The Perfect Smoky Eye in 7 Steps

Emily Ratajkowski with smoky eyes at the vanity fair oscar party
 George Pimentel/Getty Images

Here at Byrdie, we live and die for a fabulous smoky eye—especially when makeup artists like Patrick Ta and Sarah Tanno are behind them. Sure, it might not be a look we rock on the regular, as we tend to opt for natural makeup more days than not—but that by no means diminishes our obsession.

You see, the smoky eye is a classic for a reason: It's foolproof in that it's perfect for just about any occasion, and is super versatile so you can go the signature black, gray, or brown route—or you can shake things up and incorporate color. Either way, it's a look that always wows, which is why we think everyone should learn how to master it at some point. Because we know it can be a daunting eye look to execute, we took the liberty of breaking it down into seven, super simple and straightforward steps. So long as you follow them and give it some practice, you're bound to be a master in no time. 

Scroll through to learn how it's done. 

Step 1: Prime 

The last thing you want is your shadow to fade, smudge, or crease over the course of a few hours—which trust us, totally happens—so priming your eyelids before anything else is essential. It's also especially important to do if you have oily skin, as it will help keep your shadow from turning into a slippery mess. These are a few of our favorite primers, all of which just so happy to be under $10. 

Step 2: Apply a base shadow

First things first, you want to go in with a neutral, medium-brown shade one or two shades darker than your skin tone. Sweeping this shadow all over the lid and into the crease will make the rest of the blending process more seamless and give your high-voltage hues something to adhere to. Here are 10 neutral eye shadow palettes we swear by, all of which have a variety of killer base shades to choose from.

Step 3: Tightline 

An instant way to intensify your look right off the bat is to use a black or brown eyeliner to line your upper and lower lash lines. This helps fake the appearance of having thicker lashes, while also edging up the look altogether. If you have sensitive eyes that are prone to watering, you can 100% skip your bottom lash line and just do the top to be safe. It'll still look smoky and amazing.

Step 4: Smoke it out

Once you've applied your eyeliner of choice to your upper and lower lash lines, take a small pencil brush and gently smudge it outwards for a softer, sultry effect. This makes the liner not look so stark, which is what we're going for. 

Step 5: Apply blending shadow

After getting your base shadow and eyeliner to a place that you're happy with, you then want to go in with your main shadow, whether it be a classic black or bronze, or an electric blue or purple. Simply pack this shade all over the lid and blend, blend, blend until there are no harsh lines. You can also trace a small amount on your lower lash line for an added intensity that brings the whole look together. Just make sure to blend until everything is seamless. 

What's more: To give it a subtle cat-eye vibe, blend outwards and upwards in the outer corner where you'd normally do a wing. 

Step 6: Add more liner

This step is completely optional but is a super simple way to amp the finished look. Just take your favorite eyeliner—liquid, cream, pencil, you name it—and smudge it along the base of your upper lash line using subtle upward motions. 

Step 7: Mascara

No smoky eye could be complete without a few generous coats of mascara. We'd recommend using one that's waterproof or smudge-proof to ensure it doesn't disrupt the rest of your makeup and stays put for hours. On the hunt for a new favorite? These are 11 formulas Byrdie beauty editors always recommend. 


Related Stories