Eyeshadow has always been the most exciting makeup category for me. I love going to Sephora just to swatch the newest eyeshadow palettes (well, before COVID, at least), and I never do my makeup without swiping at least one shade all over my eyelids. But as someone who doesn’t have the skills to create bold, colorful looks, I tend to stick to neutral color palettes that are suitable for everyday wear, or for when I need to look presentable in a professional environment.
If you’re in the market for some everyday shadows, here are a few things to consider when shopping eyeshadow palettes to make sure you get the most out of your collection and can rock your neutrals in different ways.
Tones & Undertones
When we hear “neutral,” we think of browns and tans, like that one matte transition shade from the original Urban Decay Naked palette that just hit different… you know the one. Chef’s kiss. But neutral doesn’t have to equate to bland, and there are so many different shades of eyeshadow that are suited for natural looks, yet read differently from each other on the eye. When I want to pick up my next eyeshadow palette, I like to make sure it has a distinct color scheme from everything else in my collection, so I can always be inspired and get the most use out of my collection.
Honey, mustard shades are absolutely stunning. These tones brighten up the eye and make your eyeshadow look like it took way more effort than it actually did. If you’re new to color but want to test the waters, yellow is the perfect color to start with. You can make these tones look more bright and colorful, or you can make yellow eyeshadow look more golden and everyday-appropriate. I love throwing on some yellow eyeshadow for a quick look on a light makeup day, but these tones would also look absolutely stunning with a golden highlighter or a red lip, if you want to incorporate a neutral eye into a bolder look.
Pink-toned or mauve-toned neutrals
I’m lumping pink-toned and mauve-toned neutrals in the same category because in some ways, these tones serve a similar function, and many palettes include a mix of pink and mauve neutrals. Peaches, corals, berries and mauves create stunning, ethereal soft glam looks. If you prefer warmer tones and bronze-y browns, peachy neutrals aren’t too far of a jump. If you like cool tones, mauves would be most up your alley. I, personally, am obsessed with both. With these types of palettes, you can create interesting looks without too much guesswork about what shades go together.
For a pink-toned focus, check out Huda Beauty’s Nude Obsessions Palette ($29) or Em Cosmetics’ Divine Skies Palette ($38). For mauve-toned, try Elf Cosmetics’ Bite-Size Palette in Rose Water ($3) or Colourpop’s Making Mauves Palette ($14). NABLA’s Dreamy Palette ($35) mixes them together!
Warm-toned vs. cool-toned neutrals
Now these colors would be your basic browns – the types of shades that come to mind when you hear ‘neutral.’ But it’s important to distinguish between warm-toned and cool-toned shades of brown to make sure you’re not buying the same color over and over again. Warm-toned browns would include copper, bronze, reddish, or peach shades. Cool-toned browns might lean more taupe or gray.
Some people might have a strong preference toward either color scheme, while others might enjoy both warm and cool tones for different types of looks. Regardless, it’s important to pay attention to the distinction between warm and cool-toned browns when shopping for eyeshadow palettes.
Greens and grunge-toned neutrals are another great option if you want somewhat of a colorful look, but something that’s still wearable. If you like darker, smokier looks, olive tones are stunning. Look for palettes with a range of greens, mustards and browns so you can blend a bold green shade into a tan shade for a toned-down look.
As a neutral lover, you can’t have a fun eyeshadow palette collection without some basic browns to ground your looks. Plus, basic as they may be, good ‘ol brown tones are actually so flattering on the eye. When I shop for staple neutral palettes, I like something small – a palette that I can get a full look out of, but not one that has literally every neutral color and tone on the planet so I won’t be inspired to reach for something else. In these types of palettes, I look for eyeshadow shades that don’t lean particularly warm or cool, or a palette that includes a mix of both warm and cool tones.
Size & Function
Another way to add variety to your collection in a way that will actually help you get the most out of your eyeshadows is to think about palette size. I think it’s nice to own palettes of different sizes, so they can serve different functions in your collection. Balance out your smaller, more curated palettes with your one-stop-shop eye palettes.
For a condensed palette, the Kaja Beauty Bento Bouncy Shimmer Eyeshadow Trio in Chocolate Dahlia ($21) is perfect for a bare-bones, everyday look. If you aren’t great at creating eyeshadow looks, this three-shade eyeshadow stack takes the guesswork out of it entirely.
It’s also nice to have a larger, more comprehensive neutral palette, maybe with a pop of color here and there, if you’re someone who likes to experiment with eye looks. For example, Huda Beauty’s Mercury Retrograde ($67) dedicates a third of the palette to colorful pastel shades, but the rest of the palette includes everyday tones that can be used to create cohesive, easy looks. The Juvia’s Place Nubian 3 Coral palette ($20) features gray-toned neutrals as well as corals. While the shades themselves are pretty basic, the inclusion of both color schemes in one palette is pretty unique.
We all have our individual preferences for an ideal matte to shimmer ratio in an eyeshadow palette (mine’s 40/60, for what it’s worth). Sometimes I won’t buy an eyeshadow palette because the matte to shimmer ratio isn’t suitable for the eye looks I like to create, but I do think there’s something to be said in owning a purely matte palette and/or a purely shimmer palette. These types of palettes are the perfect companion palettes for mixing and matching with the other palettes in your collection.
For an all matte look, check out Makeup by Mario’s Master Mattes Eyeshadow Palette ($48). For all shimmer, try Kaja Beauty’s Bento Bouncy Shimmer Eyeshadow Trio in Toasted Caramel ($21).
While ‘neutrals’ might sound like a singular color family, there are actually so many options and tones within the ‘neutral’ category. Between color scheme, palette size, and eyeshadow finish there are so many ways to mix and match your palettes to create a cohesive, inspiring collection, without making it redundant.
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