Fashionistas and celebrities alike love the glamor of a smoky eye, but not all of us are fortunate enough to attend movie premieres or fashion shows every night. As gorgeous as the classic black smoky eye can be, this high-drama look doesn’t always fit into our everyday lives. How to soften this high-impact look?
Although the traditional smoky eye is heavy on blacks and saturated dark hues, there are many other possibilities. Just as smoke isn’t always black, a smoky eye doesn’t have to be ultra-dark. Using the same techniques with a paler palette will emphasize eyes without looking out of place at a business meeting or brunch.
The drama of the smoky eye comes from the contrast between the whites and iris of the eye and the surrounding deep shadows, but in this case you’ll be turning down that contrast by picking lighter shades. Neutrals — champagnes, grays, taupes, and browns — are always professional and flatter any face. Brighter hues such as purples, greens, and blues work well for more casual events; they’re lovely for a daytime date or a shopping trip.
Choose a light, medium, and dark tone within the same color family, keeping in mind that “dark” in this case should be just a couple of shades darker in hue than the darkest skin tone near your eyes. If you’re fair-skinned, your darkest shade might be a fawn tone or dove gray; if you have very dark skin, your deepest color might be a rich chocolate brown or plummy purple. Whichever three shades you pick, keep them in the same color family; multi-hued eyes can be beautiful, but the smoky eye is monochromatic.
Pay attention to the amount of shimmer in your colors, too. The lightest shade should have the most shimmer, while your deepest tone should be matte. This will add as much dimension to the look as the colors themselves.
Once you’ve selected your colors, sweep the lightest shade across your entire upper lid from lashline to browbone. This light wash of color will pull the finished look together. There’s no need to be too precise; the sheer layer is going to be the base for your blending and will only be partially visible in the final look.
Then pick up your middle tone on your brush or applicator and apply it to the eyelid up to the crease. Start at the outer corner near the lashline and work your way in and up; the idea is to concentrate color closest to the eye, and using a laden brush where you want the greatest intensity will make that happen naturally. Bring some of the color down to your lower lid along the lashes, again starting at the outer corner of your eye and moving toward the inner corner. Think of the shadow on your lower lid as enhancing the natural shadow that your eyelashes cast; that’s the effect you want.
Now it’s time for the deepest shade (and remember, “deepest” here may only be a few shades darker than the natural color of your eyelid). Using a fine brush or pointed applicator, work this darker matte tone along your upper lashline and into the crease. A good way to get the placement just right is to think of a “V” turned sideways with one leg running along the base of your upper lashes and the other curving into the fold of your eyelid. Finish with a little of the darkest shade along the outer two-thirds of your lower lashline.
At this stage, you’ll want to step back from the mirror for a moment to see where you may need to blend. One of the keys to a smoky eye of any color is blending. Your shadow should be diffuse, no sharp lines or defined borders. Blend as necessary using a brush, clean applicator, or sponge.
You may like the look as is and choose not to line your eyes at all; a lighter smoky eye is beautifully subtle all by itself. If you do decide to line, pick something in the same color family as your other shades so that you can smudge it out to blend with the shadow. Again, you are going for imperceptible changes from one tone to the next; a dramatic sharp streak of eyeliner in a contrasting shade can be gorgeous, but it isn’t really part of a smoky eye.
Finish with mascara and a dot of your pale, shimmery shadow on the innermost corners of the eyes to brighten them.
Now that you have the basic techniques mastered, you can change up your smoky eye to suit any occasion.