and make it appear bigger.

Tip 5: Don’t drag your eye down

Don’t go too far down with shadow on the outside of your eye or you run the risk of making your eyes appear droopy. Use the outermost corner of your lower lash line  as a guide and don’t blend past it. If you do have slightly droopy eyes, angle a bit of clear tape from your lower lash line to the tail of your brow. When you’re done blending your shadow, remove the tape and you should have an instant lifted eye look.

Tip 6: Be conscious of the space you have to work with

If you don’t have much room between your eyelid and your eyebrows, blend your shadows out towards the tail of your brows as opposed to straight up from the eyelid. This will give you a slightly more winged effect, like mentioned in the previous tip. If you blend straight up, you run the risk of closing the space up and making the area appear even smaller.

Beginner-Friendly Eye Shadow Looks

Just a quick disclaimer here: I didn’t realize there was a filter on my phone that was turned on, so my features in the first two photos look quite blurred. I apologize for that, but it was rectified by the third photo. I’ll be much more cognizant of that going forward. I used matte shadows for all three looks, but feel free to change up the colors and add/delete elements to your liking; this is all for inspiration.

Look #1 – Classic


Step 1 – lay your eye primer down anywhere you plan on applying shadow;

Step 2 – lay down a light shadow that’s close to your natural skin tone onto your eyelid, into and above the crease with either a packer brush or fluffy brush and blend out well;

Step 3 – blend a medium brown or grey shadow into the crease and slightly above the crease with a fluffy brush;

Step 4 – smudge a dark brown or black shadow with a small detailer brush along the upper lash line and blend it slightly into the lighter color on the lid with a fluffy brush;

Step 5 – blend the same color as applied in the crease along the lower lash line with a fluffy brush or contour brush.

Look #2 – Dimensional


Step 1 – lay your eye primer down anywhere you plan on applying shadow;

Step 2 – lay down a light shadow that’s close to your natural skin tone onto your eyelid, into and above the crease with either a packer brush or fluffy brush and blend out well;

Step 3 – start applying a medium brown or grey shadow onto the outer half of your eyelid, into the crease and onto the brow bone with a packer brush; keep the darker color(s) always on the outer half of the eye to create depth and dimension, while the inner half of the eye remains flesh-toned. Blend the edges of darker shadow out and into the lighter colors on the inner half of the eye;

Step 4 – smudge a dark brown or black shadow along the lash line just on the outer half of the eye with a small detailer brush and blend into the medium brown or grey shadows with a fluffy brush;

Step 5 – blend a combination of the medium brown and dark brown along the lower lash line with a fluffy brush or contour brush.

Look #3Natural Smokey for Hooded Eyes


Step 1 – lay your eye primer down anywhere you plan on applying shadow;

Step 2 – apply a light brown shadow all over your eyelid, into and above your crease with either a packer or fluffy brush and blend out well;

Step 3 – “cut” your lid in half horizontally by applying a medium brown shadow from the lash line to the middle of the eyelid with a packer brush, and blend into the lighter brown shadow with a fluffy brush;

Step 4 – smudge a dark brown or black shadow along the lash line with a small detailer brush and blend upwards into the medium brown shadow. The resulting effect should be a gradient of color going from the darkest at the lash line to the lightest above the crease.

Step 5 – blend a medium brown shadow along the lash line with a fluffy brush or contour brush.

I hope this post is helpful for those starting out with eye shadow! Do you have any helpful tips or tricks for eye shadow application?

xo, Erica



Author: Erica

Hi! I’m Erica, a makeup enthusiast based outside of NYC. I discovered my love of cosmetics back in 2011 when I started watching simple tutorials on YouTube. It was a revelation to me that with just a simple few swipes of mascara or dabs of blush, you could transform into a more enhanced version of yourself. My obsession has not abated over the years, but instead has grown stronger as the beauty industry has gone from strength to strength. After graduating from business school in 2018, I decided to finally share my thoughts and opinions on all things cosmetics and this is where ‘We are glamerus’ was born. I share my musings on a bi-weekly basis on everything from my holy grail products and preferred application techniques, to the latest trends overtaking the beauty world. I hope you enjoy! xo

6 thoughts on “How to apply eye shadow, plus 3 beginner-friendly looks”

  1. Great instructional post! And the makeup in your photos is very professionally done if I say so myself. 🙂 Naturally done makeup in neutral tones is always the best way to go and the most flattering. Even your smokey eye is understated and elegant!

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