How to Create Smokey Eyes

Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery With a little practice, you can create smokey eyes like a professional makeup artist. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery With a little practice, you can create smokey eyes like a professional makeup artist. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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Turn on the TV or open any magazine and you're bound to find a pair of smokey eyes staring back at you. You've probably looked closely at a celebrity's eyes and wondered what kind of makeup genius it took to create that mysterious, sultry look. The good news is you can rip a page out of those magazines and create the same look for yourself. It's not just a popular trend, too -- the technique is also a great way to make your eye color stand out.

To create smokey eyes, you'll need to make sure you give yourself a little extra time when getting ready. You can't just throw on a quick layer of eye shadow and run out the door. Smokey eyes require attention to detail and some patience to get the colors and effect right.


If you're ready to turn up the heat on those eyes, make sure you have the right tools before getting started. First, you'll need an eye shadow brush to apply and blend your eye shadow [source: Prevention]. While sponge applicators might work for teenage skin, they aren't ideal. Sponge applicators cake on shadows with uneven streaks and pull at the delicate eye tissue. You can use the same brush to apply highlight shadow to the inner corners of your eyes or get a separate fluffy brush for highlight color application so you don't need to clean your brush in between colors. An angled-tip brush is useful for applying eye shadow under the bottom lash line. A soft, fluffy brush is good for dabbing light eye shadow into the corners of your eyes. Lastly, invest in a dedicated eyeliner sharpener if you prefer pencil eyeliner. Using your child's school pencil sharpener is not a good idea, no matter how much you smack it against the counter to remove the graphite pencil shavings.

If you have the right tools and a quiet moment to test out a new look, read on to find out how to take your eyes from puffy and tired to smokey and gorgeous.


Preparing to Create Smokey Eyes

Before you begin creating the perfect smokey eye effect, you have to take care of your eyes and surrounding skin. Since you will be applying a few layers of makeup to your eyes, a healthy canvas is a must. Too much makeup can dry out and irritate your skin or create oily patches that lead to blemishes. In order to avoid puffy, red and irritated eyes, here are a few tips to prepare your skin.

Consider using a moisturizer to improve the skin's texture and tone. A moisturizer will add a protective barrier to your skin to keep water and natural oils in. Those with normal or oily skin should select and use a water-based moisturizer [source: Mayo Clinic]. If you suffer from dry skin, an oil-based moisturizer can provide some relief. Remember to pay extra attention to the skin under the eyes and on the eyelids when moisturizing, as it is some of the thinnest skin on the body.


Choose makeup labeled noncomedogenic. These products are made with ingredients that do not clog pores so breakouts are less likely to occur. You should also check the expiration date on products and store them correctly -- keeping them in damp, warm places, especially the bathroom, can cause them to expire sooner [source: WebMD].

Use tweezers to pluck away stray eyebrow hairs from between the eyes. Your eyebrow line should follow the arch of your brow bone, so don't forget those straggling hairs that create an uneven bottom brow line. Clean eyebrows will enhance the smokey eye effect.

Now that your eyes have been moisturized and protected, you are ready to take the plunge and begin with your smokey eye shadow. Read on to find out how you can transform bland eyes into spectacular ones.


Choosing Smokey Eye Shadow

Most people consider eye shadow the cornerstone of the smokey eye look. In general, you should use two or three shades of eye shadow in complementary colors to accomplish the technique.

Before you brush on your eye shadow, apply a concealer or eye shadow base over the entire eyelid and on the skin under the eye [source: Marie Claire]. The concealer will help hide imperfections and provide a good base for eye shadow.


To start, choose a rich, dark base color. You may choose to go with black, dark gray or deep brown. Even if you have brown eyes, you'll likely find that a dark lining of eye shadow makes the color stand out [source: Seventeen]. Brush on the base color from the eyelashes to the crease. The color should get lighter as you sweep up to the crease. Take your time and let the brush do the blending and smoothing. Remember, you're going for a subtle sense of smokiness, not smoked out eyes. Colors with a bit of shimmer will lighten up your eye in a playful way, while matte colors will give a more mysterious, sultry look.

After you have applied the base color, use an angled brush to apply the same base color lightly under the bottom lash line. Use a thin line and a light touch. Heavy eye shadow under the eye can make your eyes look tired.

Now choose a second color in a lighter tone to add contrast just above the crease. If you applied black eye shadow, you can use a gray, copper or taupe color for contrast. Dark grays can contrast with lighter grays or coppers. Lighter beige or, in some cases, pink can accent deep browns. Use your eye shadow brush to sweep the accent color slightly above the crease from the inner eye outward.

Finally, you can add a little extra flair with a third color if you choose. This highlight color should be light and shimmery, such as cream, white or skin-toned. Gently brush on your highlight color under the brow bone and in the inner corner of the eye. This will lighten the smokey eye look and provide a little more intrigue.

Now that you've mastered eye shadow, read on to find out how eyeliner can make it pop.


Applying Eyeliner for Smokey Eyes

One of the defining features of the smokey eye look is eyeliner. It's key to making your eyes pop, and without eyeliner, eye shadow use can cause your eyes to look tired, sunken and small.

The secret to eyeliner is finding the right color and type. If you decide to go with black or gray shades of eye shadow, black eyeliner is a must. Save dark brown eyeliner for smokey eyes done in brown and tan shades. As for the type of eyeliner, you have a few choices. Pencil eyeliner is easy to use but might require more time to apply and blend. Gel eyeliner will go on easier, but can be hard to sharpen. Liquid eyeliner will give you great coverage, but you should take care not to apply too much.


Once you've chosen your eyeliner, apply it along the upper lash line from the inner corner to the outer corner. Using a cotton swab or brush, gently blend the eyeliner into your eye shadow. You want a soft line that gives way to your shadow. Once you have blended in the upper lashes, add eyeliner to the bottom lashes. Begin just short of your tear duct area and pull to the outer edge of the lashes [source: Prevention]. You can work the eyeliner into your lash line, but avoid the tear duct to prevent blockage and infection. You should soften eyeliner on the bottom lashes with a cotton swab or brush as well.

Before you move on to the next step, pull back from the mirror and take a glance at your handiwork. The eyeliner should be more dramatic on the upper lashes and less dramatic on the lower lashes. It's best to keep the focus higher up on your eyes in order to avoid a tired look. If you've checked for a good balance of upper and lower eyeliner application, read on for the finishing touch -- mascara.


Applying Mascara for Smokey Eyes

Now that you've applied your eye shadow and eyeliner, you're ready to put the finishing touches on your smokey eyes. Your mascara will not only complete the look but also will balance out your eye shadow and eyeliner.

Choosing the right mascara is important. First off, your mascara should complement your eyeliner choice. If you used black eyeliner, opt for black or onyx mascara. For dark brown eyeliner you can either go with a dark brown mascara or black brown mascara. Next, find a good water-soluble mascara for daily use that you can wash off at night. You don't want to pull out or break off your eyelashes just to remove your mascara at night [source: Prevention]. If you are blessed with dark, thick and long eyelashes, regular mascara will work fine. For thinner eyelashes, volumizing mascara is helpful. In fact, if your eyelashes are really sparse, don't be afraid to put on fake eyelashes before applying mascara. Eye-batting lashes are, in fact, a big part of smokey eyes.


Now it's time for the all important mascara application. Grab the tube of mascara and pull out the brush. If mascara is clumped on the tip of the brush, wipe the excess off on a tissue. Plopping a glob of mascara from the brush to your lashes is a recipe for disaster. If the mascara brush looks evenly coated, apply mascara from the roots to the tips in an even stoke. Another strategy is to use the mascara brush in a vertical manner and sweep across the eyelashes. Use a method that allows you to achieve clump-free coverage. After one coat, let your mascara dry completely before adding a second or third coat. This will help lengthen and thicken your lashes to balance out those smokey eyes.

Now that your eyes are glamorous, you're ready to head out on the town. For more information on smokey eyes and other makeup tips, look over the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Makeup Sense. "Smoky Eyes." (Aug. 11, 2009)
  • Marie Claire. "Get the Celebrity Look: Smokey Eyes." (Aug. 11, 2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Moisturizers: Options for softer skin." (Aug. 1, 2009)
  • Prevention. "Eyeliner." (Aug. 11, 2009)
  • Prevention. "Eye shadow." (Aug. 11, 2009) 2281eac____/
  • Prevention. "Mascara." (Aug. 11, 2009)
  • Seventeen. "Accentuate Your Eyes." (Aug. 19, 2009)
  • Shape. "Beauty How-To: Smoky Eyes Made Simple." (Aug. 11, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Have Your Beauty Products Gone Bad?" (Aug. 1, 2009)
  • WebMD. "How to Read a Label." (Aug. 11, 2009)