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Plus, our tip for picking the right shade for you.

By Melissa Goldstein
Updated May 19, 2020
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woman wearing neutral eyeshadow
Credit: The Morrisons

There is a small, unassuming workhorse tucked inside every makeup artist's bag. It isn't as flashy as its more colorful counterparts in the pan (and rarely gets much recognition), but neutral eyeshadow—those beautifully soft beiges, tawny taupes, and warm browns—has the power to enliven and define your eyes in a single sweep. And there's a just-right shade with your name on it.

Choose a Shade and Formula

Timeless, tasteful, and foolproof, neutral shadows are "throw-on-and-go, and they work with every complexion and eye color," says makeup artist Steve Kassajikian. Pick a shade that's slightly darker than your skin and shares the same undertone (be it warm or cool). For more definition, go deeper.

Creamy crayons get an A for effortless. Draw the color on, and blend it in with your fingers. We love Clinique Chubby Stick Shadow Tint for Eyes in Ample Amber, ($19, ulta.com). Meanwhile silky pressed powder pigments mattify oily lids, layer beautifully, and crease less often than other consistencies. Metallic creams set fast and cast a radiant sheen. Look for a chrome finish without any glittery flecks, like Charlotte Tilbury's Eyes to Mesmerise in Marie Antoinette ($32, sephora.com). For a glossy option, this luminous veil RMS Eye Polish, ($28, rmsbeauty.com) is your sheerest choice. Pat it sparingly onto lids or brow bones for a subtle glow, says makeup artist Jo Levy.

Consider a Base

If you have a long day ahead, lid primer is a worthwhile extra step. "It absorbs oil and gives makeup something to grab onto, so your shadow blends easily, resists creasing, and lasts," Kassajikian says. Tinted versions are an even sounder insurance plan: They neutralize red undertones, which means pigments stay vivid and true. We're partial to Smashbox Photo Finish Lid Primer ($21, sephora.com).

Sweep Wisely

A good brush evenly lays down powder shadows, helping set them in place. Levy recommends keeping two handy: A medium-size flat one, to impart color on the lid and up to the brow bone (use the tip to smush color into the crease); and a stiff-bristled one with a straight or angled edge, to line your eyes. We like the Mally Beauty Double-Ended Eyeshadow Brush ($35, qvc.com). With creamy formulas, you can press the tint on with your fingertips, so it "melts" into skin. "It looks more natural that way," says makeup artist Janel Derrick.

Dial Up the Drama

Don't let these mild-mannered colors fool you; they can look striking and even sultry when amplified. Layer textures for a richer effect. "Apply a powder eye shadow over a cream one, or a shimmer atop a matte," says makeup artist Luis Casco. You can also dampen your brush before dipping it in powder to exaggerate the intensity. And smudge mahogany or copper along the lower lash line for a smoky look. Another good tip: Do your eyes before foundation, so any fallout can be easily dusted off.

A Primo Palette

We've all bought a tantalizing new compact of multiple shadows only to find that just a few are truly wearable. But BareMinerals Gen Nude Eyeshadow Palette in Rose is an exception ($29, ulta.com). It has six flattering options, a mix of finishes, and not a dud in the bunch. We recommend that you start at the top, and brush colors Haze or Pixie onto your brow bones, then dabbing around the inner tear ducts to catch the light. Then, use one fo the shimmery choices like Boho or Free Spirit to accentuate the lid. Fill in the fold with Windshieldwipe Soul into your crease to contour. If you have hooded eyes, extend it slightly above the crease. Finally, add an accent by dampening a straight-edged brush and dipping it into Stargazer, using as a liner.

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