The best thing about eye makeup looks these days: All of the choices. With a dizzying array of eyeshadow formulas on the market, it can be hard to figure out what each type of eyeshadow actually does—and which kind to choose based on your skin type, your lifestyle, and the kind of look you are going for. Here, an eye-opening look at the five main types of shadow (liquid, gloss, cream, cream-gel, and the old standby: powder), plus what makes each so special and unique.
Liquid eyeshadow: A smooth, silky, heavily pigmented eyeshadow that is similar in texture to tinted moisturizer. Liquid eyeshadows come in both matte and shimmery formulas. It is best for those with dry or normal skin. When lids are greasy, liquid shadow tends to slip around and crease. If you have oily skin, choose a waterproof liquid shadow, which will help prevent creasing. This loyal eyeshadow sticks with you all day and all night. Plus, unlike powders, liquids won’t flake off and leave tiny particles of eyeshadow dust under your eyes and across your cheeks.
Application tips: These are very buildable. In other words, you can go very subtle or very bright, depending on how—and how much—you apply. If you want just a hint of color, paint liquid shadow on with a big fluffy synthetic eyeshadow brush. If you are in the mood for a bolder look, apply the shadow with a short compact synthetic brush that will deposit more pigment. You can also use the applicator that comes with the eyeshadow, which will deliver more color than a big brush but less than a compact one. If the shadow is a matte, neutral shade, apply it on the lid and then you can take it up to the brow bone; if you’re wearing a shimmery or bright colored liquid shadow, stop at the crease. Just keep in mind that you need to let liquid eyeshadow dry before layering on other colors.
Eye gloss: Think of this as clear lip gloss for your lids. Since it is thick and a little sticky, it is intended to be layered over colored shadows to give lids a shiny, wet look. Glosses are super dramatic, so they are more of a party look than something you’d wear during the day.
Glosses work on any skin type, and are ideal for those looking for an extra glow. However, they are not long lasting. Glosses are oil-based so every time you blink it wears away and also causes the makeup underneath it to melt—so you are constantly having to touch up or add more.
Application tips: Apply a powder shadow and then smooth the gloss over it with your ring finger—a brush could pull some of the eyeshadow pigment off of your eyelid. Take it all the way up to the brow bone for extra shine.
Cream eyeshadow: Whipped and velvety, cream shadow imparts a medium amount of color, making it very versatile. You can use a matte cream shadow and sheer it out for a natural look or use a bright or shimmery one and build it up for a glam look. Plus, it is quick to apply and can conceal skin imperfections . Those with dry, sensitive skin (it can act as a primer, smoothing and hiding rough, red, rashy skin) and those with wrinkles around the eyes (creams won’t sink into fine lines) can use it best.
Like liquids, creams will usually stay on until you remove them, and they remain flawless throughout the day.
Application tips: Creams can be solid and dense when they are sitting in their pot, so it’s best to apply them with your ring finger. Dipping your finger into the pot warms up the shadow and makes it more malleable and easier to apply and blend. But if you want to create more depth, you could use a clean, flat, concealer brush instead. Cream shadows are also often used as a primer.