How to Apply Shimmery & Metallic Eyeshadow

Learning how to apply shimmery eyeshadow is easier than you think!  Shimmery eyeshadows tend to have softer, more forgiving formulas that blend more readily. I’ve rounded up my go-to tips for working with shimmer and metallic eyeshadows from figuring out what method to start with, what brushes work better, and how to modify your technique to achieve the effect you desire.

Step 1: Choose Your Tool

Consider how you prefer to apply your shimmery eyeshadows before buying a particular formula.  These days, there are more formulations and shades releasing that are best with fingertips, which some have no problem using and others loathe to do so.  I know that for me, while patting a shimmer onto the center of the lid isn’t a hassle, while trying to maneuver color into my inner lid or outer lid with any semblance of precision is nearly impossible with my fingertips!

Other times, an eyeshadow might look its best when applied with a dampened brush (whether water or an adhesive spray, like MAC Fix+), and this is not always a step someone wants to bother with.  You’ll want to look for key phrases like “wet/dry” or “use fingertips for best pigmentation.”

How to Apply Shimmery & Metallic Eyeshadow
Marc Jacobs Beauty See-quins Glam Glitter Eyeshadows

Step 2: Choose the Effect

For greater pigmentation, you’ll want to use denser brushes for creamier formulas and press and gently push and pat the color into place.  The denser brush will do a better job picking up product and then give you greater precision and help with the pressure needed to pat, pack, and press the eyeshadow into place.  I gently pull and sweep in very small back-and-forth motions (like 1-2mm in range) as needed to disperse and spread the eyeshadow over the lid.

Intensify the sheen and shine using a dampened brush or applicator.  With most shimmery shades (true frosts and metallics; satins can depend), it doesn’t usually matter whether a dampened brush is used directly in the pan or not but it’s never a bad idea to pick up product first and then spritz the brush after.

By dampening the brush, it helps bind the eyesahdow better and yields a smoother, more metallic/reflective finish and can sometimes deepen the actual hue of the shade.  Your best bet would be to use an adhesive spray, like MAC Fix+, which dampens but also improves the hold, too.

For a sheerer effect, use a fluffy brush to blow out and diffuse the shimmer.  I know, I know, why did you buy a metallic eyeshadow if you didn’t want a metallic one?  It’s about getting the most out of your eyeshadow–just because it’s metallic doesn’t mean you can’t tamp it down a bit for a different look.  By using a less dense brush, you’ll get a softer result, including the shimmer, and you can get a wet-looking lid while you’re at it.

Fingertips also work well for applying a shimmery eyeshadow all over the lid, as the fingertip’s warmth helps to spread and really diffuse the edges for a one-and-done look.

Step 3: Fixing Common Problems

If you feel like the eyeshadow you’ve used is too metallic, try patting a matte eyeshadow on top to minimize the metallic or shimmery finish.  This can work with translucent powder, but I tend to prefer using a satin or matte shade in a similar hue lightly patted on, which doesn’t alter the base color too much but can tamp down a metallic eyeshadow that might be emphasizing my lid’s texture.

How to Apply Sparkly Eyeshadows
Hourglass Scattered Light Eyeshadow

Smooth out the shimmer of a drier eyeshadow with a dampened brush or a fingertip.  Oh, that shimmer eyeshadow looked so pretty in the pan but on the lid it looks a little blah or almost dry or gritty on the lid instead of reflective and sparkling? It’s not too late–if you press lightly with a fingertip, it can help “melt” the product onto the lid or a lightly dampened brush (without any additional product) minimizes the dryness and can smooth the eyeshadow significantly.

You can even take a dampened brush (without additional product) and gently press and pat over the shimmery eyeshadow to help smooth it out for a more refined finish — this is especially useful if the shimmer emphasized lid texture!

Avoid fallout by using a tacky base or glitter glue/adhesive with sparkling and glittery eyeshadows.  Glitter formulations are getting better over time, but there are still quite a few variations out there that, while not as bad as before, can still have fallout over time and nobody wants glitter in the eye.

I use something like Fyrinnae Pixie Epoxy or Too Faced Glitter GlueToo Faced Glitter Glue, which both help quite a bit (the latter is better for a full-on glitter/sparkle product).  I keep glitter glues confined to the area I want glitter, because I find that other, more traditional eyeshadow bases/primers are easier to apply and blend product over than glitter glues.

For more tips and tricks on applying eyeshadow, check out this post!

Looking for the perfect formula? Check out our favorite eyeshadows.

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I love these posts, Christine. I find that when I am using a glitter glue, and I like Too Faced the best, I prefer mixing the glitter glue and my shimmer/glitter shade on a palette and then tapping on the eye. I have really hooded lids and that seems to work better for me with regards to keeping it from going all over. Also, depending on the look I am going for, I will sometimes create a negative space for the shimmer shade by applying a little concealer, similar to doing a cut crease but not so picky about having it completely cover whatever is on the base. Finally, I like to use the old fashioned sponge tip applicator for applying shimmer/glitter. They work really well for this purpose and when dampening the sponge tip, they seem to hold just the right amount of moisture.
Thank you again, Christine.

Thank you once again for this info Christine, so helpful.
I find I don’t use glittery eyeshadows, but do love metallic foil ones. I generally use a dampened brush, not my fingertips. I find I get a more precise application that way.

In those rare moments where I’m not testing, my preferred method is with a wet brush, too! It’s just easier, and I don’t mind the extra step myself!

Christine, do you find that the drier textured glitter shadows you recommend to go over with a wet brush or finger end up drying out again on the lid? I’ve tries gloss but with my hoods, it ends up a mess. I wonder if there is another product to use – like some sort of carrier – that won’t allow the product to dry out again..

I think using a wet brush (if I’m not testing anything, I’d use something like MAC Fix+, which does have some adhesive properties) leaves it transformed to some degree – especially if you aren’t getting your brush super wet, then it’ll dry right after it’s been applied. I think fingertips helps with initial adhesion, but if it’s super glittery, it doesn’t necessarily help with longer-term adhesion. I think wet (even with water) helps to actually combine the base pigment/product + glitter a bit better.

This is my first comment here, but I just wanted to say that I tried “pick up product first and then spritz the brush after” today for the first time and it is a game changer! I tried it this morning with a little sample size I have of Fix +, and I like it so much that I might buy a full size. Thanks so much for this tip!

I’ve always read about applying glittery/shimmery shades with a “wet brush”, but I thought that meant wetting the brush with water and then going into the eyeshadow pan with the wet brush. I tried it with a KVD palette that I’m not too attached to, and I felt like it didn’t work super great and left the shadows kind of gross after, so I hadn’t tried it again. Now I get it! πŸ™‚

Happy to hear this worked for you, Kat!

Alternatively, you can pick up product and then spritz the back of your hand and dip into that, too. If you wet the brush first, the key is to use as little wet product as possible, and in general, I’d avoid using for anything that’s more satin-matte in finish. Higher shimmers are more tolerating, and of course, some formulas are more forgiving in general!

Thanks! Yes, the mistake I made before was thinking “this isn’t working, I should probably use MUCH MORE water!”. That brush was soaking wet…not a good idea. Now I know!

πŸ™‚ Yeah, I really try to use the word “dampened” over wet brush just because if you’ve never done it, I think dampened might indicate more accurately how wet the brush should be!

We try to approve comments within 24 hours (and reply to them within 72 hours) but can sometimes get behind and appreciate your patience! πŸ™‚ If you have general feedback, product review requests, off-topic questions, or need technical support, please contact us directly. Thank you for your patience!