The Ultimate Smoky Eye Guide

Alexandra Perron
·Editor

Photo: Ben Ritter

The smoky eye is one of the most classic beauty looks. You see it on the red carpet, on the runway, in the pages of magazines, and on that cool girl at the bar. But while it’s so universal, it also takes a little bit of skill to truly master it. For this holiday season, we wanted to give you a complete guide to perfecting the smoky eye and to do it, we turned to Kimberly Soane, the Director of Global Artistry at Bobbi Brown and an all around makeup guru. With her tips and tricks, you’ll have this look on lockdown in no time. 

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Start with a blank canvas. In an interesting twist, you should actually apply your shadow before anything else. “You will get fallout while doing a smoky eye so it’s easier to clean up the fallout without having to also reapply your concealer and foundation,” says Soane. Most people think to do their eyes as a final step, but when you’re going for a smoky eye do it first.

Pick your colors. You’ll want to gather four eyeshadows, black eyeliner, and a mascara for this look. The first color is your base color and it will be the lightest shade. Next, select a light to medium shade that matches the tones you are going for. This shade will be one to two shades darker than your lid. The third color is a medium to dark shade that is going to be richer and more pigmented than the last. And the fourth color is a black-pigmented color, like a charcoal gray. “If you have a deep skin tone, you’ll want to go for something really dark, focusing on the black pigmented shadows because a soft gray won’t work as well,” says loane. “If you have really fair skin, you might go less on the black pigment and use more gray tones.”

Next, select your eyeliner. “Since many ink liners and pens dry instantly, a lot of artists prefer a gel liner because there is some play time—you can smudge it and work with it before it dries,” she says. Lastly, you’ll want a buildable mascara. “You want something that can give you volume and length,” says Soane. “You want your lashes to match the drama of your eye makeup.”

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Select your brushes. You’ll get the most professional application if you use brushes to do your smoky eye. For the lightest shade, you want to use a big, paddle eyeshadow brush. For the medium shades, Soane recommends a dense medium-size shadow brush. Make sure you also have a blending brush on hand—it’s the one that looks like a mini powder brush. “You can use it to blend shadows in the crease so there are no harsh edges,” says Soane. For your darkest shadow color, you’ll want to have an eyeliner brush. This type of brush is denser and tighter to help create lines. 

Prep your eyelid. Always use an eye primer on a bare lid and apply it from your lash line to your brown bone. A primer will help prevent creasing and smudging, and can also help make the shadow pigment stand out more.

Apply the eyeshadow. The first and lightest shade should be applied from lash to brow, with the most color on the lid and the least on the brow bone. “You want to apply enough so you don’t see the color of your skin through it,” says Soane. “It’s like your priming a canvas. You’re creating that base so that shadows will blend a lot better.” If you’re having trouble blending shadows down the road it will be because you didn’t apply enough of the base color.

Next, take the medium eyeshadow brush and apply the light to medium tone shadow from lash to crease. “The best way to apply color to the crease is by opening your eye and swiping the brush back and forth in the fold of your eye,” says Soane.

At this point the lightest color will be visible on your brown bone. The inner corner of your eye should be lighter than the outer corner and the crease will also be darker.

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Apply your liner. Here’s another twist: Line your eye from the outside in. “You can use the same thickness all the way across, or start thicker on the outside and go thinner towards the inside.” This method will give your eyes more of an almond shape. Make sure you don’t stop your liner short on the side of the eye. “Take your liner and see if it goes up to the fold of your eye,” she says.

You’ll want a thinner, softer line for your bottom lashes. “Use what is leftover on your brush versus going back to get more,” says Soane. “If you’re using a pencil, do soft strokes through the bottom lashes.” The makeup on the bottom of your eyes should always be less intense than what is on the top. “If there is too much on the bottom, it makes the eye look heavy and tired.”

For added drama, Soane says women with very fair lashes should try taking your liner and running it in the water line on your top lashes. “If you have darker, thicker lash line, you could skip this step,” she says. Always be sure to use a product that is labeled safe for water lining.

As a final step, take your liner brush and use your darkest black-pigmented shadow to layer on top of the gel liner. “This is called double lining,” says Soane. “You’re applying a smudgy dusting of that color on top.” Now this is where the smoky eye gets its name—the liner phases out into something a little less black, into the greys, and then into your lightest shade. “You can do the same technique along the bottom lashes as well,” she says. “If you want it a little less dramatic, use the dark medium gray color to smudge your liner.”

Related: How to Apply Gel Liner Like A Pro

Make sure your top and bottom liner meet at the outside corner of the eye, but leave a space between your liner at the inner corner of the eye. “If your liner comes together at the inner corner, it will pull your eyes together and make your face look narrow,” says Soane. Instead, try adding a shimmering shadow to your inner corner to brighten the area.

Finish the look. Complete the smoky eye by curling your lashes and applying three coats of mascara. “A lot of women think that is a lot to do, but you always want your lashes to look full and defined,” she says. Finish up by applying your concealer and filling in your brows. 

Disclaimer: Bobbi Brown is the Editor in Chief of Yahoo Beauty