What is Smoky Eye Makeup?

Vicki Hogue-Davies

Smoky eye makeup is a makeup style used to create a dramatic and sophisticated look for the eyes. It is associated with a sexy, nighttime look and is often seen on celebrities at red carpet events and models in glossy magazine ads. Perfectly smudged and blended eyeliner and eyeshadow in deep, rich colors are used to achieve the smoky eye makeup style. Several coats of dark mascara finish the look.

A woman with smoky eye makeup.
A woman with smoky eye makeup.

To create the smoky eye look, first select makeup colors. Generally, two or three eye shadow colors are used: a neutral for the base, a dark color for contouring and sometimes a lighter contour color for blending with the main contour color. Popular smoky eye makeup colors include purples and plums, dark browns, grays and even blacks. Sometimes people will select deep blues or greens or other colors that complement their eye colors.

Smoky eye makeup consists of black mascara.
Smoky eye makeup consists of black mascara.

Begin creating the smoky eye by applying a primer to eyelids to help hold the shadow in place. The next step is to line the upper and lower lashes with black eyeliner or liner that matches the deepest shade of shadow. Sometimes people line the lower lashes just halfway, from outer edge to center, to avoid making the eyes look smaller.

Eyeshadows in deep, rich colors may be used to achieve the smoky eye makeup style.
Eyeshadows in deep, rich colors may be used to achieve the smoky eye makeup style.

Next, apply the neutral base shadow all over the lid and the deep shadow on the lower lid only, starting from the crease and blending outward. If using a third color, apply it before the darker contour. Carefully blend the colors for a soft and sultry effect.

An important part of the smoky eye look is carefully smudged eyeliner. There shouldn't be any hard lines; instead, try to achieve an elegantly messy look. A cotton swab can be a useful tool for smudging liner.

Some people like to further enhance the eyes by curling the lashes with an eyelash curler before applying mascara. Whether curling lashes or not, apply several coats of a volumizing or lengthening mascara on upper and lower lashes. Black mascara is often used, or a deep color such as purple or another shade matching the shadow can create additional drama.

With a smoky eye makeup look, all of the focus is meant to be on the eyes. The eyebrows often are enhanced to frame the eyes and face. To enhance brows, fill them in with a powder brow color that matches the brows using an angled brow brush. The rest of the face is usually kept fairly neutral with light lip color and soft cheek color.

Dark eyeshadow can create a sexy, dramatic look if applied correctly.
Dark eyeshadow can create a sexy, dramatic look if applied correctly.

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Discussion Comments


@afterall- I was told that once too. When I stopped wearing mascara, my eyelashes were much healthier after just a few weeks.

So when I wear any makeup, including when I apply smoky eye makeup, I avoid mascara most of the time.


@panda2006- I would even say avoid the mascara unless you are going for some seriously dramatic smoky eye makeup.

I do a lot of theatre, and a makeup artist several years ago for a show I was in advised against ever wearing mascara unless you are going to be either onstage or at an event where you know you'll be crying; in those cases, wear something waterproof. The problem is that mascara actually stunts eyelash growth and weighs the natural lash down, making your eyelashes thinner. This is why people need more and more mascara after awhile to get the same effect.

If you already are going with eyeliner and eye shadow, you probably don't even need mascara anyway.


If you want to have smokey eye makeup, make sure you tone down the lips and cheeks. I would personally say that even a light lip color is too much; go for something like a balm or clear gloss that will make your lips look moisturized without calling extra attention to them. For cheeks, try some concealer on blemishes and cover your whole face with a lightly tinted moisturizer. Then all the focus really is on the eyes.

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