Beginner Basics: Eyeshadows

Yes it’s been a while since my last post on the Beginner Basics. =/ Sorry. I’ve been putting this one off because eyeshadows is probably the most finicky and difficult post to write about.

This is probably the most exciting and frightening of all the different kinds of makeup out there. Who hasn’t walked by Sephora or MAC and gasped at the ridiculous array of colours displayed there? It also makes going into makeup really confusing, because, possibly more so than any other product, it feels like there are a ton of options out there and you feel overwhelmed on just where you should start.

I’m not going to go into great detail here about what kind of makeup suits what eye type, that is going to be another series of makeup videos/posts all together. What I will do is break down the various different kinds of eyeshadow products – by type, finish, general colour type, and what kinds of eyeshadows are necessary when you start out your first kit. 


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From left to right: pressed powder, loose pigment, cream eyeshadow, and an eyeshadow stick 

Pressed Powder – pressed powder eyeshadows are probably the most common ones there are in the market. They come in all kinds of shades and finishes and coverage, from light to opaque. These can be applied with either your fingers or brushes. They’re probably the easiest to work with when you first start with makeup.

Loose Pigment – these are like the loose powder version of pressed powders, and are usually extremely pigmented. They’re a little messy to work with though, as they have the tendency to spill out into all surfaces. These require brushes to be applied.

Cream – cream eyeshadows are lovely when you just want one colour patted on your lid for a quick look. They can also function as primers, because they give your lid something to stick to. Once applied, these things don’t budge until you use your makeup remover, though if you have oily lids, you might have to prime them as they might cause the cream eyeshadow to break down more quickly, or you might want to stick to powder eyeshadows instead. Also, it means you have to blend them out really quickly because once they set, they’re not going anyway. I actually like using a shimmery cream eyeshadow and then lightly dusting a matte one on top, it looks very sophisticated and gives a lot of depth to the eyeshadow. Store these upside down to prevent them from drying out. 

Stick and Crayon Eyeshadows – these are cream formulas in a stick form. They can be directly applied onto the lid and then blended out with your finger, which is why they’re great to carry around in your makeup pouch when you’re in a hurry.


Terminology that you should know:


Image from here.

The crease and browbone is the more complicated bit. Basically the crease refers to the bit where your browbone meets your eye socket. If you touch your lid (gently!) and poke around a bit you can find that area.

Creases are not always visible. See this image of makeup artist Kandee Johnson below, her crease is completely visible (seen in the second line) as her eyes are deepset.


Image from here.

But if you have a monolid, you’d have no visible crease. Like this image below.


Image from here

Creases are not double eyelids, which are so popular in Asian culture. Double eyelids are a fold of skin (known as a epicanthal fold), that may not always end at your crease (if I applied makeup on my double eyelid for instance, it’d vanish into the epicanthal fold. Also if you pat your lids, you’d notice that the crease is slightly above the epicanthal fold. If you’re still confused, check out Bun Bun’s extensive post about the subject.


Image from here.

If you have Asian eyes, or eyes where there is no visible crease, the picture below shows a great way to apply your eyeshadows; you end up with a very pretty ombre. Sometimes, if you don’t have a visible crease, just don’t attempt to create one with eyeshadow.


Image from here.


Satin – these have a soft subtle sheen to them, think of the low-shine to polyester fabrics. They are the happy medium between a matte and frost, as they have enough of a sheen to keep them from looking completely flat, but aren’t a sparklefest.


Image from here.

Matte – these are well, matte, and have a no-shine finish. Their formulas tend to be a bit more powdery and harder to blend, though recently, brands like Too Faced and Urban Decay have been producing more high quality matte shades. They’re great for adding depth to the eye, as they can be used as a contour shade in the crease. I also like using matte eyeshadows as contour shades for the cheek, as it’s sometimes really hard to find one of the right shade.

Frost/Pearl/Glitter – these have a shimmery high-shine sparkly finish. Sometimes they contain microglitter that may fall off your eye (like many Urban Decay eyeshadows) so you’d want to prep your eyes with primer when you use this. These are great for dazzling eye catching makeup, and work well when paired with a subtle matte colour to give your eye depth.


Image from here

Metallic – metallics have an intense kind of well, metallic finish that resembles the shine of metals. It’s a little harder to find these, but they give a very different statement as compared to frost. Just look at images below.


Highlighters/enhancers – think of these as shades just a little lighter than your skin tone. They’re great for opening up your eyes when you add them to your lower lashline and the inner corners of your eye. Off whites and eggshells (ie. whites with a hint of pink or yellow in them) are great if you’re on the fairer side. If you have warmer, darker skin, avoid the frosty whites and silvers as these have too much contrast with your skintone. Soft gold and rose golds are lovely for medium toned skin. If you’re on the darker side, burgundy, chocolates and dark bronzes are good.

Intensifiers – these are usually shades that are the opposite colour of your own eyes on the artist colour wheel. They’re meant to provide maximum contrast with your eye colour, so they end up ‘popping’. Eg. Blue and green eyes pop with orange/red toned eyeshadows and brown eyes are intensified by shades of green. This requires a little bit of experimentation to figure out what exactly suits your eyes since there are different shades of brown, or some people have flecks of other colours in their eyes you might want to bring out.

Neutrals – These refer to the brown shades that best flatter your skin tone. Think of them as shades that add depth to your eyes.

Accents – these are deep vivid colours that are best applied in minimal quantities for a beautiful pop of colour. Think of a thin line of metallic gold eyeliner along with your usual black liner, a subtle hint of silver to the inner corners of your eyes, or lining your lower lashline with a teal shade. I love these subtle pops of colours as they can spice up an otherwise boring netural eye.


When you buy eyeshadows, it’s usually bought in quads for a reason. A quad of neturals – that is, browns that suit your skintone – is a must. Quads are usually classified into the following types: highlight shade, medium shade, dark shade, liner shade. The medium goes all over the eye, the dark shade in the crease and outer ‘V’ of the eye to add depth, the liner can be used in place of eyeliner (and is usually black or dark brown) and the highlight shade is meant for the inner third of eye and brow bone.vs-makeup-eye-shadow-quad-eye-contact

Image from here

The ‘base’ would be the shade you apply all over your eye, probably up to the browbone (notice how it’s a flesh colour to blend with your skin), and the ‘lid’ shade is applied directly where your eyeball is, kinda, stopping before the crease.

I started out with one of those shimmery quads from Maybelline, and gosh was that a mistake. I remember all four shades were a sparklefest, and I basically looked like I was playing a hooker every time I tried that palette.

Generally, I prefer a matte shade for the darker colours. The darker colours help to add depth and in essence contour your eye. The dark shades are supposed to imitate shadows, so a matte colour is best for this, and really makes the medium shade (the one all over your eye) pop. A good matte brown eyeshadow can also help you contour your face, as I find bronzers on the market either too shimmery or yellow-toned to suit my skintone, and there are so many more eyeshadow shades in the market.

I wouldn’t recommend skimping on eyeshadows. Quality eyeshadows just apply better and blend better. You don’t want to buy a shade that looks beautiful in the pan, and turns out all patchy and dry and impossible to blend once on the lid. Since I’ve gotten hold of Urban Decay eyeshadows, I almost never touch my Coastal Scents ones anymore. And don’t get me started on those 88 colour Sephora ones; while you may feel like you’re getting plenty of bang out of your buck when you buy those, half the shades are going to look a completely different colour when you apply them to your lid because of how dry or sheer they are.

But how do you tell if an eyeshadow is good? Look at a few things:

  • Texture, which is different from finish. How powdery or buttery is the eyeshadow? Powdery doesn’t always automatically bad, but powdery eyeshadows are often associated with a certain chalky quality that means they sheer out too easily as you blend them out, and look nothing like the gorgeous colour that they do in the pan. I didn’t quite understand what it meant to have a ‘buttery’ eyeshadow (ie. richer, smoother, creamier) until I swatched an Urban Decay eyeshadow with my finger. I’d been mostly using MAC before that, so it’s not like I was using really poor quality products, but it was still an amazing moment.
  • Pigmentation. Swatch the eyeshadow, with a finger or a brush. How much does it look like the colour in the pan? Do you have to build multiple layers before you can see it? Generally, you want eyeshadows to be as pigmented as possible, but sheer doesn’t always mean bad; it all depends on what kind of makeup you usually do. If you’re the kind of person who likes sheerer no-brainer type colours you can just pat on the lid, pigmentation probably isn’t a big deal for you.
  • Blendability. Okay maybe there isn’t such a word. But seriously this is important. Imagine you have a lovely, incredibly pigmented eyeshadow on your lid, but it won’t blend out in the shape you want, and you just have a splodge of the colour. Not nice. Make sure that you can actually blend the eyeshadow!
  • Longevity. Most times you can’t actually test this out in the store, and of course this differs from person to person as we all have different kinds of lids, but you can read up reviews for whichever shadows on makeup blogs online!

Tip: I say invest in a good workhorse palette. There are lots of them out there today, and if you’re just starting out you can just get one and play around with it for a good long time. Some popular favourites are:

  • Sleek iDivine Eyeshadow palettes – this British brand is a dream come true; they’re pretty, versatile, and really affordable.
  • LORAC Pro Palette – still in love with this palette, even though I don’t own it (yet). This is a lovely lovely palette with a good range of neutrals (they have browner tones, redder tones, pinker tones) and finishes.
  • Urban Decay Naked or Naked 2 palettes – UD eyeshadows are dense, buttery, a dream to apply and blend. The Naked palette suits those with warmer skin tones, take the Naked 2 if you’re on the cooler side. Avoid if you’re not a fan of shimmers though. Makeup Revolution has similar palettes at a fraction of the cost.
  • Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palette – this one’s on the top of my wishlist right now. It’s beautifully packaged, have more satin and matte shades than the Urban Decay ones, and even have some non-brown shades (burgundy, blue, pink, green) which means the palette is a lot more versatile.

If you’re afraid of the price tag of all the above eyeshadows, do check out this fantastic article from Byrdie for help figuring out what you should spend less on for the rest of your makeup kit.

Also when it comes to eyeshadow application, having a good brush really makes all the difference. I struggled a lot with makeup at first because I’d use a too-dense brush that

I’ve already written up a piece on makeup brushes in general, but here’s a really handy chart from to help make things less confusing.


There’s so much more to be written on eyeshadows; the kinds for your eyes, your skin type, but I hope this helped! Do leave any questions in the comments.

The Beginner Basics Series:
A Beginner’s Guide to Makeup
Beginner Basics: Foundation
Beginner Basics: Makeup Brushes
Beginner Basics: Primers
Beginner Basics: Eyeliner
Beginner Basics: Brows

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