Anyone who’s ever spent hours wrestling with their hair and deciding on a fit knows that sometimes, the best finishing touch to a going-out outfit is a bold smoky eye. The right makeup can transform your entire look, and with masks still essential for many indoor festivities, lipstick has taken a back seat to a smoldering, timeless eye look. If you’ve been winging it, it’s probably high time you learned how to do it the right way — so we turned to the experts.
Celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, who works with clients like Rashida Jones, Mae Whitman and Kaley Cuoco, knows the power of a smoky eye — especially a nontraditional iteration. And makeup expert Vincent Oquendo, who counts Olivia Culpo, Jurnee Smolett and Marsai Martin as clients, loves to execute a smoky for a fun night out.
“Whenever I’m getting my clients ready for the red carpet, I start with their eye makeup,” says Oquendo. “That way, you can make a mess and really create a high-impact eye makeup look without having to tiptoe around your concealer and foundation.”
How to complete a smoky eye: A tutorial
The first step to any smoky eye look is deciding which colors you’d like to focus on — and while it can depend on factors like your outfit or your plans, Greenberg suggests starting with your eye color.
“There are certain colors that really make your eyes pop out — it goes back to kindergarten color theory,” Greenberg says. “Complementary colors make each other pop, so if you have blue eyes, something with orange undertones will draw out your eyes. If you have green eyes, try a liner with a red undertone or a brick color to make your eyes pop. For hazel and brown eyes, purple works best and they can also wear a dark brown with little flecks of gold to bring out their eye color.”
Once you have your color scheme down, it’s time to prep your eyes. While Greenberg goes right in with a primer specifically formulated to keep creases at bay (she prefers Hourglass Veil Eye Primer, Lorac Behind The Scenes Eye Primer and Smashbox 24 Hour Photo Finish Eye Shadow Primer), Oquendo has an extra step before putting pencil to eyelid: He uses eye drops to “help eyes look brighter, whiter and more luminous under all that eye makeup.”
Then, instead of primer, he employs a fun hack. “I prime the eyelids using a creamy eyeliner pencil,” he says. “I prefer to use a pencil as a primer because it really allows the eye shadow to bind to the eyelids. It also helps add depth to the lids so whatever color you lay on top will show up and have a long-wearing effect.”
Now, it’s a matter of preference. Greenberg recommends starting with the lightest eye shadow color, brushing it just under the brow bone, then working your way down. “Use the next darkest color in the crease, and the third darkest on the lid, blending with the darkest color on the lash line,” she says, working her way inward.
Oquendo, however, prefers to work his way up and out: “After I blend the pencil, I begin with building up pigment on the eyes. You want to have the deepest, darkest or richest color closest to the lash line and blend as you move up toward the crease in windshield wiper motion.”
Then, Greenberg applies eyeliner to the lash line and water rim — “on top and bottom too if you like!” — and finishes with a few coats of mascara. “I like to use a fiber mascara, which has fibers that attach to the lashes to get extra oomph,” she says. “Now’s also the time to add your fake lashes. I like to use magnetic lashes with the corresponding magnetic eyeliner because they are so easy to use. Apply another coat of mascara to make the faux lashes blend into the real ones for a flawless finish.”
Lastly, Oquendo recommends finishing with some strategically placed highlighter: He dots the inner corners of the eye, the middle of the lids and underneath the brow bones, which “helps bring light back to the eyes. After all that work, I always use a setting spray to make sure the makeup stays put.”
Smoky eye looks
Need some more inspiration? Take a look at some of Oquendo and Greenberg’s most notable smoky eye looks to date!
Ready to try it yourself? Shop their favorite smoky eye products below.
Products to achieve a smoky eye
Smashbox Photo Finish Smooth & Blur Oil-Free Foundation Primer ($38; sephora.com)
A favorite of Greenberg’s, this primer also sports rave reviews at Sephora. In fact, one reviewer says, “This is the best primer I have tried. Glides on smooth and feels velvety on the skin.”
Younique Moodstruck Precision Pencil Eyeliner ($15; youniqueproducts.com)
Another one of Greenberg’s must-have smoky eye tools, this eyeliner pencil is budget-friendly but stays in place.
Urban Decay 24/7 Waterline Eye Pencil ($22; sephora.com)
Urban Decay’s 24/7 line is a cult favorite of makeup artists, editors and customers for the way it glides on, then stays put.
Charlotte Tilbury Colour Chameleon Eye Shadow Pencil ($27; sephora.com)
Oquendo’s go-to eye shadow pencil, this chubby stick come in eight fun colors.
Chanel Stylo Yeux Waterproof Liner ($34; chanel.com)
The mark of a great waterproof eyeliner is when it doesn’t budge — and according to Oquendo, this one stays in place on red carpets and photo shoots alike.
Charlotte Tilbury Smokey Eyes Are Forever Instant Eye Palette ($75; sephora.com)
Oquendo says this is one of his absolute favorite palettes for achieving a smoky eye.
Maybelline Nudes of New York Eye Shadow Palette ($13.99; ulta.com)
But if you’re looking for a more affordable option, this one is it.
Younique Moodstruck Magnetic Lash ($35; youniqueproducts.com)
Greenberg says these magnetic lashes are a cinch to apply.
Mac Cosmetics Mac Times Nine Eye Shadow Palette ($27.20, originally $32; nordstrom.com)
A favorite of Greenberg’s, this sampler palette has racked up more than 200 5-star reviews, thanks to how blendable the shades are.
Lumify Eye Drops ($13.49; target.com)
“Just one drop of Lumify Eye Drops reduces redness and help eyes look brighter, whiter and more luminous under all that eye makeup,” says Oquendo, who’s also an ambassador for the eye care brand.
Dior Diorshow Pump ‘N’ Volume HD Mascara ($29.50; sephora.com)
Another favorite of Oquendo’s — especially if you’re looking for a colored mascara — this formula is buildable and offers a voluminous fan-out.