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?