A Beginner’s Guide to Eyeshadow

When I first started wearing makeup, I rarely ever went near eyeshadow because I had no idea how to use it. Heck, I had no idea where to begin; what colours should I try? What brand should I buy? What brush should I use? All these questions and more that we all ask ourselves when venturing into the complex and sophisticated world of eyeshadow, I try to answer for you in today’s post.


1. Formula:
The most common eyeshadow formula is pressed powder, commonly found in palettes and single pans. Other formulas include creams and pigments. Pressed powder formulas are the easiest to use, while cream eyeshadows offer more control in application. Pigments are more time consuming as they require a binding agent to be mixed with, and are therefore the least practical for daily use.

2. Finishes:
Matte, shimmer, satin, glitter, foiled, metallic, glossy, … You get it, eyeshadow comes in all types of finishes. Each of these have their advantages and disadvantages, and therefore are used for specific purposes. Matte finish is the most versatile, however. Shiny finishes are best for highlighting, while other finishes such as glitter and glossy can be tricky for beginners. It’s therefore best to stick with mattes, shimmers and satins when starting out.

3. Uses:
Eyeshadow is used to fulfill 3 main functions:
Contouring: done mostly using matte finish eyeshadow, usually to carve out a desired eyeshape. A common example is using matte eyeshadow to create or intensify the natural crease of the upper eyelid, giving more depth to the eyes.

Matte finish eyeshadows are best for contouring

Highlighting: This is the opporsite of contouring, and consists of adding light to high points of the eyes, such as the center of the upper mobile eyelid, the browbone and the inner corner of the eye. Highlighting requires a finish that can pick up light, such as shimmer or satin.

Shimmers and satins are great highlighters

Colouring: This one is self-explanatory, and the most versatile use of eyeshadow. Adding colour is mostly a matter of preference and style, and this is the case, you can use any type of finish.

Coloured eyeshadows can also be used in different ways.

4. Quality:
When we’re at the makeup store, our first instinct is to swatch products to determine their quality, mostly defined through the level of pigmentation. This is great for cream products such as foundation and concealers. However eyeshadow can be tricky, as a finger swatch will almost always look great. The best way to test the quality of eyeshadow is therefore to search for swatch comparisons. Youtuber Stephanie Nicole does a great comparisons. Another option is to purchase your eyeshadow based on user reviews and try it for yourself. Always keep your receipts to return products if they don’t please you.


1. Materials:
Eyeshadow is generally applied using eyeshadow brushes or fingers. While there are no rules to this, fingers are usually best for applying shimmers and metallic formulas, as they help intensify pigmentation due to our body heat.

Left to right: Duo-fiber brush, Synthetic brush, Natural hair brush

Synthetic brushes (made of nylon, taklon or polyester) are a close second, as they pick up product without absorbing moisture, therefore conserving pigmentation of your eyeshadow.
Natural-hair brushes (made of sable, squirrel and/or goat) on the other hand are known for absorbing water and moisture, so they are best used with powder formulas in general.
Duo-fiber brushes (made from a mix of natural and synthetic hairs, or synthetic only) have become a popular 3rd type of makeup brushes in the past few years as they promote a smoother application.
I want to end this section by stressing that the market today offers many synthetic options that can achieve great results, and they are 100% cruelty free.

2. Shapes:
If you type “eyeshadow brush” on Google Images, you will be instantly overwhelmed with the choice and different shapes. The market is flooded with all kinds of shapes developed especially for particular uses. But for beginners, there are arguably 3 to 4 main shapes that should be part of your brush set. These are:

Left to right: Flat shader brush, Pencil brush, Blending brush

Flat shader brush: Dense and usually has a slightly curved tip, it picks up product easily. Used to apply eyeshadow on large areas of the eye, mostly the mobile eyelid. The shape helps to cover a larger surface, and you can easily find a size that best fits your eye shape/size.
Blending brush: An important brush to have for carving out eyeshape as well as diffusing colour. This type of brush is usually fluffier and has a dome shaped tip. As with the flat shader brush, you can try different sizes to find your best fit.
Pencil brush: This is a slightly advanced, yet easy to use brush. Used mostly for precise application, such as for smoking out the lower lash line, and combines characteristics from the first 2 brushes. It is dense but fluffy at the tip, making it perfect for depositing product as well as blending.


1. Prime Time!
To promote smoother application and blending, most makeup artists recommend priming eyelids. I personally don’t think an eyeshadow base is necessary, as it can be replaced by a thin layer of concealer that you can set with some powder. The product is basically a gimmick in my opinion, but it can be a good helper for those who deal with oily eyelids. Here are a few options I would recommend:
Urban Decay Primer Potion (A holy grail for many makeup lovers)
Art Deco Eyeshadow Base (Shimmery but colour neutral)
Catrice Prime + Fine Eyeshadow Base (Great budget option, long lasting)
Whichever way you choose to go, priming your eyelids is a great way to get the best out of your eyeshadow. Below is a swatch comparison of two different eyeshadows from two different brands; see what difference priming can make:

Eyeshadows applied without priming the skin; Finger swatches are more pigmented than brush swatches.
The same eyeshadows applied after priming the skin are more pigmented, although finger swatches remain more intense.
2. Blend, Blend, Blend!
There was a period of time I could bet this was the most repeated sentence on YouTube. And it’s for a good reason: when you deposit your eyeshadow on the skin, the spot where you first touched your brush is going to hold on to most of the product. As you continue to apply your eyeshadow, you will notice that the colour intensity diminishing, resulting in an uneven application. This is when blending is required. A few good rules to avoid a patchy finish are:

Start small: It’s always easier to add product that to start over, so pick up a small amount of product only, especially when working with dark colours. Tapping off excess product before applying your shadow is also a good habit to keep.
Go lightly
: A light hand is best when applying eyeshadow in general, especially made finishes. Barely touch the surface of the skin with the brush and evenly swipe eyeshadow on the desired area.
Take your time: It’s simple, blending takes time and so you’ll need to be patient and work your eyeshadow until you feel satisfied.

This is all for now guys! I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post and found it helpful! I tried to include as much information as possible without making it too long, so if you have any questions, leave them in the comments! Thank you for reading!

The Foundry girl.


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