Makeup 101: How to Apply Eye Makeup

Sonja is back with the second installment of her Makeup 101 series! (If you missed the first, a fabulous lesson on How to Apply Foundation, Concealer, and Powder, check it out here.) I’m very excited to have Sonja walk us through the basics of eye makeup, as this is my weakest area … as always, check her blog, Hello Beauty! for daily tips, reviews, and tutorials.

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My favorite kinds of makeup are eye shadow, liner, and mascara. After all, eye makeup brings attention to the windows to your soul and eyes are usually the first thing you notice about a person so I’m all for playing them up.

For this part of my Makeup 101 series, I cover brows, eye shadow, liner, primer, and mascara.

Most people don’t realize what a huge difference well-groomed, defined brows make in framing the face. Fill in your brows and check out the difference (or just check out the video below to get an idea). I realized the importance of brows in recent years and always make sure to fill in mine before I head out.

Tweeze stray hairs and use a pencil or powder to fill in the shape. For blondes and redheads, use a color one shade darker than your hair. For brunettes, go one shade lighter. Use short, feathery strokes for a natural look.

The easiest way to get brows into the most flattering shape is to visit a salon or spa – or a Benefit Cosmetics Brow Bar. Brow shaping will set you back about $20 to $25. It’s a good investment, because when you have it done just once, you’ve go the basic shape in place and all you really have to do is maintain it by tweezing the little hairs that pop up here and there.

Eye Shadow and Liner

For a casual look and quick application, I use one or two shadows and a pencil liner.

The basic steps:

  • Dust a light shade all over the lid and up to the brow bone. This helps even out skin tone and acts a base.
  • Dust a shimmery medium shade on the lid, which has a brightening effect, or sweep a matte, medium shade just in the contour/crease to add depth and definition.
  • Line with a black or dark brown pencil or a dark powder shadow all the way across the top lash line only. Liner extends the lash line to make lashes look longer and eyes look bigger. My favorite pencil liners are Benefit BADgal Liner Waterproof or Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil.

When I have more time and want to create a polished look, I generally work with four shades of eye shadow and a gel liner.

The basic steps:

  • Dust a light shade all over the lid and up to the brow bone as a base.
  • Press a medium or deep shimmery shade on the eyelid with a brush. Pressing the powder in helps it last longer and gives the color more intensity.
  • Apply a medium shade in the contour/crease area, which creates a shadow and adds definition.
  • For more definition, shade with a dark shadow at the outer corners of the eyelid.
  • Line eyes with a gel liner and a fine-tipped brush all the way across the top lash line. A gel liner gives a crisper line and stays on really well. My favorite is Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner. It’s pretty much the gold standard of gel liners.
  • If I want a smokier, softer line, I’ll apply a dark shadow with a fine-tipped brush on top of the gel liner along the top lash line and apply a little of the dark shadow along the bottom lash line.

Blending doesn’t take very long but is very important for getting the most natural look. It also helps the makeup last longer. It’s easiest to blend with a brush that has little to no product on it so come back with your brush after you’ve laid down the color – just tap off excess product or rub the brush on a tissue. Making little circles with your brush makes it easy to get colors to blend together.

Powder Eye Shadows
I usually use powder shadows, because I find them easiest to apply and blend. My favorites are Bobbi Brown Eye Shadows (shown above) and Guerlain Eyeshadow Palettes (shown below), which include perfectly coordinated colors.

Primers and Cream Shadows
For most of us, shadows tend to fade away and crease as the day passes, due to oily eyelids and the continuous movement of the eye. Primers can really help colors last longer and prevent creasing. Benefit just came out with a great one, Stay Don’t Stray that prolongs the life of both eye makeup and concealer.

You can also skip powder shadows and opt for a long-wearing cream shadow for longer lasting color that’s resistant to creasing. I don’t use them as much, because I find powder shadows easier to work with. But I think cream shadows are great just on the lid. Benefit Creaseless Cream Eyeshadow/Liner and Bobbi Brown Long-wear Cream Shadow are both excellent.

I have a large arsenal of brushes; but you can narrow it down to a few essentials. A fine, angled brush, like the Trish McEvoy 33 brush shown at the bottom below, is a must-have. You can use it to fill in brows and line the eyes. A medium fluff brush, like the Bobbi Brown Eye Shadow brush shown at top, can be used all over the eye and for contouring. A medium, angled fluff brush, like the Bobbi Brown Angle Eye Shadow Brush shown in the middle, is a nice-to-have that makes it easier to apply shadow in the outer corner and can also be used for contouring. If you use cream shadows, use synthetic brushes or your fingers.

Mascara has an amazing, eye-opening effect that makes eyes look bigger. I feel so naked without it. When applying, get the brush as close to the roots as possible and wiggle it back and forth as you brush outward. To make lashes look their longest, make sure to get the lashes at the outer corners (I wrote a post specifically about this with a more detailed how to and info on why it helps).

Do not brush mascara on the top of lashes. That will weigh down the lashes and pretty much defeat the purpose of the mascara.

For lots of volume and length, my favorites are Guerlain Le 2 de Guerlain Mascara and Benefit BADgal Brown Mascara.

Makeup Lesson Video
As always, it’s easiest to learn when we see an expert at work. Watch this video with the very lovely Bobbi Brown Education Executive Katrina Rau for a great overall makeup lesson, which includes a how-to for eyes. If you want to skip straight to the eye makeup, go to 4:45.

If you could use some help with your technique, I highly recommend stopping by a Bobbi Brown counter. The makeup artists are very well trained and great at giving makeup lessons with an emphasis on how-to’s.

Hope this information helps! Let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to ask in the comment section or email me directly. If you’d like to see my latest video and a review of Bobbi Brown’s spring collection, please stop by Hello Beauty.

Do Tell: How do you wear eye makeup? Got any great tips to share? Any favorite products you adore?

XO, Sonja

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21 Responses to “Makeup 101: How to Apply Eye Makeup”

  1. Denise

    I'd like to add that another terrific gel pencil is by MakeUp ForEver (I get mine at Sephora). It glides on like butter, and then you can set it with a brush and powder shadow and it really lasts all day long. Another eyeshadow step I take is to put a dab of highlighter or a light shadow in the corners of my eyes. Last thing: brown neutrals are okay for some of us, but others are better off with gray. Try both to see which is better with your skin tone. Brown makes me look yellow!

  2. Ekatherina

    YAY another makeup post! Thank you Sonja! I have a question though… should girls with darker hair opt for darker eye makeup? i.e., brown vs black mascara and liner? Should pale dark haired girls wear lighter mascara and eyeliner than olive and darker skin toned-girls? I'm a pale lady with (dyed) dark hair and I feel like I have trouble balancing too little and too much/too dark or dramatic eye makeup with my dark hair..
    Thanks so much again! So excited to see a new makeup post!!

  3. Julia

    This is so fantastic! I feel like I should print it out so that I can keep it with me – both for when I shop for makeup and apply it!

    I also find threading is a good way to shape eyebrows. It's $6 on Devon St in Chicago. It's fast and less painful for me than plucking or waxing.

  4. La Belette Rouge

    Fantastic post!! My favorite liner is BB's gel liner. The best ever.

  5. Jenniferocious

    Great post! Another great gel liner is Stila Smudge Pots… I love them to death. I know some people claim that they dry out quickly, but if you make sure to cover them well you'll be fine. I got a 3-pack of really small ones last year (as in 2008, not '09) for Christmas, and they're still going strong. I have several colors, and I like them all a lot. They're great for making either a strong line, or for doing a smoky, smudgy effect. Also, they're waterline safe, and work well there too.

    Also, Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion is a Godsend… I have horribly oily lids (to go with my oily face! lol) and this stuff keeps my eyeshadow from budging a millimeter. I only use the original (nude) color right now, but they've come out with others more recently, so you may even be able to skip your base shadow application with it if you use one of those.

    Anyway, nice post! Hope to be seeing more from you here soon!


    The most difficult for me is still the eyebrow shape!
    Lovely weekend beautiful!

  7. 39th and Broadway

    I love Sonja, girl needs her own show on the style network. Great post, thanks!

  8. Make Do Style

    I always love make up tips and makes me want to buy new stuff grrr!!

  9. Charlotte

    So….THAT'S the secret of eyeliner. I'm running off to practice right now.

  10. futurelint

    oh goodness, I am rubbish at make-up… I am 28 and just learned how to do eyeliner like a month ago, and even that is reserved for special occasions… although I did go to the local Snyder's that is closing because their make-up is all 75% off, and invested in some lipsticks that I may try wearing for the first time in my life!

  11. Rosie Unknown

    I love love love eye make up. Nothing makes me feel amazing like super dramatic like some black eyeliner and super heavy mascara.

  12. fashion herald

    I have been so lame with my brows lately, this is a great reminder to go get them shaped! And buy a new brow pencil.

  13. All Women Stalker

    I always look forward to makeup posts. This segment was particularly helpful. I have the same palette as the first one photographed here and I will definitely be taking advantage of this post 😉

  14. Anonymous

    I had to laugh when I read about keeping your eyebrow arch by "plucking the little hairs here and there".
    When you have brows like large caterpillars, there's a lot more than a few hairs here and there – and they are big and thick! I get my eyebrows professionally done at least every six weeks, and there's plenty of maintenance going on in between.
    However, I do agree that keeping your brows shaped does amazing things for your eyes and face.

  15. Sheila

    This is my standard make-up regime. I've only been doing my eyebrows for a couple of years (since white hair started coming in! yikes!).

    That's an excellent primer for people who don't wear makeup.

  16. Cal

    A great alternative to the Bobbi Brown gel liner is the same product made by Loreal HIP. It is half the price and stays just as well. I switched over about a year ago and haven't looked back since!

  17. Sonja

    Hi everyone! Thanks so much for reading! I'm so happy that so many of you found this so helpful. Sorry for the slow reply. Been unusually busy as of late. eek.

    Ekatherina, Katrina told me in latest makeup lesson with her that all women can wear black eyeliner, because all women have a black pupil. I think anyone can wear dark eye makeup as long as they keep things balanced, as in if you do dark eye makeup, keep cheeks and lips toned down. If you do any feature dramatically, keep the other features toned down so you don't look over done. Hope this helps!

    Julia, I love that you found this so helpful that you want to print it. Perhaps I should work up a printable version of the series. hmmm….

    39th and Broadway, thank you! How much fun would that be?!

    futurelint, what a great opportunity to get some deals! Have fun playing!

    Rosie Unknown, same here for sure.