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How to Apply Cream Eyeshadows & How to Apply Liquid Eyeshadows

Stila Shimmer & Glow Liquid Eyeshadows
Stila Shimmer & Glow Liquid Eyeshadows

I find that the application of cream and liquid eyeshadows doesn’t differ much (a lot of the same “rules” apply to both, I’d say!) but how you should apply each depends entirely on the result you’re trying to achieve!  A reader requested that I share some of my tried and true tips and tricks for working with liquid and cream eyeshadows after recently reviewing and posting this look and this look using Stila’s newest liquid eyeshadows.

General Tips

  1. Your mileage may very tremendously depending on the formula.  Unlike the powder eyeshadow, one brand’s cream eyeshadow and another brand’s cream eyeshadow can vary wildly, which can mean that one application method will work well for but not the other.  This is often related to product density, how emollient/liquid the formula is, how pigmented it is, and how long it takes to dry down.  Experimentation is vital.
  2. Wetter formulas can take longer to dry, so it will be more important to keep eyes closed while waiting to dry (to minimize product getting into creases and lines) or a thinner, sheerer layer applied, set, and then built upon with a second layer for greater coverage if desired.
  3. If an eyeshadow has taken a bit of time to dry down and has pulled into any fine lines or creases, you can easily diffuse and soften any creasing preemptively by using a fluffy brush or patting with fingertip over the area as it is drying down. It’s a bit like under eye concealer; sometimes you have to let it do its thing, crease a little, and then go back and blend after it has some time to dry down but isn’t cemented on yet!
  4. A lot of liquid eyeshadow applicators are over-sized and disperse more product than needed, so using a separate tool (fingertips or otherwise) is often a better choice than the included applicator (often, a doe-foot).
  5. You can dust translucent or similar-colored powder on top to help set and prevent creasing over time.
  6. Cream and liquid eyeshadows tend to be easiest to work with on the lid or all-over so I often prefer to lay down powder eyeshadows in my crease area or above it and then applying cream/liquid eyeshadows on the lid itself.
  7. I find applying powder before cream eyeshadows makes it easier to avoid disrupting the cream eyeshadow once it has dried down, as some formulations can flake off with too much blending once they are set, so I try to do more of the blending ahead of time and then only go back in to darken or soften after the cream eyeshadow has set if necessary.

As a Standalone Eyeshadow

  1. Most formulas apply best with a flat, synthetic brush (some like MAC’s 242, which I’ve found difficult to dupe, but concealer brushes often work well in its place).  The synthetic material ensures that it doesn’t get sucked into the bristles, which gives better color coverage and payoff as well as gets more even coverage in a single layer.  I use about half of the length of the brush flattened against the surface of the eyeshadow’s surface or on the applicator (for liquid eyeshadows) and then apply as appropriately.  If you need to apply the product to a small area, try using a lip brush (or something like Urban Decay’s E213), which has a similar shape, but is much smaller.
  2. Use a clean, fluffy brush (synthetic preferred) to soften edges as they are drying down, as this helps to soften the edge without adding more product nor sheering out the bulk of the placed eyeshadow.
  3. When working with multiple shades, it is often best to work dark to light and having multiple brushes on hand really goes a long way to avoid muddying colors up as it is harder to fully wipe away excess otherwise.  You can try using a quick-drying brush spray, which are alcohol-heavy, and wiping on a paper towel if you only have a couple of brushes.  I would avoid doing this with brushes with natural hair, though.
  4. By working dark to light, you can gently pull and diffuse the lighter shade over the darker shade while maintaining the intensity of each shade on its own.  I find that working light to dark can result in too much of the darker shade coming through as the lighter shade is dry by the time I’m blending out the dark, so inevitably, the darker shade ends up having to be diffused over the light, resulting in a larger, darker section than I may have anticipated.
  5. For more glittery formulations, you’ll want to work quickly when it comes to blend because as the glittery eyeshadow dries down, blending will just result in loosening the sparkle/glitter, which will cause fallout.
  6. If you’re only using one cream eyeshadow over a larger area, sometimes a fingertip works just as well as a brush, and fingertips tend to be slightly better in softening edges if it is a drier or thick formula where the warmth from fingertips can soften and make the product more malleable.

As a Sheer Wash of Color

  1. Fluffy, synthetic brushes (I like Real Techniques Base Shadow Brush or IT’s All-Over #322) work well for getting some color onto the center lid and then work well to diffuse the edges in light, circular motions to spread and buff out the edges. To pick up product, use the edge only and swirl softly in the pot or lightly dab the edge onto a liquid eyeshadow applicator and gently buff in 2-3, circular rotations on the back of the hand prior to applying to the lid (this step is particularly important if you are working with a more pigmented formula).
  2. Apply using a clean fingertip (or get a little on the back of your hand using a spatula or end of a brush handle) by patting on the center of the lid and diffusing outward and upward.  Often, the warmth of the fingertip can help make the eyeshadow more malleable and spread quickly.

As an Eyeshadow Base

  1. If you’re looking just to lay down a wash of cream eyeshadow as a base, applying and blending out with fingertips is quick and efficient.  It’s also a good way to get a thinner layer across a larger area without fear of it drying down too quickly.
  2. For more precision, use a flat, synthetic brush (some like MAC’s 242, which I’ve found difficult to dupe, but concealer brushes often work well in its place) to lay down the product on the area you want and then use the edges of the brush to gently diffuse the edge if desired.
  3. The most important part of application in my experience is ensuring that the layer is even in thickness and has minimal patchiness (unless I’m really packing on a much deeper, more pigmented product on top, then the patchiness often doesn’t matter).  If it’s an uneven layer, that just ends up coming through more and more with powder products layered on top.

As Eyeliner

  1. You’ll want to use a synthetic, angled or thin liner brush; I like angled brushes best with cream and gel eyeshadows that are quite pigmented and a bit denser.  Thin liner brushes work better for me when I’m using a runnier, more watery, or liquid formulation.  Here are some of my favorite brushes for detail work.
  2. Some formulations apply better in short strokes, picking up more product as necessary, and others can be applied in a more fluid, one-stroke motion and then repeated for greater intensity if desired (not all liquid/cream formulas layer well–this is particularly true with thicker, chunkier finishes and very liquid eyeshadows that take longer to dry down).

How do you apply your cream and liquid eyeshadows? What applications and tools work well for you?

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23 Comments

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Very helpful! I hadn’t thought to do the dark colors before the light ones. I’ll try that next time.

Agree about using fingers or synthetic brushes. The best brushes I’ve found for applying cream shadows are a very old, long-discontinued Sephora Professional Shadow brush #26, and two Laura Mercier brushes: Creme Eye Colour brush (very similar to the old Sephora brush) and the Creme Eye Detail brush. The Eye Colour brush is for laying down the color (but a finger works just as well), whereas the Detail brush works well in the corner. If I had to use just one brush (and my finger of course!), it would be the Detail brush for sure. (Macy’s or Nordstrom’s carry both LM brushes.)

Thank you! I have only begun to dip my toes in cream shadow/shadow sticks because with my hooded eyes, I have a very hard time finding formulas that don’t crease but I’m also finding my skills for applying them are not as good as application with powder eye shadows. I appreciate the tips!!

I think Stila’s are by FAR the best. All the other brands I have tried in this liquid formula chip off later in the day. Stila looks great all day and night. And so many colors now…I hadn’t seen all those colors in your pic!

Thank you Christine, this is very helpful. I will be printing this out and referring to it for applying my Stila Liquid Eyeshadows. There were a few tips I didn’t know and as usual you came through with some amazing ones.

Thank you so much Christine. This is amazing! I’ve been playing with my Stila Liquid shadows more recently, 4th of July and birthday festivities, and this guide will certainly help me get more use out of them.

Thank you for taking the time to provide such thorough advice. I’m glad I’m not the only one that finds liquid eyeshadows more difficult to deal with. Everyone is constantly raving about how great the Stila formula is but mine has looked like a hot mess. Now I’m hopeful after reading all this advice. You da best 😊

All really good tips. Cream eyeshadows take some application learning time (so different from powder and each can perform differently with different application tecniques), but I think it’s worth the time and trouble because the looks they make can be absolutely stunning (and last for hours and hours).

I only have two liquid shadows, and neither has been a problem for me, but this is definitely a useful guide to have as I’m sure to buy more in the future and my luck with “good in one try” formulas will almost certainly run out.

Thank you Christine, these are really helpful tips! I’ve started experimenting with the ‘Cut-Crease’ type looks and the concealer on the lid method that you see everywhere on IG and on YT now. The links you’ve got to some for some of the brushes you use are really helpful for me as I’ve realized I need smaller synthetic brushes for the detail work.

Hi Christine,

I’m coming back to this post because I bought Tom Ford duo in Azure Sun, which is really lovely, but extremely emollient, and takes some time to dry – I actually have a bit more of a patchiness issue than with Golden Peach, although, as you said in a previous post, the glitter can really save the day; and it’s a nice look if you want something a bit more… undone. Anyway!

I usually swear by Nars Smudgeproof Primer but am currently using the Anti-Aging UDPP, which has the same consistency, and doesn’t really help with the patchiness. So I figure the Nars wouldn’t either. I was wondering if something more tacky would help? Maybe something like P. Louise base, which seems quite thick and tacky? I’d love to read your thoughts – or anyone’s for that matter – on that, if you have any!

Have a nice day 🙂

I haven’t tried P. Louise, so I have no idea if that would be better or how it would work with it!

Usually, to cure patchiness in a cream eyeshadow, I would layer a similar eyeshadow on top to help “fill in” the gaps!

Yep, the glitter part of the duo helps a lot with patchiness! I also have a feeling applying more emollient shadows in light strokes, with a finer brush, helps, because there’s not so much product at once. And having patience while it dries down :p

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