Makeup Troubleshooting: My Eyeshadow is Too Hard or Too Stiff!

Firmer eyeshadow formulas are pressed more firmly into the pan, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but firmer eyeshadows require some modification of techniques and tools in order to get the most pigmentation and blendability out of them.

One upside is that firmer formulas tend to work best for building up coverage and often don’t suffer from fallout.  Below, you’ll find my best tips and tricks to get the most out of your firmer/stiffer formulas for better results!

Here are some examples of firmer, denser, and/or stiffer formulations that I’ve tried:  Make Up For Ever Artist Color ShadowsMAC Eyeshadows, and NARS Eyeshadows.  Most metallic shades these days tend to be denser/creamier and/or thicker, so some of this section would apply to shimmery shades from these formulas as well:  MAC Extra Dimension Eyeshadows, NARS Dual-Intensity Eyeshadow, and Tarte Tarteist Metallic Shadow.

MAC Art Library Palettes

Use More Pressure

Use a heavier hand because the surface of the pan is stiffer and firmer, so there’s little fear of picking up too much product on a brush, and depending on just how firm or stiff the formula is, it may range from moderate pressure to heavy pressure.

Push and lightly jab at the pan with the edge of a brush when you want to get more pigment.  I prefer a pushing technique over a swirling or sweeping technique when picking up my powder eyeshadows in general (but I’m all about that ~pigment~), where I a flat, shader brush (like a MAC 239) and use the tip of the brush and gently push the pan a few times to dislodge product, and then I pick it up with more of the brush’s surface area so that I can pat it onto the lid.

Use a firmer touch when blending out the eyeshadow.  You’ll likely want to use more circular motions or more pulling along the edge, which will move the pigment a little more than more gentle, sweeping motions.  Sometimes I find that using my shader brush (like the MAC 239) and that edge is more effective than a softer, tapered crease brush (like Hakuhodo J142) because it does a better job of pulling the pigment up and out.

>> Check out our in-depth guide to blending out your eyeshadow perfectly here!

Use Flatter, Denser Brushes

Use flatter, denser brushes with creamier and more silicone-based powder eyeshadow formulas.  These types of brushes are often synthetic eye brushes that are marketed for cream and liquid usage, but they tend to do well with these denser (but creamier, not too stiff) formulas–like heavily shimmered, more metallic eyeshadows.  I find brushes like MAC’s 242 work well, but I’m also a huge fan of Smith’s 253, which is a natural option.

Use a scratchier brush for blending out edges.  This is why the softness of a brush isn’t always the most important feature!  Sometimes, you’ll want a slightly scratchier, rougher brush (this is not to say it should be painful or irritating; e.g. squirrel hair is far softer than goat but goat is still soft yet blends more efficiently), which will move the eyeshadow more efficiently.   The longer spent blending, the higher risk one has of muddying everything in the end.

Make Up For Ever Artist Color Shadow

More Tricks & Tips

Build up intensity to avoid having a nightmare of a time blending out a stiffer eyeshadow, because often, the firmer and stiffer the eyeshadow, the more strongly it adheres to the lid and less blendable it is.

What I like to do, particularly with richer or darker hues, is to apply in layers, gradually building color intensity so that it is strongest exactly where I want it and I simply don’t layer on as much on areas that I want it to be more diffused or blended.  It ends up looking more blended without actually blending it out as a result.

>> If you’ve having trouble getting pigmentation, make sure you’re prepping your eye properly!

Use similarly-hued, lighter shade to help blend and diffuse edges.  If all else fails, I’ll take another eyeshadow (hopefully one that’s a bit less stiff!) and layering it just above the harsher edge I want to blend and then pull that lighter shade down and use it to diffuse and soften the edge without lightening the original shade too much.

Be careful using more white-based shades as it can cause some deeper shades (especially when working with matte eyeshadows) to turn gray.

Apply matte eyeshadows prior to creamier, denser metallic eyeshadows.  I find that some creamier, denser metallic eyeshadows do not blend that well with matte eyeshadows, which are often a little thinner and more powdery, so I will apply the matte eyeshadow first and then gently pull the metallic shade over the edge of the matte.  This seems to help minimize the need to try and make the two textures (which are different in thickness) meet and blend.

Remove hard pan or film build-up with a paper towel gently rubbed against the surface of the pan; paper towels are often rough enough to disturb the surface more evenly, which will take off the top layer that has developed a film.  This film can make the eyeshadow appear almost oiled and feel much firmer.  This often occurs as a result of the natural oils from your fingertips, face, or eyes transferring to the powder eyeshadow.  If you use fingertips, it is most likely to happen, but it can also happen when using brushes (some formulas are more prone to it than others).

>> Need more help on where to apply your eyeshadow? Check out this post.

Looking for the perfect formula? Check out our favorite eyeshadows and must-have eyeshadow palettes.

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The only real metallic eyeshadow I have is the Lorac Pro Metal palette and that one is not as firmly pressed in the pan as my shimmers. I do have to use a lighter hand with that one.
But I get what you mean about stiffer eyeshadows – I think the Comfort Zone shadows fit into this category. Today I had to layer a shade over another because I had accidently picked up too much of the green shade and it was out of proportion to the rest of the look. Using the peach over it, softly helped.
I am finding your tips really helpful Christine.

Christine, these make-up lessons are invaluable! I can’t believe you are working on them during peak holiday release season! I have been wearing make-up for decades, but as formulas change and tools improve, I never feel like I can learn too much. I have always loved the way your wear your products and am delighted to be able to imitate you with your techniques. Thank you for your ‘above and beyond’ dedication to your fans!

This one was part of a larger post on how to apply eyeshadow, but I’m learning that long posts (originally, it was almost 4,000 words) aren’t the best way to go about conveying information so I’ve been working on breaking out some of the sections into standalone posts, so it didn’t require too much work to separate it out!

All great tips! Thank you. I’ve been wondering if anyone knows of anything safe to add to shadows to make them creamier or bring them back to life other than scraping some out w/a pallet knife tool then using a mixing medium (in a separate container or on a pallet). That’s more work than I make time for lately.

*I use a tacky or dewy primer or a cream to pack dry or scratchy shadows on like PMG Mothership V Bronze Seduction shadows.

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