TikTok Taught Me How To Do ‘Cool Tone’ Makeup & I’m Obsessed

Cast your mind back to the 2010s for a moment. Which makeup look has you in a chokehold? I'll go first: lots of contouring, a bronze smoky eye and highlighter so shimmery it could be seen from space were the ultimate trends.
Thanks to Instagram, not to mention influencers such as the Kardashian-Jenners, it felt as though this kind of makeup would stand the test of time. But as we segue into 2023, it seems the bronzy, glowy beauty look is slowly falling out of favour — particularly among TikTok's new wave of makeup artists.
Now, it's cool tone makeup's time to shine.

What is cool tone makeup?

Cool tone makeup does away with the warm oranges and golds reminiscent of sun-kissed makeup. It champions muted tones like grey, purple, blue and natural brown.
Cool tone makeup might be trending (21.1 million TikTok mentions and counting) but it's not exactly brand-new. Cool tones reigned supreme throughout the '80s (think frosty blue eyeshadow) but it's in the '90s that the trend really took off and became the most wearable.
Think: Pamela Anderson and her smoky grey eyeshadow with loaded black lashes. Not to mention Naomi Campbell, Drew Barrymore and Victoria Beckham, who all rocked some combination of an icy eye and a sepia lip. Most recently, Wednesday's Jenna Ortega went viral for her take on cool tone makeup using MAC's Lip Pencil in Nightmoth and Eyeshadow in Carbon, while Euphoria's Alexa Demie and Barbie Ferreira are pretty much the poster girls for a cool tone eye.

How do you do cool tone makeup?

Right now, I'm in something of a makeup rut. I tend to flit between classic winged liner and a red lip, then back to something more understated and dewy. Cool tone makeup has my name written all over it, especially as it's also being referred to as 'soft goth' (and I had a serious emo phase).
So here's everything I learned about nailing the look from some of TikTok's cool tone makeup connoisseurs.

Concealer makes the best eyeshadow primer

First up, eyeshadow. TikTok makeup artist Zak Taylor's cool tone makeup tutorial is so good that even Lady Gaga felt the need to compliment him in the comments. Don't waste your money on expensive eyeshadow primers, hints Zak, as concealer is just as good. Not only does it provide stick but it lends a blank canvas so that any eyeshadow you apply on top appears seamless. I used MAC Studio Fix 24-Hour Smooth Wear Concealer, £22. Also try NYX Professional Makeup HD Photogenic Concealer Wand, £6, or Revolution Conceal & Define Concealer, £4.99, if you're on a budget. Don't be shy with it, either.

You only need two eyeshadow brushes

Though the smoky grey eyeshadow look may appear intricate, you only really need two brushes, said Zak: "A flat brush to pack on the shadow with and a medium sized blending brush to blend the edges." I've had the Spectrum Collections Millennial Pink 8 Piece Eye Blending Set, £34.95, for years and the brushes always wash well.
Zak used Natasha Denona Mini Xenon Eyeshadow Palette, £24, but I gravitated towards VIEVE Ninetease Palette, £45, which has lots more shades and is basically the '90s in a pan. On my angled Spectrum brush, I combined shades PHASE and WHTVR and buffed the shadow into the crease of each eye, like TikToker and beauty content creator @poppyrawson1, leaving the centre of my lid blank.
You can be messy, said Zak, as long as you have a clean fluffy brush to hand. Go back and forth over the eyeshadow to blend it seamlessly until you're happy. This eyeshadow look is all about the contrast between light and dark. Popping a lighter shade onto the centre of the lid is the key to nailing it. Using my index finger, I packed on shade SKIMP from the Ninetease palette.
@taylorcaldwell Cool tones >>> (Cool tone makeup has been all over my FYP lately and now I get it ! It’s so underrated 🖤) #makeup #cooltone #cooltonemakeup #makeuptransition #makeuptutorial #eyeshadowtutorial ♬ theyd be bens partner - bells

It's not complete without eyeliner

No Pamela Anderson-inspired makeup look is done without a feline flick. TikToker Cas Jerome uses eyeshadow to fashion a smoky wing but this takes a level of skill I don't really have. Instead, I went in with a liquid eyeliner pen like Zak, who used NYX Professional Makeup Epic Ink Eye Liner, £9.
Rest your elbow on a hard surface for the ultimate precision and begin by drawing an angled line from the outer corner of your eye. Start where the line ends and come back on yourself, drawing all the way to the centre of the lid. Fill in the space and repeat on the other side. Here's a step-by-step winged eyeliner tutorial.
One thing all TikTok's cool tone makeup advocates have in common? They load up on mascara. I used YSL Lash Clash Mascara, £29 (a Refinery29 Beauty Innovator Award Winner) on my upper and lower lashes. A cheaper alternative is L'Oréal Paris Lash Paradise Castor Oil-Enriched Volumising Mascara, £11.99, which is just as brilliant at beefing up lashes (even the teeny tiny ones).

Blush or bronzer – anything goes

Pro makeup artist and TikToker Megs Carhill chose to offset their cool tone makeup look with a pop of icy pink blush but I felt that this looked a little too cutesy. I dusted Morphe Bronze Show Velvet Matte Pressed Powder, £13, into the hollows of my cheeks for more of a contoured effect, which offset the eye look perfectly.
One thing most TikTok makeup artists tend to ditch when creating this look is highlighter. In fact, any sparkle at all. The more matte, the better.

Choose a dark lip liner

The tawny lip is the pièce de résistance of this look and you'll need two products: a creamy, matte lipstick and a lip pencil which is at least two shades darker. For a true '90s nude, I'd recommend VIEVE Modern Matte Lipstick, £21. I used shade Ninetease but Treasure, Comin' In Haute and Power Suit are all reminiscent of the era. There are only a handful of shades, so also try Fenty Beauty Icon Semi-Matte Refillable Lipstick, £18, which is available in plenty more nude and berry hues to suit all skin tones. Pat a little translucent powder over the top to achieve more of a matte finish.
If you aren't a fan of matte lipstick, which can sometimes be drying, make like TikTokers Shira Soto and Taylor Caldwell. Simply line your lips and apply clear lip gloss in the centre.

Prepare to feel...different

There's something about cool tone makeup that makes me feel like a true badass. Perhaps it's because the vibe is a lot moodier compared to trends like 'cold girl' makeup (which enhances the skin with lots of baby pink blush) or the viral 'model complexion' hack (which is all about paring things down). The brooding grey and dusky umber shades distinctive of cool tone makeup pack a serious punch. It's a look to get you noticed and I'll be wearing it well into next year.
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