When it comes to beauty, it hardly gets more classic than the smoky eye. The sultry staple is like the little black dress of our beauty arsenal—if worn right, it's timeless, sophisticated, and suited to any occasion. The only trouble is that unlike our go-to LBD, the smoky eye requires a little more effort than simply putting it on. A lot can go wrong between our deciding to sport the smoldering look and stepping out for the night with smoky eye perfection. Sometimes it's such a hassle to pull off that we skip it altogether. To overcome these obstacles and take back the timeless beauty look, we sought the expert advice of celebrity makeup artist Mai Quynh to get to the bottom of achieving the perfect smoky eye once and for all.
Responsible for some of the red carpet beauty looks seen on Kristen Stewart, Scarlett Johansson, and Chloë Grace Moretz, Quynh is an expert when it comes to executing head-turning, camera-ready beauty looks. We chatted with her to go over what exactly goes into achieving a professional-level smoky eye and broke down the process step-by-step so you can follow along at home. Read on to study up on Quynh's insider advice, and you'll never have to skip the smoky eye again.
Keep reading to see Quynh's step-by-step advice and shop the products to help achieve that smoky eye.
PREP THE EYELID
Before anything else, Quynh readies the eyelid for makeup application. If eyelids are naturally oily, she uses a Q-tip dipped in eye makeup remover to gently swab off excess oil. She then uses either foundation (just on the eyelid for now—more on that later) or eye shadow primer to even out the eyelid and set the base for the next steps.
APPLY A MEDIUM TO LIGHT FIRST COAT
Once the eyelid is prepped, Quynh begins with a medium to light eye shadow. She uses a flat brush to pat one shade from the lash line to the crease, focusing more on the inner eye line. She emphasizes that patting or pressing the shadow onto the eyelid is key to getting the color to stay (as opposed to swiping or brushing the lid, as we're in the habit of doing). "It's okay if it's not perfect," she assures us, noting that "later on you'll diffuse it with the crease brush."
GO OVER THE EDGES IN A DARKER SHADOW
With the same brush or a similar one, use the dark crease color and apply it on the other edge of the eyelid. Carefully trace the outer lash line to the upper crease so there is a gradual fade. Take a blending crease brush, preferably dome-shaped and fluffy, and use the tip to delicately diffuse the color in the crease of the eyelid. If you need more color, use this brush to gently pick up more and apply as necessary. Quynh, who follows a less-is-more strategy when it comes to makeup, stresses that "building on it is better for fading" because it's always "easier to add more than take away."
LINE THE LASH LINE
Using a small, smudgy eye shadow brush, apply the dark shadow along the lower and upper lash lines, fading it into the existing shadow. It's up to you whether you want to amplify the drama with eyeliner—choosing a wing, liquid black, or pencil eyeliner along the inner rim—to make the look super dramatic. Finish the look off with mascara just on top or on top and bottom, depending on your desired effect. Quynh doesn't take any additional steps to set the makeup, as she says the whole packing of the eye shadow stays well. Her best tip for avoiding excess shadow while you're applying your smoky eye? "Always do eye shadow first before doing foundation," she insists. Even a few flakes of color can mess up everything else you have going on, so complete your smoky eye before you get to the rest of your face so you can easily apply makeup remover to clean up the surrounding area then get to work with foundation and beyond.
ADD A LITTLE SHIMMER
For an added element that makes smoky eyes pop, Quynh recommends adding a little bit of light shimmer to the inner corner of the eyes. She personally likes opting for shimmer when creating her smoky eye looks because of the added dimension it provides. Since shimmer can go from slightly iridescent to full-on chunks of glitter, Quynh prefers to stay on the modest side of the spectrum, opting for metallic shimmers that give dimension without overpowering the look.
PLAY WITH COLOR
Quynh encourages experimenting and going beyond the norm when it comes to doing a smoky eye. When working with celebrity clients, Quynh takes into account eye color, skin tone, as well as what they're wearing when determining which colors to work with. "It's also fun to play," she reminds us, admitting she loves replacing played-out grays with jewel-tone colors that are "still rich and deep but have a bit of a pop of color." Her favorites are a plum, deep forest, or an emerald green, but if you want to stay a bit more natural, something bronzey can be just as eye-catching.
DON'T LIMIT YOURSELF TO NIGHTTIME WEAR
When it comes to pulling off the smoky eye during the day, Quynh asserts it's all about knowing what colors work with your complexion. "There are so many variations of colors you can use with your skin tone," she says, suggesting testing out shimmery, taupe-y shades that still create the depth grays bring without the drama of a deep charcoal. Metallic shadows also make the look daytime friendlier. She reminds us that if you're playing up your eyes, go minimal everywhere else, letting your smoky look be the star of the show.
STEER CLEAR OF ROOKIE MISTAKES
The things Quynh cites as dead giveaways for an amateur smoky eye? Not blending, automatically opting for a black matte eye shadow instead of playing with different (and multiple) shades, and applying an even look without dimension or gradual fade. These mistakes will take your look in the direction of raccoon rather than red carpet, so be sure to avoid them at all costs.
What's your go-to technique for achieving the perfect smoky eye? Head to the comments to spill your secrets.