The Smokey Eye: Keep It Soft

August 4, 2009


Next to a flawless glowing complexion, one of the most requested looks I get is the smokey eye. I love when I have an appointment with clients who want the smokey look and clip the most dramatic smokey eye from a magazine and say, “I want to look exactly like this!” In reality they don’t usually want that exact look, they want a soft, smudgy look. And that’s what a smokey eye should be: soft, smudgy, and blended. A smokey eye should not extend too far beyond your crease or utilize too much black shadow because it will make you look like someone punched you in they eye. The goal of the smokey eye is to have the color darkest near your lashes and fade softly into your crease. This is exactly what smoke looks like: darkest near the fire, lighter as it floats into the sky.

You can certainly clip smokey looks from magazines for inspiration, and keep in mind that while the intensity, colors, and shape of shadow looks great on the model, you may not share the same eye or face shape and it might not look the same on you or flatter your face. The goal of makeup is to flatter your features and express yourself.

One of my fave smokey eye tips is to keep a clean, fluffy blending brush close at hand. It’s much easier to blend a mistake with a clean brush then it is to blend with a brush that has product on it. Keep the products you use simple. Limit yourself to no more then three shadow colors and one liner. After you apply your eye shadow base/primer, I like using a soft, waterproof pencil liner (like Urban Decay 24/7 Pencils) or a gel/cream liner (Smashbox Jet Set, Makeup Forever Aqua Eyes Cream Liner) first to define the eye. Blend and smudge this line up (easier to do with cream liners) to soften and the set stage for your eyeshadow. Pick any eyeshadow colors you want. A smokey eye can also be colorful. My fave shade is bronze. Pat your darkest shade lightly on your lid. It’s best to start with a little product and add more as needed then to pack the eyeshadow on right away. Blend color upwards and into the crease. If you’d like to use a medium color in the crease, add just a touch and blend downwards into your lid color. To blur any harsh lines (there shouldn’t be any) you can use your clean shadow brush or a flesh tone eyeshadow, which acts like a highlight.

  • If you have smaller eyes and want to make them look larger, go easy on the bottom liner and don’t line the entire lower rim. Stop the line around the iris of the eyes, blend, and apply a highlight color from the liner to your tear duct.
  • For deep set eyes, concentrate color on your lid and blend.
  • For any eye: go easy on the liner. It’s much more flattering to have a slight smudge of color on the bottom lash line then a thick, dark, rim of liner. For a softer look, try using your shadow as liner with an angled liner brush.
  • After every step, stand back and look at yourself in the mirror: is everything even? Too dark? Too light? Keep cotton swabs and gentle eye makeup remover handy to fix mistakes.
  • When wearing a smokey eye, one must make sure the complexion is perfected. The dark colors can enhance under eye circles and uneven skin tone so make sure not to skip concealer if you need it. Tip: using a lighter coverage foundation or tinted moisturizer and concealing just where you need it will make your complexion more natural then using a full coverage foundation and full coverage concealer. Hello, cakey-ness!
  • Do eyes first so that if you get any fall out, you don’t have to touch up complexion products. If you’ve already done your makeup, dust translucent powder under your eye area to catch any shadow and dust away with a fluffy brush when finished.
  • Keep the rest of your look balanced by using sheer flesh tone or pink lip colors and a light application of a natural blush (my fave with smokey eyes are soft pinks and pinky-peach).

Three of the photos above are of my fave examples of smokey looks and one is of my least favorite. Can you tell which is which? I think 1 through 3 all are balanced (dark eyes and neutral lip/cheek colors) and are soft, feminine, and have perfect gradient (darker to lighter). Number 4 is my least fave. Why? Because it’s not flattering on most people. Dark, thick, liner around the entire eye can create the illusion of a smaller eye, even if you have large, gorgeous peepers.

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