Here's How To Build A Palette You'll Actually Use

We like to think of customizable makeup palettes as the beauty world’s equivalent to In-N-Out Burger’s “secret” menu: You have the option to customize like crazy, as long as you know how to ask.
Let us explain. Buried in the recesses of many cosmetic brands' sites are options to buy blank compacts and fill them with the best possible shades to suit your skin tone and style. MAC, for example, offers more than 100 color options to fill its custom palettes, with anywhere from two to 30 empty spaces — and offers IRL help from its pros in-store, too.
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And there's way more where that comes from: Chantecaille and Surratt both give options to make shadow and blush palettes. Over at NARS, you can hand-select cult classic blush (Orgasm), bronzing powder (Laguna), and shadows (Night Porter), along with contour, pressed powder, and shadows in its Pro Palette. And San Francisco-based eco brand ittsē offers vegan leather notebooks that can be filled with eye shadow, blush illuminator, bronzer, brow powder, and mattifier options — all made in the U.S.A.
Of course, DIY-ing palettes is an option both promising and daunting: Using a compact with no throwaway shades feels like a major win, but with so many options to choose from, building the thing can feel overwhelming. Which is why we enlisted the help of MAC Senior Artist John Stapleton, along with Kerrie Urban and Tasha Reiko Brown, makeup artists who work with celebs like Saoirse Ronan, Keira Knightley, and Jill Scott, for guidance.
Ahead, these pros offer guidelines for how to select the right shades, textures, and product types for your skin tone and lifestyle.
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When shopping for makeup, it’s only natural to gravitate toward those favorite colors that we use to decorate our apartments or fill our wardrobe. Those colors can look beautiful in the pan, but with makeup, it’s best to skip signature shades and choose hues that will best complement your eye color and skin tone.

Urban offers this rule of thumb: “If you look better in silver jewelry, go for cool colors like blue, greys, or purples. If you tend to look better in gold jewelry, go for warmer colors, like golden browns, yellows and auburn.”

Another color-choosing trick? Look for opposites on the color wheel to play up the tones in your eyes. “Complementary colors always make eyes pop,” the makeup pro says. “I love using golden tones on blue eyes (because blue and orange are opposite on the color wheel), red/purples on green (also opposite). Browns look great on almost every color. Deep blue shadow, for example, will play up yellow flecks in brown eyes.” Ultimately, go with whatever you’ll wear most.

“Feel free to break the 'rules,' because there are none,” says Reiko Brown. “The right colors are whichever ones make you feel beautiful.”
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Color correcting with concealer around the eye area has become de rigueur in mainstream makeup as of late. However, Stapleton suggests leaning into our skin’s natural tones instead of stamping out any sallowness, darkness, or rudiness.

“You can create a really pretty look and use a lot less product by working with the tones that naturally show on the lid,” he says. “If your skin is naturally ruddy brown around the eye,or rosy beige, then pick similar colors to use as the base.” Establishing these bespoke neutrals also serve as a great color family guide when selecting the more showy colors in your palette.
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Pre-assembled palettes group variant shades of a color group, or two, for a reason: they’re easier to blend. Our pros suggest you mimic this technique when selecting shadow shades for your own palette.

“I always recommend colors that you can blend and use together or just use on their own,” says Urban. “Be sure to get a range of colors that vary from dark to light, and try not to get two colors that look similar. You can always mix and layer to vary to colors slightly and change your look.”
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Eyeshadow isn’t just for the lids. A pearlescent shade can double as a highlighter and shades of greige-y browns are universally flattering when filling in and defining brows.

“When you’re making a palette, don’t forget to add some brow options,” Stapleton suggests. “If you’re going to choose a few brow colors for your palette, try something that’s close to your hair color and go for one that’s a shade darker.” The lighter shade is great for filling in brows for a daytime look; the darker shade can be used to emphasize the arch or elongate the tail.
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Ever notice that Chanel eye quads feature four different finishes? That’s because varying textures will help create more definition in your look. One fail-safe starting point is to select matte shadows in shades of nude and black.

“These will always come in handy," Stapleton says. "A nice matte black works as a nice liner on its own; or can be used to set black pencil liner for staying power.”

These flat-finish shades are also Reiko Brown’s go to for crepey and oily lids. “They draw less attention to the folds...and are fantastic for setting eyeshadow primer on oily lids,” she notes. Creating a nude base with a matte shadow is a trick she loves for darker lids, too. “Sometimes, lids with a natural deepened color can distort your view of which colors will look best on you, so an even application of nude mattes makes for a great starting place to help with color assessment," she adds.

Brown also turns to dark matte shadows to build intensity for a smokey eye or as a base for shimmery shades. “Shimmer placed on top will give a more solid look with less product,” she notes; when working on crepey lids, “shimmer would draw too much attention to the folds.” Once you’ve nailed down shadow colors, consider the textures of the shades.
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Not so deft with using makeup brushes? Stock your palette with satin-finish shadows. “Satins are foolproof and great for any eye or look,” says Reiko Brown. “They work to give just the right amount of light to the face and take less skill to blend than mattes, but give the same color intensity.” Choose satin finishes for mid-range neutrals to fill the gaps between your matte nudes and blacks or to add color to the mix.

Then, boost your palette with shine. Metallic shadows are essential for amping up a smokey eye or creating a night look, while shimmer finish shadows punch up a simple eye.

“The brightness of a shimmery color on the lid really pops against mascaraed lashes,” notes Reiko Brown. Think about the shade of smoky eye that looks best on you (like black, brown, aubergine, or emerald). Then, pick a metallic shade within that family. When selecting a shimmer shade, go for something that can double as a highlight. “Because shimmers are so eye-catching, they make a great stand-in for highlighter when brushed on the lids and other high points on the face,” explains Brown.
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We all know that "one-size-fits-all" bronzer and contour is far from universally flattering, which is another reason why custom is a great way to go.

To deepen your complexion or fake more-defined cheekbones, Urban offers these shade-selection tips: when picking bronzer (if that's your thing), look for a deep golden shade if you have darker skin. Those with fairer skin should go for a light tan shade spiked with shimmer. “If you have light skin, stay away from orange bronzers to contour — it’s one of the biggest makeup mistakes I see,” Urban advises. Stick to the same rule when selecting a highlighter shade: those with golden undertones work best for dark skin, while illuminators with pink undertones best complement fair skin.
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Before settling on a blush formula for your palette, consider your skin type. “Creams definitely hold up better on people with drier-to-normal skin,” says Urban. “And powders tend to work better for oily skin types.”

Consider this for your eyeshadow formulas, too: If cream shadows tend to crease on your eyelids, opt for a powder version, instead.
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With so many shade options out there, the intuitive choice is to fill your palette chock-full of a brand’s best colors. But Reiko Brown suggests leaving two-to-three blank spaces in your palette to truly make it your own.

“These spaces can be used for mixing colors or can be filled with an essential — like lip balm, which not only works as a lip prep, but serves as a texture adjuster, giving matte lipsticks a glossy or satin look or even adding gloss to shadows,” she says.

Such spaces also allow for importing favorite shades from other brands. Our favorite palette for mixing? The Artis Brush Palette, which comes with 25 disposable trays and 40 plastic spatulas for siphoning foundations, lipsticks, and more.
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