Crave Color? A Smoky Eye Look with Multiple Shades

Scarlett Johansson shows off her magenta smoky eyes that match her magenta dress at the 2011 Academy Awards.
Scarlett Johansson shows off her magenta smoky eyes that match her magenta dress at the 2011 Academy Awards.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

There's just something about that smoky-eyed look. A few simple strokes of a dark-hued shadow takes a low-key look and makes it sexy, turning a simple style into something mysterious and, most importantly, bringing the focus right to your eyes.

Most people who rock the smoky eye look opt for shades of gray, brown, or black. But that doesn't mean this look can't work with a bold color to reflect your own taste (or match your hot new outfit). Actresses Hayden Panettiere and Scarlett Johansson have been spotted on the red carpet with smoky, purple-rimmed eyes, and songstress Taylor Swift sported green metallic smoky eyes in the video for "Our Song."


Singer Taylor Momsen, known for her dramatic black-rimmed eyes, once told Interview Magazine that she was a fan of red eye makeup. And what about blue? Actresses Camilla Belle and Anna Kendrick have both been photographed using blue shades to add drama to their lids. Clearly there's something to this trend.

Taking a tried-and-true makeup technique like the smoky eye and adding a daring color is sure to turn some heads. Keep reading to find out how to make this look work, from choosing the right colors to blending them in just the right way.

The smoky eye look can be pulled off in several ways, but the most common is to use three colors: a highlight, a midtone and a contour. The highlight is the lightest of the three shades, and is applied high up on the lid beneath the eyebrow. The midtone is the middle shade, and it's used on the middle of the lid and in the crease. The contour is the darkest of the three shades, and it gets applied closest to the lash line.

All three shades should be in the same color family -- so, for instance, you'll want a dark purple as a contour, a medium purple as a midtone and a very light purple or neutral color as the highlight. Many eyeshadow kits come with these three shades all in one, so if it's your first try at the smoky eye look, a kit might come in handy.

So what color family should you choose? Remember that what makes the smoky eye look is that it's dark and deep -- so sticking to bolder shades will create the desired look. Your contour color should be strong: brown, black or gray is the norm, but a deep plum, a dark navy or even a forest green can rejuvenate the look.

You can match your eyeshadow to your outfit, like Scarlett Johansson did with magenta eyes to match a magenta dress at the Oscars. Or, go in a completely different direction to bring the focus up to your face, like the bright purple eyeshadow Rihanna wore with her red dress at a Gucci event to benefit UNICEF.

Now that you've got your colors picked out, let's arrange them in just the right way. Next up: layering and blending.

Note how the different shades of gray are blended here for a smoky effect.
Note how the different shades of gray are blended here for a smoky effect.

The trick to getting the three shades you choose to come together in a smoky look, without looking too harsh, is to layer and blend.

There are plenty of methods for applying your shadow, but the most common method is to (1) apply contour all over lid from lash to crease, (2) apply midtone in the crease all the way out to the edge of your eye, and (3) apply highlight from crease to brow. Some people put on a cream concealer first to make the colors last longer.

As you apply each color, overlap into the area of the next color. Overlapping is pretty important here -- you can even go as far as applying highlight all over from lash to brow, then applying midtone from lash into the crease and applying contour on the lid. This will ensure a good mingling of colors.

Next, use your finger or a brush to blend the edges where the colors meet. This will smooth and soften the effect and ensure there aren't any hard lines between shades. Blend upward, gently, from the dark shade into the lighter shade.

Finally, apply a small amount of contour color along your lower lash line, smudging and blending the edge to give it a softened look. And don't forget the eyeliner and mascara! A smoky eye look isn't complete without a complementing shade of eyeliner and a thick coat of mascara to further darken up your eyes.

For more ways to kick your style up another notch, take a peek at some of our other makeup articles on the next page.

Related Articles


  • Beautylish. "Celebrity Trend: Smoky Blue Eyeshadow." Nov. 1, 2011. (May 17, 2012).
  • Carmindy. "Get Positively Beautiful: The Ultimate Guide to Looking and Feeling Gorgeous." Hachette Digital, 2008.
  • Jones, Robert. "Makeup Makeovers: Expert Secrets for Stunning Transformations." Fair Winds, 2005
  • Jones, Robert. "Makeup Makeovers - Weddings: Stunning Looks for the Entire Bridal Party." Fair Winds, 2006.
  • Marie Claire. "Get the Celebrity Look: Smoky Eyes." Sept. 10, 2011. (May 8, 2012).
  • Nika, Colleen. "Dirty Pretty Thing: Taylor Momsen." Interview, Aug. 23, 2010. (May 17, 2012).