10 Tips to Help You Do a Better Smokey Eye

Published in: Makeup Tips/How To

makeup artist allison barbera

Written by Allison Barbera

Today Allison of Allison Barbera Makeup Artistry breaks down the Little Black Dress of the eye makeup world.


The Smokey Eye.


Some call it the Little Black Dress of the makeup world — sexy, fun, flirty, and definitely attention-grabbing. It’s also the number one request I get as a makeup artist. And with the right tools, products, and application techniques, it can be just as easy as slipping into your knock ’em dead little black dress.

My Top Ten Smokey Eye Tips

1. Start with the eyes


It may seem natural to apply your face makeup first, but doing your eyes first will save you time (and possibly frustration). Since you’re probably going to get some shadow fallout and smudging, it’s much easier to do a quick swipe with some makeup remover on bare skin than on skin that’s already been made-up. I’ve been using L’Oreal Eye Makeup Remover ($7) for years and love it!

2. Use a primer


I recommend using a primer under all of your shadows, but it’s especially important with a smokey eye. The primer gives a smooth, even base, which is necessary for all the blending that goes on with a smokey eye. Primer also makes the shadow last longer and prevents creasing. I use Too Faced Shadow Insurance ($17) for smokey eyes and all of my other looks.

3. Have a good selection of colors in the same color family

You can do a black smokey eye, a silver one, a teal one — whatever you want. But since the point of a smokey eye is to have the colors form a gradient — from darkest to lightest — it helps to have a variety of shadows to work with. For example, if you’re doing a black smokey eye, you’ll want a dark black shadow, a lighter black shadow, a couple of grays, and a white or silver (for highlight). A palette like the Coastal Scents 88 Color Palette ($19) makes things easy by grouping similar colors together.

4. Keep an eyeliner handy


Eyeliner accessorizes smokey eyes like killer heels do for the LBD. I recommend pencil, crayon or gel formulas, as liquid liners dry quickly and are harder to smudge. You’re going to need a liner to line the top lashline, the bottom lashline, and the waterline. But relax, you don’t need to draw a perfect line, because the liner is meant to blend right into the shadow. When doing a smokey eye, I always find myself reaching for the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencils ($17).

5. Use a few good quality brushes

You’ll need a flat shader brush to apply shadow to the lid, a mid-sized brush for the crease, a pencil brush to work on the tearduct and lashline, and a fluffy brush to blend and apply highlight color. I prefer brushes from MAC and CVS’s Essence of Beauty line.

6. Blend, blend, blend

The last thing you want are obvious lines where one color has ended and another has begun. Use that fluffy brush to blend out any harsh lines. When blending the crease color, use small circular motions to “smoke it out.” Gently wipe the brush on the back of your hand to remove color before blending each new section.

7. Apply a shadow slightly lighter than your skin to the browbone


After you have applied the lid and crease colors, dip the fluffy brush into the shadow and sweep it across your browbone, using a windshield wiper motion. You want the skintone shadow to slighty overlap the top of the crease shadow. MAC eyeshadow in Vanilla ($15) is perfect for light skin, the darker brown in the NARS Madrague Eyeshadow Duo ($32) works well on medium skin, and MAC Soft Brown ($15) is great for darker skin.

8. Apply a highlight color



You don’t need much — just a dot on the center of the browbone (blended out to the end of the brow), some above the tearduct, and some under the tearduct. This brightens up the eye, which is important with heavy eye makeup looks. I love using a little of NARS the Multiple in Copacabana ($37) on the browbone. For the tearducts, any shimmery silver, white, gold, or even light pink (depending on your other color selections) will work.

9. Go for lots of lashes


Load up that mascara on your top lashes. Wiggle the wand at the roots to build volume, and, holding the wand still, blink into the wand to add length. Apply a little mascara to the bottom lashes, but keep it minimal. I find that using a regular formula on the top lashes works well, but I usually apply a waterproof formula to the bottom lashline, since those lashes are more likely to cause smudges when the eye waters. I love Dior Diorshow Blackout ($24) for a smokey eye. False lashes, whether they are flares (bunches of 8 or so lashes ) or strip lashes, make the smokey eye even more dramatic. I like both the flares and strips from Ardell.

10. Don’t forget the rest of the face

I like at least a medium coverage foundation with a smokey eye, some bronzer, a little blush, and a neutral lip. Pinky beige or nude lip colors, whether gloss, lipstick, or a combination, work best. Revlon Matte Lipstick in Nude Attitude ($8) and Lancome Juicy Tubes in Hallucination ($18), worn alone or together, look gorgeous with almost any smokey eye.

Like the Little Black Dress, the smokey eye is a classic, and there’s one out there for everyone. πŸ™‚ Experiment with different colors and levels of intensity until you find your signature smokey eye. With a little practice and a lot of mascara, you’ll get it perfect.

makeup artist allison barbera

Written by Allison Barbera

This post was written by Allison of Allison Barbera Makeup Artistry, a freelance makeup artist and licensed esthetician. Allison’s loved makeup as long as she can remember. In elementary school, she got in trouble for doing all of her friends’ makeup. A fan of NARS, MAC and Make Up For Ever, Allison also loves soft serve ice cream and Notorious B.I.G.


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So far, 44 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Delia says:

    great article by Allison, would like to put my hands on those 24/7 pencils

  2. Little Black Dress of the makeup world –> so true.

    Thanks for the tips. I needed to read this post, obviously. I’ve been experimenting on smoky eyes and I feel that I need to improve.


  3. amy says:

    Great tips! I love a smokey eye for the holidays or a night out.
    .-= amy’s last blog post… Bling Bling Nails NOTD Sephora OPI Nail Lacquer Too Good For Him =-.

  4. Solé says:

    This post is all kinds of awesome. It is confirmation that I’ve been on the right track, but that no matter how much I think I know, there is always more I can learn from a professional. I’m going to try out those CVS brushes–they look like a great deal.

    Quick question: Do you apply The Multiple with a brush or your finger? You mentioned in item 5 that you use a fluffy brush to blend and apply highlight color but I didn’t know if you were referring to the browbone e/s or the creamy highlighter.

  5. I’m definitely going to take a look at CVS brushes. Really good tips, and further proof that I really need to get NARS Copacabana!
    .-= scarlettholly’s last blog post… Saturday Surfing Round Up =-.

  6. Tiffany says:

    Great great tips!!! I need to work on practicing my smokey eyes!

  7. Glosslizard says:

    Great info, thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

  8. Cat says:

    Awesome tips! I had never thought to blend in a circular motion. I’ll be adding that to my repertoire!

  9. Allie says:

    Glad that everyone liked it!!!

    Sole–I apply The Multiple with my finger, but I use a brush for powder shadows. Sorry, I should have clarified that.

  10. Rati says:

    Great Post Allison. πŸ™‚ I love doing smokey eyes because they look the best on me. πŸ˜› Tips 7 was the one to die for.
    .-= Rati’s last blog post… Some Beauties from Colorbar Soft Touch and Lakme Bridal Sutra =-.

  11. CC says:

    I’m definitely going to check out the makeup brushes at CVS. Thanks for the tip!

  12. Moni says:

    I’ve loved this post. Great tips & good writting. Thanks for sharing, Allison!

  13. BlovetBeauty says:

    i agree with having great brushes for a great smokey eye! I love to have tons of lashes to bring out the eyes!
    .-= BlovetBeauty’s last blog post… Merry Christmas! =-.

  14. Ellie says:

    Oh- I get it! Using different shades of the same color and blending! No wonder I had failed so miserably before.

  15. Allie says:

    I’m glad everyone is finding this helpful! If you have any questions about the smokey eye or any other makeup questions, you can ask me here or email me at allisonbarbera@yahoo.com πŸ™‚

  16. Veky says:

    I always put make up 1st on my eyes, and after I’m finished with my eyes I fix my face. πŸ™‚ I hate shadow fallout and that way is much easier πŸ™‚

    • Allie says:

      Yeah, definitely. It’s so easy to just erase with some eye makeup remover and not have to worry about messing up the face makeup.

  17. sunmom says:

    love this post! πŸ™‚ it’s kind of amusing that too faced e/s insurance was posted as the base instead of udpp…is it true that e/s is more difficult to blend on top of udpp?

  18. sandra says:

    Great post!!!! I could really use some tips as I seem to lost my “smokey eye skills” last Summer. THANKS!

    • Allie says:

      Thank you, Sandra! Good luck getting your smokey eyes skills back. I’m sure it will come back to you in no time πŸ™‚

  19. Allie says:

    Hi Sunmom,

    Glad you liked it! I’ve found that it’s easier to blend with the Shadow Insurance as a base, and I know a few other makeup artists who feel the same way, but if the Primer Potion works for you, go for it! It’s definitely a good quality primer, I just find it to be less creamy than the Shadow Insurance.


  20. J says:

    Thanks for the tips! I especially love all the product suggestions, theyre all so accessible πŸ™‚

  21. Sarah says:

    I used Allison on a movie shoot where she had to do multiple looks all in a short period of time. Not only is she the epitome of professionalism, but her work is outstanding. I would never hesitate to trust her advice–and these tips are awesome! Thanks Allison!

  22. Karen says:

    Allison, you rock! Thanks for sharing your insider smokey eye secrets. πŸ™‚

  23. Allie says:

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share!

  24. I have found that the biggest obstacle in people achieving a great smokey eye is assumption! Firstly, they assume a smokey eye needs to be black. This is simply not true, as the term ‘smoke’ refers more to the method of using colour depth & soft blending (i.e. real smoke has no harsh edges) rather than the colour/s used.

    Secondly, they assume that a smokey eye needs to be really dark and/or harsh. Again, this is not true. It need be only as dark/deep as you feel comfortable.

    If you can get past these myths, try the tips in this article along with quality brushes and lots of practice, you will reign over the smokey eye eventually!
    .-= Cassandra Rae Ferguson’s last blog post… Cassandra Rae Ferguson – Professional Makeup Artist Sydney =-.

  25. Emma says:

    Thanks SO much for the tips! But I am going to do this eye makeup on the 9th of June (soon) and so I was wondering if you could give me a simpler explanation. πŸ™‚ I live in Sweden so it won’t be as easy to find all of this, so if you could also tell me what you mean by the color shades and by for example primer (can I use vaseline?) then I would be extatic! Uum also, I am wearing a black dress with white polka dots and black shoes, I have blond/brown hair and green/grey eyes. Do you think this eyeshadow would look good on me and if not do you have any other eyeshadow suggestions? Thanks SO much,

    Emma x.

    • Allie says:

      Hi Emma,

      Glad you liked the article! Let me try to get to all of your questions.

      1) Color shades are different colors in the same color family. So if you want to do a brown smokey eye, you’ll need a dark brown, a medium brown, a light brown. etc. You want the colors to blend into each other so you can’t tell where one ends and another one starts.

      2) I wouldn’t use Vaseline because it is way too greasy. If you can’t get a hold of an eye primer, try a cream based eyeshadow or even gel eyeliner in either the same color as your skin or in the same color family as the shadows you use.

      3) The color choice is really up to you! I think a gray and black or gray and silver smokey eye would look great. You could try something with purples, but that might be a little tricky.

      Please feel free to email me at allisonbarbera@yahoo.com with any other questions. Have fun at the wedding!


  26. Emma says:

    Thanks again! Could you give me a walkthrough of how I am going to put the eyeshadow on though? I mean for example: You put the primer on, then start with dark black in the crease of your eye……………………….. don’t forget mascara as the last thing………… etc ? Because I am only 13 years old so I haven’t had enough practise to be able to just wing it πŸ˜› I would really like to look proffesionally made up for my graduation which is the event I am attending. πŸ™‚ Thanks

    -Emma x.

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