How To Apply Every Kind Of Eyeshadow

When we think of our morning makeup routine, there's that one item we just can't leave the house without: Maybe it's a swipe of mascara. Maybe it's a signature lip shade. Maybe it's a quick sweep of bronzer. But eyeshadow isn't always at the top of our must-wear list.

The thing about eyeshadow, with all its colors and formulas, is that while it can be transformative, it can also be intimidating: When should you use pressed shadows versus loose pigments? Does cream create the same effect as a powder? Are all applicators and brushes created equal?

To become pros at all things eyeshadow, we realized that we had to start with the basics. So we tapped Troy Surratt, celebrity makeup artist (he works with female powerhouses like Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman), R29 Beauty Innovator of the Year, and the brainchild behind Surratt Beauty, to answer all our questions.

Breaking it down by type and with the perfect tools for each, Surratt gives us the 411 on how to seamlessly integrate eyeshadow into any makeup routine in the slideshow, ahead.
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The Basics: Single Color
“One of the easiest ways to do eyeshadow," Surratt says, "is to use a single color" — he recommends shimmery, reflective hues like a golden peach, rose gold, or Champagne — "and sweep it all over the lid with a large, fluffy shadow brush."

By applying the color across, from tear duct to the outer corner of your eye, and from your lash line to brow, "It will give a glint to the lid — a light reflection that has an instant brightening affect for the entire eye area.” Plus, it's so easy, everyone can do it.
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The Basics: Dual Color
Once you've mastered the entry-level technique, why not add two shadows to the mix? Pick two complementary colors — a lighter shade to go all over the eyelid and a darker shade that gets added to the crease, which gives depth and contour to the eye area.

Two simple pairings to start with, Surratt says, are: "A beige on the lid with a brown on the crease, or a lavender on the lid with a deeper shade of violet in the crease.

"When you blend the two together, you're giving emphasis to the eyelid. The lighter shade on the lid reflects light and the darker shade accentuates the shape of the eye."
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The Basics: Smoky Eye
When someone says smoky eye, you most likely think of a super-dark, black-and-grey look. But you can create this smoky effect with any group of colors.

"To makeup artists, [a smoky eye] is more of a technique where you create definition surrounding the entire perimeter of the eye that sort of ombrés outward," he explains. "The color is rich and saturated around the lashline and sort of diffuses into nothingness."

To get it: First apply a base color, typically a lighter version of the darker shade you'll use later, all across the lid. Then, take the darker — but still complementary — color, and blend it around the lashline. This method can work with all skin tones and shades, since it's about picking a set of colors that look best on you.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sephora.
The Shadow: Powder
"When we think of eyeshadow we think of powder — a powdered, pressed shadow is the classic incarnation," he explains. "And most women have an aptitude for it; they have a familiarity with it and the ability to sort of know how to sweep it on."

Since the powder is dry and pressed into a neat little pan, it’s easily blendable, and a great place to start, he says, before venturing into other varieties, like creams or liquids.

There are two important things to know about powder shadow:

First, they come in two varieties: pressed (Surratt swears by Dior's five-color palettes) or as loose pigments (he recommends Bare Minerals or MAC's pigment pod).

"Pressed is less messy and easier to use," he says, "but, that said, with a little extra care, using a loose pigment can be great, because they’re usually more concentrated and highly pigmented."

If you're going to opt for a loose pigment, however, Surratt warns: "They have a tendency to flutter a bit more on the brush or applicator than a pressed shadow. So, if the user isn't adept at eyeshadow placement and blending, they can be a little more difficult to use."

Second, they're easiest to blend. "If you’re going to get into shading the crease of the eye with a medium tone to give depth and contour to the eyelid," for example, then powder should definitely be your go-to.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sephora.
The Tool: A Natural-Bristle Brush
"I prefer natural-bristle brushes for dry eyeshadows," Surratt says. "The natural bristle has a cuticle that holds pigment and helps distribute it evenly as you sweep it across the eye area."

They key to finding the best one is, he explains, to purchase the softest and finest quality that you come across — or can afford. "The eye is so delicate and applying makeup should be a sensual experience. Your brush shouldn't exfoliate the eyelid as you sweep it across."
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Photo: Courtesy of Nordstrom.
The Shadow: Cream
Creams come in a variety of options, whether in a stick, pot, or small tube. “Creams are beautiful for giving a high-shine, moist, or wet look to the eye lid," Surratt says. They make a big impact and tend to not be as messy as powders.

Creams also have staying power: "I love Sheseido Shimmer Cream Eye Color in highly universal colors, like light pink and a grey-purple, that are so wearable for many people. They contain a volatile silicone that sort of evaporates and leaves behind a long-wear, cream eye shadow affect."

Creams can be applied easily, too: "With your finger," he explains, "simply take some right out of the pot. Tap and blend it onto the eyelid."
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Photo: Courtesy of Sephora.
The Shadow: Liquid
Fluid or liquid eye shadows — like this Dior Addict one — perform similarly to creams. "They’re really pretty," Surratt says, "and often come with a little brush, so they can be blended straight onto the eyelids. In terms of look, they can offer either a sheer wash of color or can be painted on for a thicker, more opaque, and more concentrated deposit."
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Photo: Courtesy of Net-a-Porter.
The Shadow: Japanese Slurry
Surratt's namesake beauty line seemingly combines the best of powder and cream to create one killer formula. "It's a Japanese technology," he explains, "that starts out wet before it becomes a powder. It begins as the texture of a milkshake or cake batter when it's poured into the pan. Then, the moisture evaporates from it, leaving behind a more beautiful, blendable, powder formula that feels almost creamy to the touch."

This method allows the color to appear sheer or concentrated, is perfect for blending multiple colors, and can be applied both wet or dry.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sephora.
The Tool: Synthetic-Bristle Brush
For creams, paints, and more, Surratt says to always opt for a nylon, taklon, or synthetic brush. "Because they’re synthetic, the bristles don’t absorb the oils in creamier formulas, so you have more playtime and room for blendability."