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What is Smokey Eye Makeup?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 21, 2024
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Smokey eye makeup is a dramatic style of eye makeup that gives eyes a dark, smokey appearance. This style of eye makeup is quite popular, though it is generally not a style that should be worn every day. Instead, smokey makeup looks best for fancy occasions. This style of eye makeup makes use of eyeshadow primer, at least two eyeshadows, eyeliner, and mascara.

There are many tutorials to be found online to create smokey eye makeup, along with example photos. The first step is to choose the colors to be used; charcoal and grays are the most popular, but brown, violet, or even greens may also be used to create a smokey eye. Makeup artists generally recommend avoiding any shades of blue, because they can make it look like one has a black eye.

Next, apply a base over the entire eyelid. This may be a primer or even a cream concealer. The idea is to give the eyeshadow a smooth, even base onto which it can be applied, and to prevent it from smudging or blending into the crease throughout the day. Once the base has been applied, the next step is eyeliner.

In smokey eye makeup application, eyeliner should generally be applied to the upper and lower lash line. Those who have larger eyes may go from nearly the inner corner of the eyes to the outer corner with the eyeliner, while those with smaller eyes will most likely want to only line the eyes from the middle of the lash line to the outer corner to prevent making the eyes appear small. Once the eyeliner has been applied, gently smudge it with an eyeliner brush or cotton swab; there should not be a severe line.

Next, apply a darker color of eyeshadow to the eyelid, blending it up toward the brow bone. This means that the color should appear darkest around the lash line and the crease, and gradually lighten as it goes up; once again, it is important to blend. Apply a lighter or sheer color on the brow bone. A "smudged," imperfect look is one of the keys to smokey eye makeup.

Mascara is the final step. Curl the eyelashes with an eyelash curler, and apply one or two coats of dark mascara for a dramatic look. One important tip when wearing smokey eye makeup is to make the eyes the focal point of the face, and wear a neutral lipstick or lip gloss. Wearing a dark lipstick will make the face look very overdone and unnatural.

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Discussion Comments

By StarJo — On May 03, 2012

I have always wanted to get the smokey cat eye makeup look, but I don't have the right eye shape for it. My eyes are big and round, and I don't have a nice slanted edge to work upward from with the eyeshadow and liner.

My friend has almond shaped eyes, and she can do this look perfectly. She uses the eyeliner and draws a line from the outer corner of her eye upward and outward until she reaches the point parallel with the crease. Then, she smudges it very well and applies a matching shade of eyeshadow so that the whole thing blends in together.

It's very dramatic this way. It looks as if she somehow managed to draw a line with the shadow, because it is perfectly blended and smudged.

By OeKc05 — On May 02, 2012

@lighth0se33 – I find it best to put the dark shadow only up to just above the crease in the lids. By this, I mean that when you swipe the eyeshadow applicator across the crease, do it right in the middle so that a little of the shadow falls right above it.

This is where I start blending the lighter eyeshadow into the darker one. From there, I blend the light shade upward until I reach the brow bone. That way, you get a nice gradient between the dark and light, and you let the light fade out before you reach your eyebrows.

You might want to try using medium shades of eyeshadow instead of extremely dark ones until you get the hang of it. I like to use purples instead of charcoals when I do smokey eye makeup, because I can get the smokey effect without looking overly dark.

By lighth0se33 — On May 01, 2012

I have been trying to do smokey eyes for awhile now, but I just can't seem to get the hang of it. I think I may be doing the eyeshadow part wrong.

How far up the lid do I need to blend the darker eyeshadow? I know the article says to put the light shade on the brow bone, but do I need to go all the way up to there with the dark makeup?

I've done this before, and it just looks too dark. I look like a raccoon! I think this is where I'm making a mistake, but I'm not sure how to fix it.

By orangey03 — On May 01, 2012
I have to apply smokey eye makeup in a different order than most people. I never really learned the proper way to apply mascara, so I make a mess of things. That's why I put it on first.

Even if I wipe the excess mascara off the brush before putting it on, I wind up with mascara on my eyelids and my face. I have to use makeup remover on these areas to get it off, so it would be pointless for me to put the eyeshadow or eyeliner on first.

I don't have trouble applying the primer or shadow, but it is a bit difficult to apply the eyeliner when I already have the mascara on. I have to be careful not to smudge it, and I have to hold the pencil at a slightly awkward angle.

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