There’s a reason “smoky eye” is one of the most searched beauty terms on Google. It’s a timeless look that compliments literally everyone; the touch of intensity instantly frames the eyes, making them the star of the show and adding just the right amount of drama. It’s also an incredibly versatile look. A smoky eye can easily be quite neutral with rich, earthy tones ,or show-stopping, with a vibrant eyeshadow or liner.
The beauty of all smoky eye looks are their soft, diffused effects. You can create structure by using certain brushes or techniques, but the most classic smoky looks avoid harsh lines, leaving a beautiful, blurred look.
It might seem like a look best left to the pros, but smoky eyes don’t have to be complicated. All you need is the right products and a few basic pointers. Here, I’m breaking down all the steps to the perfect, universally flattering smoky eye. I used the GEN NUDE Eyeshadow Palette in Copper, which features richly-pigmented clean shadows, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.
Even Out Your Lids
First, I like to even out the color on my eyelids by applying a nude matte shadow or ORIGINAL Foundation. This provides a clean canvas and makes eyeshadow application easier. I love using the Shade & Diffuse Eyeshadow Brush for this. This is an optional step, but it’s especially helpful if the skin on your eyelids is naturally uneven or “shadowed” with no makeup on. Feel free to use an eyeshadow primer instead, especially if you want this look to last all day or night. Our GEN NUDE Eyeshadow + Primer provides a smooth base for eyeshadow, without creasing.
Start with Eyeliner
An eyeliner is a base that instantly provides intensity. I love LASTING LINE Long-Wearing Eyeliner. Apply at the root of your lashes and create a thicker line, while keeping color intensity at the base of the lashes. You can create a little bit of a shape by elongating it on the outer corner of the eye. It doesn’t have to be perfect, since you’ll be smudging it out with a brush. Then, wrap the liner to your lower lash line.
Pick up the Right Tools
Using a shorter-bristled, dense brush (I like the Smoky Smudger Eye Brush), blend out the liner, keeping the intensity of the liner at the root. Blend the line upwards to diffuse the edge, wrapping around to the lower lash line. Drag the brush to diffuse the line at the lower lash line as well. For a winged effect, extend the corner of the line to create your desired shape, connecting the outer corner with the bottom line.
Choose a Deep Shadow
Choose an eyeshadow color that’s deep in intensity, similar to your eyeliner shade. For example, if you are using a black liner, look for a color that’s as intense, like dark plum or wine, so it compliments your look but provides some dimension. If you’re going for brown liner, you can opt for warm shadows that pick up some of those same tones to create a gradation. In general, you want a shade that is deepest in intensity and matches your liner. I used the shade Wild Child from the GEN NUDE Eyeshadow Palette in Copper.
Apply this with a shadow brush that’s not too fluffy, so it can lay down color. Apply eyeshadow over the liner on your top and bottom lids, blending so there aren’t any hard edges where the shadow ends and the liner begins. Keep blending! It only helps soften the overall effect and creates a seamless transition. Try the Expert Shadow & Liner Brush.
Choose a Mid-tone Shadow
Grab a fluffier brush (I used the Blender Brush) and an eyeshadow color that’s in the same color family as you’ve been working with, but a bit less deep. The finish doesn’t matter, but I recommend a shimmer or satin because it helps brighten and create a more multi-dimensional effect. Place this shadow in the crease and blend where the dark shadow ended, blending and diffusing the edge to create gradation from dark to light. I used the shade Bonfire from the Copper palette.
Drag the color up towards the brow bone, placing color no higher up than the crease, where the intensity should lie. Make sure to keep the edges blended and diffused.
Choose a Light Shadow
Soft, shimmery eyeshadow is used to add brightness to balance the look. Using a small brush (like the liner side of the Expert Shadow & Liner Brush), place the shadow on inner corners of the eye. I don’t recommend using a shimmer shade under the brow bone, but feel free to go back in with a light matte shade under the brow bone if you want an added natural highlight. I used the shade Aura from the Copper palette.
Finish with Volumizing Mascara
To finish things off, apply at least two coats of a volumizing mascara like LASHTOPIA Mascara to balance out the intensity of the look. I recommend volumizing because it will allow your lashes to be seen atop even a dramatic smoky eye which will bring together the entire look.
A few final tips…
-When doing a smoky eye, keep the rest of your face neutral with softer colors on the lips and cheeks. This way, the eyes are the focus.
-If you need to clean up any edges, use the side of your pinky finger or MINERAL VEIL Finishing Powder on a shadow brush.
-Press the eyeshadow in when applying, instead of just sweeping. This way, you’ll get the most color payoff.
-If you get mascara on your eyelid let it dry, then buff with a fluffy eyeshadow brush — it will come off instantly!
Carly Giglio (@carlygiglio) is a celebrated celebrity makeup artist and beauty educator with a passion for color, glowing skin and celebrating her client’s unique beauty. With almost a decade of industry experience, including red carpet and editorial photoshoots, brand creative campaigns and New York Fashion Week, Carly is all about the details when it comes to creating beauty looks.
“My makeup and artistry philosophy is about enhancing each individual’s natural features, not covering them up,” says Carly. “I love helping people to feel their best and most confident, while exploring the possibilities with makeup.”
A self-taught makeup artist, Carly first discovered her passion for color and artistry at a young age through her love of painting and a background in fine arts. One of her favorite aspects of working in the beauty space is connecting with people and making them feel good about themselves through the power of makeup – transforming a blank canvas into a work of art.
“I love creating beautiful, glowing skin with elements of color and luminosity throughout, and I’m all about seamless builds of color and structure,” Carly says. “But the best payoff is seeing how confident my clients become once they learn some simple makeup tips.