The Iconic Smokey Eye Makeup: Simplified

Key Points

  • Smokey eye makeup is intimidating, especially for beginners.

  • The makeup look is ever-evolving, and there are many ways to smoke out your makeup.

  • A smokey eye makeup look is easier to achieve with the right makeup products.

You've picked out a glamorous pair of heels, a stunning floor-length gown, and settled on a sexy up-do. The only thing left is to find the perfect makeup look. Your mind immediately jumps to a sultry smokey eye, but you quickly remember the last time you tried to pull it off — somebody asked you how you got a black eye! It was a disaster. Smokey eye makeup has been a long-time favorite for makeup artists and celebrities, but can the average person achieve a glamorous smokey eye? Unfortunately, it's an intimidating look to attempt.

Whether you’re a beginner with makeup or you’re desperately looking to master smokey eye makeup, there’s hope for you to perfect the look and wear it confidently. 

One step in the application of smokey eye shadow

What Exactly Is a Smokey Eye?

You’ve heard about the smokey eye, but it isn’t easy to explain. You just know it when you see it. 

The core of this look is about dark eyeshadow and dark eyeliner that blends out into a lighter eyeshadow color in the outer corners of your eyes. The goal is a sultry, sexy, and iconic look. 

You might be wondering where this look originated. A famous makeup artist, Linda Cantello, is the official inventor of the smokey eye makeup look. Kathleen Hou, Beauty Director for The Cut, interviewed Cantello on how she invented the smokey eye.  

Cantello explains the look was born from her work as a makeup artist while working for Tom Ford and Gucci in the 90s. She says in the article, "Up until that point, the beauty looks had been very constructed. If it was a dark eye, there was a defined bit in the corner and the lid. But we blended it all in as though she had been wearing it."

It became Tom Ford's signature, and from there, the smokey eye was born. The point of the makeup is to break out from the mold of constructed makeup and blend everything to make it look sexy and effortless. 

What Colors Do You Use for a Smokey Eye?

As the smokey eye has evolved since the 90s, it's difficult to pinpoint precisely what colors you use for a smokey eye and if those colors differ depending on the color of your eyes. 

Although the original smokey eye features black, there are no set rules regarding the colors you should use. Grey and blue are neutral colors that stick to the authentic smokey eye look.

It’s always fun to play with colors with this look. It's possible to create a smokey eye look with any color your heart desires. The look is all about blending. 

Smokey eye shadow on woman's eye

What Colors Look Good With Blue Eyes?

When it comes to eyeshadow for blue eyes, warm browns, oranges, and terracottas make blue eyes pop. Try blending a dark brown into a lighter orange to smoke it out. If you want to add some glitter or shimmer, finish the look with a metallic champagne color over the lid. 

What About Colors for Brown Eyes?

Any color complements brown eyes. Use shades of blue, purple, and green if you have brown eyes and are trying the smokey-eye look. 

What Eyeshadow Shades Make Green Eyes Pop?

If you have green eyes, any color with a red undertone highlights your eye color well. This includes shades of purple, reddish-browns, and coral or peach shades. Incorporate copper, black, and pink colors into your smokey eye look. 

No matter what colors suit your eyes, the traits of a good smokey eye land in the technique. Kiana Murden, a contributing writer for Vogue, shares the colors that suit your eye color and make them pop.

Knowing what colors make your eyes stand out is a great place to start, but ultimately, you determine what makes you look and feel the most beautiful. Be bold with bright, saturated, or simple colors if that's what you prefer to wear. It's possible to create a smokey look with any colors you like.

Woman with colorful smokey eye makeup

Guide for Beginners on How To Achieve Smokey Eyes

Don’t tackle more than three shades of eyeshadow. The simpler, the better. The goal of a smokey eye is to look effortless and sultry. Follow the seven steps below to practice creating your variation of the smokey eye:

  1. Before applying anything to your eyelids, apply a primer over the entire lid to help the eyeshadow last longer. 

  2. Then, start with the mid-tone shade. Apply this color over the lid. 

  3. After you’ve applied the first eyeshadow, switch to your eyeliner. This doesn’t have to be black eyeliner but instead try out a shade of the color you’ve chosen for your eyeshadow. Regardless, apply the liner above your lash line just as you would normally draw your eyeliner. 

  4. It’s time to take the darkest shade you’ve chosen and apply it to the outer corners of your eyes and just above your eyeliner. 

  5. Use a fluffy eyeshadow brush to blend out the harsh lines of your liner into the darker eyeshadow color. 

  6. Your third eyeshadow color can be a shimmer to put over the other two colors or blend it into the inner corners of your eyes. 

  7. Take the same eyeshadow colors and liner you used on the top of your eyelid and blend the colors in your bottom lash line for a fuller, smokier look. 

There are many ways to create a smokey eye with these main tips. Whether you want to blend a dark color in your inner and outer corners or a disheveled look with just two eyeshadows, it’s up to you and your creativity to create a smokey eye that looks gorgeous on you. 

Dark photo of woman with smokey eye makeup

The Modernized Smokey Eyes in 2023

As the smokey eye look has evolved over the years and makeup trends have changed, the smokey eye has remained a makeup staple. 

However, more natural approaches to this look have become popular going into 2023. Incorporate a natural smokey eye into your everyday makeup for a subtle, sultry look. 

Choose neutral colors like brown, peach, or copper for a natural-looking smokey eye. Applying these shades warms your eyelids up without looking too eccentric. Use matte eyeshadow instead of shimmery shades to keep the look more mellow. 

To keep the look natural, ditch the drastic black eyeliner and opt for a cream brown eyeliner or a thin, subtle black liner. Pairing this eyeliner with mascara is a subtle and beautiful look that is a little more every day and a little less glamorous. 

If you're worried about overdoing the look and ending up with a smokey mess, it's best to start with a small amount of product on your brush and build the look as you go. Less is more, especially with this specific makeup look.

Starting with natural eyeshadow colors is a great way to learn how to build the look without the harshness of dark colors. Once you feel comfortable with your skills, try the look with darker colors to achieve the original grey and black look created by makeup artist Linda Cantello.

Woman with smokey eye make-up

Products for a Smokey Look

Knowing how to accomplish the smokey eye look is only half the battle. Finding the right shades and colors from different eyeshadow palettes you have at home is difficult. Thankfully, makeup brands have eyeshadow palettes with complementary tones and shades to help create the perfect smokey eye look. 

The Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Eyeshadow Palette is an excellent product for beginners. There are fifteen palettes to choose from, each with four eyeshadow colors, and it provides you with coordinating colors to create a natural or full-out glam, smokey look. Try mixing and matching to create a unique look.

If you’ve got your eye on the smokey look but need to watch your spending, the NYX Professional Makeup Ultimate Eye Shadow Palette in Warm Neutrals is a great palette to use for a natural smokey look. It’s the perfect mix of light and dark neutral colors for those looking for subtle sultry makeup.

The NYX Ultimate Eye Shadow Palette also comes in shades like the Smokey & Highlight palette. This makeup kit includes light, creamy-looking highlighting shades with a contrast of dark colors to create the iconic smokey look. The palette includes dark purple, blue, and green — the perfect shades to complement every eye color.

When it comes to eyeliner for a smokey look, you can’t go wrong with a simple black liner, whether it’s a pencil, cream, or liquid. A kohl or gel eyeliner, like the ILIA Clean Line Gel Eyeliner, is another style of eyeliner to blend your lines and properly smoke out your eye look. 

Pink smokey eye shadow

Smokey Eyes for the Perfect Smize

As iconic as the smokey makeup look has become, it's a difficult look to apply. With practice, though, it can become an easily incorporated makeup look into your routine.

Choosing the right products and understanding the basics of this look sets you up for success. Don’t shy away from trying this look out!

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