How to Apply Matte Eyeshadow

Matte eyeshadows are popular because they are often more forgiving than shimmers when it comes to emphasis of lid texture and lines, while they’re a classic way to add definition and depth to any eyeshadow look.  Previously, I published my tips on working with shimmery eyeshadows, and now, I’m sharing my tips on how to apply matte eyeshadows.

For general tips on eyeshadow application, check out this guide.  If you need help with blending, this post should help. If you’re looking to learn more about applying liquid eyeshadow or cream eyeshadow, well, that’s covered, too. ☺

What to Know Before You Apply

Dampen your brush after picking up the eyeshadow unless the product explicitly says it is a wet/dry formula, though my experience is that even wet/dry matte eyeshadows can sometimes harden over time (for help on working with stiffer formulas or removing hard pan, see this post).

I’d err on the side of caution and spritz your brush or applicator with water or your adhesive spray after you’ve already picked up the eyeshadow.  I often will spritz the back of my hand, effectively using my hand like a makeup artist would use a metal palette to mix or squeeze product onto.

Viseart Milieu Palette

Clean your brushes regularly to avoid natural oil and shimmer build-up, which help keep your matte eyeshadows usable for longer and minimize shimmer transfer.  This goes for anyone who uses a hair sponge or Color Switch between eyeshadows–you’ll want to be careful with mixing mattes and shimmers if you are a die-hard, matte finish lover because shimmer will sneak up on you otherwise! The natural oils that can get built up in a brush can transfer onto the surface of your matte eyeshadow, which will harden it over time.

Use a paper towel to gently rub off harden surfaces that can occur over time with repeated use of mattes.  Some formulas are more prone to this than others–firmer, stiffer, and/or thinner powder mattes seem to be most prone to this, which is why you sometimes see testers in stores that feel very hard and have little color payoff because it’s collected so much oil from fingertips over time.

Applying Matte Eyeshadows

Applying mattes in the crease before shimmers keeps mattes matte with less effort.  Whenever I apply matte eyeshadows into my crease after I’ve applied shimmers to my lid, I end up with a lot more shimmer in my crease than intended.  If I lay down my matte eyeshadows in my crease or on my brow bone first, I find that there’s little shimmer migration/transfer from any blending I’ve done for the shimmers.

In the same vein, using a separate brush for shimmers and one for mattes will also ensure that the finishes stay more distinct and only merge and blend when and where you want them to.

Building up coverage is a useful technique, so don’t think you have to buy the most pigmented eyeshadows ever nor apply color in a single application.  It is much easier to control the end result of a look by applying color more gradually, especially with deeper or more intense shades.

I find this is often truer with matte eyeshadows because they often take the place of adding depth, like into the crease, and so building up gives me the precision and ability to control how intense (or how soft) the look gets.

A good example is working with black eyeshadow: sometimes buildable is so much easier as it ends up more versatile and more foolproof than an intensely pigmented, rich black where one feels like even the littlest amount ends up being too much.

Viseart Cool Mattes Palette

Powder over creamier and tackier bases if you’ve found that whatever primer or base you’re using causes your matte eyeshadows to darken too much for your liking or mattes become difficult to blend.  Creamier and tackier bases can absorb the matte powder better but then keep it locked in place too well that it is harder to blend out or darkens unevenly (resulting in a patchier appearance overall).

If you use a flesh-toned powder or translucent powder and dust it over the prepped lid, that can help improve blendability.  However, I don’t find this method always works and can cause some eyeshadows to appear faded or result in poorer adhesion, so this is a step that’s worth trying and seeing how it fits (or doesn’t) in one’s routine.

Blend slowly, surely, and precisely.  You don’t necessarily need to vigorously blend two eyeshadows into each other to get them to blend; start off with slow, precise movements, like small circular motions, where the two colors meet.  I like this slower approach for matte eyeshadows as over-blending can result in bald spots, patchiness, and can muddy quickly, especially if the two shades aren’t that contrasting.  For a detailed breakdown of how to blend your eyeshadow, check out this post.

If the eyeshadow formula seems very powdery, check out our troubleshooting tips for working with them here.

Looking for the perfect formula? Check out our favorite eyeshadows and must-have eyeshadow palettes.  You can also browse best matte eyeshadows by skin tone here.


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c.m.berkers Avatar

Great tips, Christine. I have little folding face/eyebrow razors that are excellent for removing hard pan surfaces. I also find that my natural hair brushes blend mattes out seamlessly and with less effort than my synthetics but YMMV, of course.

I never thought to wet my brush AFTER picking up shadow either but that makes perfect sense – I make my own mixing medium and I have a handy dandy little spray bottle that would be perfect for this 🙂

kjh Avatar

Great…and thanks. What is a Hair sponge? The hue switching pan does contaminate shimmer with matte pretty easily. That’s one of the great things about eye brush dupes; one for mattes, one for shimmers. I wound up with a few pairs of dupes from Zoeva, and it just made sense to keep the bamboos, for instance, for mattes, and the blacks for shimmers. Otherwise, it’s a clean fest all too often. Those ubiquitous black shadows were getting my goat, and i tried using one of those small WG crease brushes On TOP of the crease color and blending out with a larger, fluffier, and was surprised that it worked, lol. Using black under just grabbed on the primer and was way too intense. Some consumer reviewer on B’lish said about Savavah, not to use windshield motions, but to place more and blend less. I found that can help with certain formulas too, because all matte formulas are not created equal. I think you have to think more about mattes than you do shimmers, and that’s why I’m reading your ‘powdery’ post next.

Christine Avatar

Yeah, I ended up getting two Color Switches so one is for shimmer, one is for matte! If you’re good, you could probably mark it in a way that divides it a bit. If you google “hair donut” you’ll see netting that looks very similar to the Color Switch!

Having multiple brushes is definitely nice, though!

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