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 • Makeup  • Makeup Guides  • We’re Officially Taking the Mystery Out of Eyeshadow Palettes

We’re Officially Taking the Mystery Out of Eyeshadow Palettes

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Main image – Danilnevsky/Stocksy

When you open an eyeshadow palette for the first time, what do you do? Instantly know what to do with it, or run for the hills? 

Let’s be honest, no one really knows what to do with an eyeshadow palette unless they a) are a professional makeup artist or b) have been taught how to use one. It’s easy to buy one because it looks pretty but actually using it is a whole different ball game.

So, if you’re a beginner and you’re suffering from serious palette FOMO, don’t panic. Because everyone has to start somewhere. And *truth klaxon*, palettes can be really, really daunting.

Here, I break down what all those different shades in an eyeshadow palette are for, and guess what? It’s actually simpler than you might think. 

With tips from some of the world’s greatest makeup artists, including Laura Kay, Nyssa Green, Janelle Thomason, Gabrielle Devine and Monina Wright, here’s the simple way to create gorgeous eye makeup looks using your eyeshadow palette.


Different eyeshadow shades showing how to use an eyeshadow palette

Image – Nik_merkulov/Adobe


 Understanding your eyeshadow palette

So, where to start when you open your palette? So many textures and colours, so much confusion. What does it all mean?

“The mixture of textures and colours in an eyeshadow palette are meant to be a guide on colours that complement each other, as well as encourage you to experiment in your own way to create different looks,” explains Green

There will probably be three things you notice in yours. Neutral shades, shimmers and darker shades.

  • Neutrals:

“Neutrals are your base shades,” Wright says. “They create a subtle transition between your eyelid and brow bone.”

Neutrals are typically light shades of beige, taupe, pink, gold and silver, but if for example you’ve bought a blue palette your neutral shades will generally be the lighter blues in the collection.

You’ll normally work from lightest shades to darkest when creating an eye look, using neutral shades across your whole eye before adding your further colours. 

Neutral shades can also be useful for blending out harsh lines between your darker shades or as a matte highlighter to highlight your brow bone.


Image – Yrabota/Adobe


  • Darker shades:

The medium to darker shades in your palette accentuate the shape of your eyes. “These are your crease and outer corner colours,” Wright says. 

“They add depth and definition. Lighter shades can be used for blending, while darker shades create intensity in the outer corners or all over the lower lid for a smoky effect.”

Think of these colours as being for definition; you’ll normally only use them in areas where you’re marking out the shape of your eye, like the outer corner of your eye and your eye socket, rather than across your lid.

Generally, your medium dark shades go on your socket while the darkest shades define your outer eye.

Image – Tatyanarow/Adobe


  • Shimmers:

And finally, don’t let the shimmers scare you. They’re only meant to highlight the eye, not completely cover it and generally go on your lid or inner eye.

“Shimmers illuminate and add dimension,” Wright explains. “They’re perfect for the centre of your lid or inner corner to brighten up the eyes.”



Different eyeshadows showing how to use an eyeshadow palette

Image – Nik_merkulov/Adobe


How to use your eyeshadow palette

There are lots of different ways to approach an eyeshadow palette and you can have so much fun playing around with colours and textures. The rule for any look is to start with a light shade and build it up from there. 

Here are three of the easiest ways to use your eyeshadow palette.


1. The three colour method

If you want to keep it really straightforward, Thomason says to turn the normal rules on their head and just concentrate on a few shades.

“Focus on three. Your first colour should be a neutral tone. Your second is a shade between your lightest and darkest and your third is your deepest shade, usually for the outer corners and lash line,” she explains. 

To use this method, swap the normal rules on working from light to dark shades and you’ll find your can skip ahead a couple of steps.

Sweep your medium shade across your whole eye.  Next, use the light shade on your central and inner lid and the dark colour on your crease (your eye socket), upper lash line and to make a v shape in your outer eye corner (almost like you would if you were creating a winged liner).

TikToker @daphsierra shows how easy it is to create a classic dramatic eye with this method.


3 step eyeshadow look? #lerenoptiktok #makeupforbeginners #eyeshadowtutorial #makeuptips

? Thinking with My Dick (feat. Juicy J) – Kevin Gates

As long as you follow this rule of thumb, Thomason says it will still look gorgeous even if you stay in the neutral colour family. 


2. The highlighting method

To play around a bit more, and to make more use of your shimmer, Devine has a go-to system. 

After using using a neutral across your whole eye, and using your darker shades to define your eye, she brings in her shimmer to highlight. “Use a shimmer colour on the inside corner and across the top of your lid until it lightly touches the darker shade and the nude brown.”

Try Colourpop Blowin’ Smoke Shadow Palette ($14 from Colorpop US) which includes an array of smoky shades in both shimmers and mattes.


3. The colour pop method

Alternatively, you can use your shimmer more centrally.

“Use a darker shade in the outer V of your eye for dimension and finish by applying a shimmer shade to your lid’s centre,” recommends Wright.

This brings focus to the middle of your eye which makes them appear bigger, and if you’ve used a vibrant colour it can really make your eyes pop.


 Image – Nik_merkulov/Adobe


3 pro tips to really elevate your eyeshadow look

There are tons of great tips to make your eyeshadow look amazing but here are some of the quickest ways to instantly up your game (without much effort).

Use Urban Decay Eye Primer Potion (£21 from Urban Decay UK /$27 from Urban Decay US) all over your lids before any eyeshadow and it’ll help it stay crease-free until you remove your eye makeup. 

If you don’t have a primer to hand, try using a concealer across your lid before applying your eye makeup.

  • Invest in more than one really good eyeshadow brush for when you’re using your palette:

“Use three different brushes to apply the different colours,” advises Wright. “[Use them to] blend well to avoid harsh lines.”

I love the Real Techniques Everyday Eye Essentials Set (£19.99 from Look Fantastic UK /$20 from Look Fantastic US) which includes 8 varied brush shapes and is ridiculously good quality for the price.

  • Create bigger eyes:

If using the darker shade of your palette as an eye liner, “avoid applying it underneath the eye as you don’t want to close it up,” advises Kay. “Focus on the top part of the eye to enhance and lift up this part of your face.”


Eyeshadow palette

Image – Newafrica/Adobe


The takeaway

Whether it’s a statement eye or subtle neutral look you’re going for, palettes can create it all. They help to flatter your eyes thanks to the fact that they contain colours that complement each other.

As daunting as eye palettes look when you first open the lid, when you look a little closer, they’re usually grouped in textures (mattes and shimmer) and colour intensities (light, medium and dark). Handy eh? 

This makes it easier to break down what you’re putting where. And once you’ve chosen your colours, then you can play around with darker mattes for contouring the crease, or shimmers to highlight your eye.

Remember to always use an eyeshadow primer so that your look stays on for longer and treat yourself to some good eyeshadow brushes for expert application. 


Meet the experts

Laura Kay is a leading permanent makeup expert and the founder of Laura Kay London. With over 20 years of experience in the cosmetic industry, Laura opened her academy training programme in 2015, teaching her world-class skills to the next generation of permanent makeup artists.


Nyssa Green is the Owner at The Green Room Agency. She has been voted “Best Makeup Artist” in Atlanta 4 times, and has has more than 15 years experience in TV, film, and print. Nyssa’s clients Include: Ebony Magazine, Real Simple, Vibe, Atlanta Magazine, Jezebel, The Atlantan, Simply Buckhead, USA Today, MTV, CNN, Fox 5, NBC, Bravo, and E! News.


Janelle Thomason is an Emmy Award Winning Makeup Artist and CEO of The Makeup Loft and clean cosmetics line, Cosmakery Cosmetics.


Gabrielle Devine is an Emmy-nominated makeup artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. With a diverse client base spanning various industries, she has established a reputation for her exceptional artistry and passion for bringing out the best in every individual she works with.


Monina Wright is a licensed aesthetician and professional makeup artist in the Bay Area. She is the founder + CEO of Moderne Beauty & Esthetics where she works and mentors aspiring makeup artists while helping women achieve their natural glow through individualised skincare.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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