Smoky Eyes in Six Steps

Crystal Schwanke
smoky eye look

Creating smoky eye makeup will add drama and allure to your usual beauty routine. This look fades from dark, rich color at the base of the lashes up to a lighter shade at the brow bone. The color palette may vary, but the placement of the shadow is always the same, so once you've mastered the technique using simple steps, you can create several different looks, from a dark, mysterious black and silver palette to a funky, sexy purple smoky eye.

Gather Your Materials

  • Eye shadow base: You can purchase a base that's designed specifically for eye shadow. However, if you don't need the shadow to last for hours and hours, you can just use your regular liquid concealer and save a few dollars.
  • Eye shadow: Eye shadows are the most prominent product used in creating a smoky eye. If you usually shy away from heavy makeup looks, you'll want to practice smoky eye application many times to master the art. The color palette and eye shadow used to create smoked eyes varies. The most popular choice is to opt for black, silver and white shadows. While this palette is universal, it tends to flatter fair skin the best. Brunettes and warm-skinned individuals may opt for a palette of taupes, chocolate brown and beige to create a warmer balance without losing the same contrast.
  • Liner: Choose a dark liner, like black or deep brown, and a lighter color like gray or brown. This will give the smoky eye definition without going over the top (unless you want to).
  • Mascara: The thicker the lashes, the better. Thick, long lashes stand out against the dark shadow. Using a mascara designed to achieve "natural" results won't do the trick. You need drama for this look.

Smoky Eyes in Six Simple Steps

Follow these steps to achieve the perfect smoky look.

Step One: Apply a Shadow Base

Prepare your eyelids by applying an eye shadow base to the upper lids (lashes to brow) and below the lower lashes. This will help reduce creasing and smearing, and also prevents flakes of makeup from falling into and irritating your eyes. The shadow base works to absorb oil from the skin, giving a smooth and dry canvas for the color to cling to. MAC makes an excellent base for first time users.

applying eyeshadow primer
Apply a shadow base

Step Two: Base Color

Apply your base color of eye shadow. This works best if it is cream colored or perhaps a light shade of gold. The base color is the most neutral choice in your three or four color palette. If you're opting for a black and grey palette, work with a soft silver or cream tone for your base. If you're working in a brown or copper palette, choose a neutral in the cream or taupe family for this step. This should always be lighter than your final "smoky" color. Brands such as Cover Girl and Stila make some fun shimmers and lighter hues, which will work perfectly as a base. Using a brush or a sponge applicator, cover the entire eyelid with shadow and blend several times to create a flawless base.

neutral color
Apply a neutral base color

Step Three: Eyeliner

Eyeliner is a pivotal cosmetic used for smokey eyes. For a novice, it is best to stick to the typical shades of brown, gray, or black. This should be applied in a thick, dark line above your upper lash line. Try to thicken the amount in the center of the line, while applying more sparingly along the edges. If you are going for a more colorful look, check out some of the violet, dark green, and blue eyeliners available for purchase. Don't be worried about perfect lines here; you'll be covering over it with shadow anyway. The main point is to make sure you're getting very dark color at your lash line. Use your finger, a brush, or a cotton swab to smudge the edges of the liner up toward the crease so there's no longer an obvious line there.

After you've achieved the desired smoke and applied your dark shadow, you can go back and add even more drama by drawing a black cat eye on your upper lid. This look is a perfect choice for an evening or formal event where glamour is the look you're after.

eyeliner
Apply thick black eyeliner

Step Four: A Lighter Shade of Liner

Blend a lighter shade of eyeliner to your bottom lash line and gently smudge it. This smudging is what gives you the "smoky" look, and it is important to have definition on your lower lashes without overdoing it.

This may be a challenge at first, so a pencil liner, preferably a kohl pencil, is often recommended over liquid.

lower lid
Apply a lighter liner

Step Five: Dark Color

After you have applied your base color, reach for your darker eye shadow. Start at your lash line and blend with your base color upward. Creating smoky eye makeup involves your eyeliner pulling a disappearing act. It should be completely blended and smudged into the shadow by the time you are done, with the darker shade blending over it--and past it--to slightly above the crease. Define the outside corners of the eye by using a horizontal "V" shape. Note that the position of the pointy end of the "V" will control the overall "shape" of the eyes. Taking a medium-sized soft round brush (a flat one can also be used as long as it's held sideways) and blend the eye shadows on the upper eyelid. With the flat brush, blend the eye shadow along the lower lash line.

dark color
Apply dark color and blend

Step Six: Mascara

Finish off your eyes with a few coats of heavy mascara. Look for a thickening formula, and always opt for a deep shade such as black. The lashes are an important part of finishing off this stunning look. You may also want to try a half strip of false lashes at the outer corner of each eye for even more drama.

applying mascara
Finish with mascara

Tips for Wearing the Smoky Eye

  • A large part of a smoky look is pulled off just by focusing on your blending technique to ensure that there are no obvious lines between colors. Always ensure your colors are blending together nicely, a gradient from dark to light, or else your final look will appear amateurish.
  • It is also important to mix together a lighter base color with a dark shade on top so the dark color doesn't "stick" to the base and appear splotchy.
  • While the end result is gorgeous, application can be a messy process. You can clean up around the eye area once with a cotton swab once you're done, but it's wise to wait to apply your foundation after you've completed your eye makeup so that you can just wipe away any powder fall-out or unwanted smudges without disturbing your other makeup.
  • This is a dramatic look, so it's best for social occasions.

The Rest of the Face

When you are preparing to wear such a style of eye makeup, remember not to overdo it with the rest of your face. Don't draw extra attention to the lips while your eyes are in the spotlight. Use neutral and subtle product shades on the rest of your face and allow your eyes to take center stage.

Smoky Eyes in Six Steps