This Is The Secret To Making Colorful Eyeshadow Pop On Dark Skin Tones

Makeup artists reveal their go-to products for a bright eye look.

Woman with a dark skin tone wearing colorful eyeshadow and a mint green headscarf

It’s spring, vaccinations are in full swing, and I’m smelling hope in the air. All that anticipation is directly affecting my beauty mood, and I’m emerging from my no-makeup cocoon to embrace a full face of product. Since lips are still going to be masked and makeup-free for a while, all my focus has shifted to the eyes. Only, I’m bored of my nude and neutral palettes, with shades named ‘Stone’ or ‘Bone’. What I’m really jonesing for is color. I’m ready for bold, joyous eyeshadow that looks amazing on dark skin tones.

Read more: The 35 Best Eyeshadow Palettes Of All Time, According To Passionate Reviewers

But as a woman of color, achieving a vibrant eyeshadow look is often an exercise in frustration. On medium and deeper skin (and especially for those of us whose eyelids are a deeper tone) eyeshadows never look true to color. What we see in the pan or tube and what ends up on the eye are two different shades — the latter always dull and less vibrant, or, conversely, chalky and patchy. Neither of those scenarios are acceptable, especially not in our “spring of budding hope 2021.”

I found that my dilemma was a universal makeup lament from people of color. It’s exactly what led makeup artist Danessa Myricks to create Colorfix, her bestselling line of hyper-pigmented cream shadows in 2017. Myricks wanted to explore vibrantly colored looks on herself and her clients, but the makeup that was available didn’t look as bright on her deep complexion as it did in the pan. At the time, Myricks was creating products for other brands and at cosmetics labs around the world, and she noticed that shades were developed and tested on a narrow range of skin tones. “Then it made total sense — there was no one that looked like me, or my friends, or family there,” she says. Fueled by those experiences, Myricks launched Colorfix cosmetics, ensuring that the saturation of color showed up on whomever you applied it too — without losing its rich hue. It’s because of the efforts of Myricks and other women of color in the beauty industry that we now have products that really work for deeper skin tones.

TZR reached out to a power panel of these women, as well as beauty creators known for some eye-popping makeup looks, to reveal their favorite colorful eye products for women of color, as well as their best tips and tricks to help your makeup look its best.

We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Danessa Myricks, Makeup Artist & Founder, Danessa Myricks Beauty

Myricks’ first tip for getting shadows to pop on darker skin is to start with a product that has a high saturation of color. “The key to deeper skin tones having a successful experience with eye products is this: [the products] need to be very pigmented,” she says. When we can go back to swatching, try shadows with both a finger and a brush if possible. “Some formulas of shadows don’t pick up well with a brush. So, if you’re someone who only does their makeup with a brush, you may not get the same result, but those same products may apply much better if you use your fingertips and press it onto your eye,” Myricks says.

Something as simple as being aware of your tool preference and experimenting with a variety of different options could make all the difference. Myricks recommends shadow brushes 1.5 and 1.12 from MYKITCO. As for her favorite powder shadows, she swears by Cozzette Beauty, Juvias Place and Natasha Denonna.

If you’re working with the powder shadows you have at home that don’t look quite right (despite changing brushes and applying with your fingers), the next step is to lay down a cream base. “It could be one that’s close to your own skin tone, or one that mimics the shadow shade.” Makeup artists are obsessed with Myricks’ own Colorfix shadows for this purpose, and her Waterproof Cream Palettes in a variety of shades are also an essential for layered shadow application. She suggests applying Colorfix directly to clean, dry skin without a primer, especially for those with oily lids. “Sometimes, the primer slips on oily lids and so does all the color,” she says. “Avoid applying any oils, moisturizers, or skincare products on the lid, even for those with dry skin. It takes away from the longevity of wear.”

Uzo Ukaeje, Director, Global Artistry, NARS Cosmetics

Makeup artist Uzo Ukaeje, who has spent more than 20 years at Nars, knows her way around the brand’s product line like no one else. Her pre-makeup prep is always Nars Total Replenishing Eye Cream and Smudgeproof Eyeshadow Base to lock down eyeshadow and keep the color true for hours. Then it’s time for some strategic layering. “Blending a creamy eyeliner pencil (or cream shadow) on the eyelid first in a similar shade before using vibrant powder eyeshadow is the gold-standard,” she says. For instance, a metallic red gel pencil like High Pigment Longwear Eyeliner in Broadway or a metallic copper like Rodeo Drive really make the metallic ruby, golden copper, and rose gold of the Summer Solstice Eyeshadow Palette shine.

Ukaeje prefers to play around with saturation for colorful shadows, so for a sheer, watercolor-like application she dips a damp eyeshadow brush into the product and sweeps it across a clean eyelid. For a more dramatic smokey eye that’s perfect for evening, she prefers the contrast of royal blue, metallic turquoise, and leafy greens on darker skin tones. To help these colors really stand out, she creates a base using black cream eyeshadow or black creamy eyeliner pencil over the entire eyelid before layering a vibrant eyeshadow over it. “When powders (especially shimmery formulations) are placed on creams, the texture is enhanced and color can appear brighter. When using a black creamy base, the stark contrast goes one step further to make color appear more vivid and intense,” explains Ukaeje.

Her list of Nars favorites includes the Cool Crush Eyeshadow Palette for metallic turquoise, shimmering teal and great shimmering nudes for blending. For metallic eyeshadows with an iridescent effect, she likes Hardwired Single Eyeshadows in Lunar, Argentina and Ecstasy. Her blues of choice are shimmery Show Girl, and vivid matte royal blue Outremer. “I love the high pigment, shine, and rich color payoff of these eyeshadows. It’s a luxurious application with minimal effort.”

Kirin Bhatty, Makeup Artist

“When doing a neon or bright shadow, the secret is to [recognize that] the makeup application is going to require layers, like a cake,” says makeup artist Kirin Bhatty, who often works with celebrities such as Tessa Thompson and Awkwafina. “That’s the way you get the [deep] pigment and color, no matter the skin tone.”

Her first step is always a primer, be it clear or skin colored (she uses these tinted ones from Nars on all of her clients). “When it comes to bright shadows, you want them to appear opaque, so you need to cancel out what’s underneath it and make it neutral. Get the primer color closest to your skin tone, and one more that’s lighter, to lift up and brighten eyeshadows,” she says.

The next step is laying down a cream base. She swears by Danessa Myricks Beauty’s Colorfix and Kryolan’s Cream Color Circles. Then, she presses a powder shadow over the cream for a deeper color intensity. Some of her favorite powder shadows include Huda Beauty, Pat McGrath, M.A.C. and Nars. To add more depth and texture, she reaches for colored glitter as the last step, if the look calls for it. She has a variety of shades from the biodegradable, vegan brand Slayfire Cosmetics, which makes glitter in gel form with no fallout.

Delina Medhin, Makeup Artist

Courtesy of Delina Medhin

For Delina Medhin, makeup artist to Issa Rae and Ilana Glazer, half the work of a colorful eye is accomplished by selecting the right eyeshadow. “The texture of the eyeshadow makes the biggest difference. If you pick right, you can do a lot less work with a lot less pressure,” she says. For bright shades, she looks for smoothness — the shadow should spread effortlessly, like butter. “Even if it is a glitter shadow, you should see it glide on the skin. It should have great color payoff, so you can pack it on without it skipping.”

All of her favorite palettes (made by Haus Labs, Juvia’s Place, Pat McGrath and Huda Beauty) include some beautiful nudes to balance out the brighter tones, and the shadows are ultra-pigmented and smooth, gliding seamlessly onto the skin.

As a base, Medhin applies either an eye primer or a light layer of concealer on the lid. And like many other artists, she, too, loves a cream formula with a powder on top for better color payoff. “I pack the eyeshadow on with the brush and use a patting motion on the eyelid to get the most color payoff,” she says. She also prefers to finish the eye makeup first, and then goes on to conceal under the eye in order to easily clean up any fallout.

Mi-Anne Chan, Beauty Creator, Writer, & Video Director

Mi-Anne Chan’s Instagram is a pastel-lover’s happy place. The Condé Nast video director and erstwhile beauty editor uses not just her eyes, but her entire face as a canvas on which she freestyles with swirls of color.

She offers up some unconventional but ingenious product choices. First up is what’s technically an eyebrow product by KVD Beauty, but she swears by its budge-proof properties even when applied on the skin. “They are basically cream shadows/liners that come in a rainbow of colors. I use them as liners, as shadow all over my lid, and even as face paint from time to time. They're amazing!” Next, is Sketch Paint by Claropsyche, a pastel palette of water-activated face and body paints that Chan uses to paint everything from fun squiggles and shapes to simple cat eyes. “The shades themselves are pretty pigmented, but to give some of the lighter shades more oomph, mix a bit of the white paint into them for more opacity.” And lastly, Chan, too, is not immune to the lure of Myricks’ Colorfix. “My favorite shades are Beaches, a punchy cyan blue, and Carrot Top, an electric orange,” she says.

Chan also has some vital tips for pastel shadow: “Pastels need a lighter base to really pop, so layer a white base over your lid as a primer. I love the ELF Putty Eye Primer in White,” she says. She keeps things real on the rest of her face to balance the fantasy eye looks she creates. “I'm not a fan of full-coverage foundation or concealer and will usually opt for a base that allows my real skin — imperfections and all — to peek through.”

Wendy Asumadu, Makeup Artist & Content Creator

London-based content creator Wendy Asumadu was inspired to create her signature makeup looks featuring a face full of vibrant, freestyle swoops and whorls when she realized she never saw avant garde makeup on deep skin. She also started EditorialBLK, an Instagram handle to amplify the work of Black editorial artists.

To suit her powerful and original style, she uses regular products in unconventional ways. Since graphic liner features prominently in her work, eyeshadow takes on a supporting role. “I use the eyeshadow as a base color. I use a lot of liner in my looks so the eyeshadow adds dimension and tone,” she says. The palettes she often reaches for are UOMA Beauty’s Queen to Be, this gorgeous rainbow specimen from Revolution Beauty, and a collection of acid brights from Sleek MakeUP.

Asumadu thinks cream shadows are tragically underrated and suggests experimenting with them. “I think the color payoff with cream shadow is better than powder due to the texture,” she says. “It allows you to play around with different shapes that sometimes powder shadows don't have the holding power to achieve.” 3ina is her preferred brand for pigmented creams that can be used with fingers or a brush, and she loves that multiple colors can be blended together seamlessly.

Before starting any eye look she makes sure her eyelid is dry, and suggests patting on a bit of translucent powder if you’re prone to oily lids. “Apply some concealer about three or four shades lighter than your skin tone on your eye before you use the eyeshadow. It will make the eyeshadow appear brighter on your skin,” she says. After that, get to painting and allow your creativity to really shine.