A few years ago, lots of women 50-plus started wearing “statement” glasses or bolder lipstick as an alternative to eye makeup, which frankly had become a pain in the neck to do every day. Aside from big deal events and parties, who had the time or incentive? Besides our eyes had changed. They are now crepey, puffier or deeper set and our skill set wasn't exactly pro level. Then COVID-19 and masks arrived, and eye makeup once again lured us. But how do we deal with makeup on aging eyes? I asked legendary makeup artist Sandy Linter (who has created eye drama for everyone from Jackie O to Bette Midler to Christie Brinkley) for her tips and added a few beauty editor suggestions of my own:
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PHOTO BY: Victor_69/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
1. Look in the mirror — not on Instagram or YouTube
Buy and apply makeup for the eyes you have now — not the ones you had five years ago or the peepers on celebs and social media stars. Most online makeup how-tos don't address the real challenges of mature eyes that have not had surgical or dermatological procedures. Linter urges women experiencing red, irritated eyes who want to try eye makeup again to “get your eyes checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist to rule out potential medical issues. Make sure your concerns are not due to the wrong contact lenses or solution, too, before you reach for the eyeliner.” That done, get back into the eye-makeup groove because as Linter promises, “eye makeup will always save you from looking tired or washed-out, mask or no mask!”
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PHOTO BY: Sephora; Ulta Beauty; Nordstrom
2. Always prime your lids
Primer, according to Linter, is one step not to be missed. “Face primer under foundation is not necessary, but under eye makeup? Absolutely!” she says. The problem, she reveals, is “women apply too much primer or buy the wrong kind for their lids and then toss it in frustration. Eyelids can be warm and moist, so makeup smears, or cool and dry, so makeup feels chalky or is tough to apply. The secret is to use the tiniest amount of primer and blend it over the lids from lash line to crease. Those who have watery eyes or moist lids can also try concealer and powder as a primer. I like the Makeup by Mario Master Eye Prep & Set ($28, sephora.com) to prevent makeup from getting mushy or messy. You can also use it under the eyes.” Two other excellent options are CoverGirl Lid Lock Up Eyeshadow Primer ($9, ulta.com) which adds grip to makeup on moist/hot lids and Benefit Stay Don't Stray Eyeshadow Primer ($26, nordstrom.com) with hyaluronic acid which adds moisture and security to dry lids.
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; Sephora; Walgreens (2)
3. Use a high-pigment eye pencil in black or dark brown
This is what really restores definition and shape to your eyes. The pencil should glide on and look opaque — not sheer — but it shouldn't be too slippery or too dry. Whether you choose a traditional pencil or a twist-up type is purely up to your preference and wallet. Linter prefers classic eye pencils. “If you have watery eyes or moist lids choose one with a crisp but gentle texture like Lancôme Le Crayon Khôl EyeLiner in Black Coffee or Black Ebony ($26 each, nordstrom.com). Those with dry lids can try a velvety pencil like Make Up for Ever Artist Color Pencil in 612 Dimension Dark Brown or 100 Whatever Black ($18 each, sephora.com).” Other very affordable options are the Milani Supreme Kohl Kajal Eyeliner Pencil in Blackest Black ($6, walgreens.com) for dry lids and the No7 Stay Perfect Amazing Eyes Pencil in black or brown ($9, walgreens.com) for moist eyes. Both of these, like most drugstore eye pencils, are the mechanical, twist-up kind that don't require a sharpener.
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PHOTO BY: PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
4. Hold lids taut to get a smooth line
There's a trick all eyeliner wearers should know. “Look straight into the mirror and gently pull your eye taut (but not tight!) at the outer edge while applying the liner,” Linter says. “This de-creases the upper lid and keeps the line you make sleek. Work from the outer eye inwards and try to keep your eye somewhat open to control application so the line doesn't get too thick or heavy.” I'll add here that resting your elbows on a table or desktop steadies your hands and makes the process easy. Use a lighter hand when lining below the eyes so the effect is softer. However, there's an exception: For deep-set hooded eyes, emphasizing the lower lash line with liner or lining the inner lower rim (also known as the waterline) can help give eyes a stronger shape.
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; CVS; Revlon
5. Double up on the line
Linter uses another trick to really power up the effect of eyeliner. “Go back over the pencil liner with a same or similar color powder eye shadow,” she says. “This fills in any gaps between pencil and lash roots and reinforces the liner. It really dramatizes eye shape, which is exactly what aging eyes need most. Those with deep-set, hooded or watery eyes should double line with a liquid liner instead of powder shadow. I like the Tom Ford Eye Defining Liquid Liner Pen ($59, nordstrom.com) for that.” For those of us on a budget (including me!) try the L'Oréal Paris Lineur Intense Felt Tip Liquid Eyeliner in Carbon Black ($10, cvs.com) or the Revlon ColorStay Liquid Eye Pen ($10, cvs.com).
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PHOTO BY: Target; Ulta Beauty; Nordstrom
6. Contour the crease to get bigger-looking eyes
Contouring the crease works on everyone except those with deep-set lids where the crease is not visible, Linter says. She uses “a neutral medium pencil (taupe for light-to-medium skin tones, brown for darker complexions) to trace the hollow of the eye right above the crease. Keep the contouring emphasis on the outer half of the eye. Then blend the line with a brush to soften it and retrace it with a matching shade of powder shadow.” I love this advice but add here that a chunky shadow crayon like Nudestix Magnetic Matte Eye Color in Taupe, Cocoa or Chocolate ($26, ulta.com) and Laura Mercier Matte Caviar Stick Eye Color in Cobblestone or Caramel ($29, nordstrom.com) or a cream-to-powder stick like Maybelline Color Strike Cream-to-Powder Eyeshadow Pen in Chase or Flare ($7, target.com) is easier and faster for non-pros to use and creates a very similar long-lasting effect.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Nordstrom
7. Depend on foolproof shadow quads
Shadow palettes with 12 to 20 shades are fun but in reality you only need a light shade on the lids, a medium shade for the crease and a dark shade to double line over your pencil. Quad kits in neutral colors like Maybelline Expert Wear Eyeshadow Quads in 22Q Chai Latte ($6, target.com), Wet n Wild Color Icon Eyeshadow Quad in Sweet as Candy or Silent Treatment ($3, target.com) or the Dior 5 Couleurs Couture Eyeshadow Palette in 649 Nude Dress or 599 New Look ($62, nordstrom.com) simplify all.
Just be careful not to cover your eyeliner when you apply shadow. “It's the contrast of light lid, medium crease and very dark liner that creates the illusion of bigger firmer eyes,” Linter says. Choose a shadow palette with the practical shades — not a variety of trendy colors.
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; Target (2)
8. Use a lash curler and black mascara
We all know curling lashes opens the eyes, but Linter has yet another trick. “Turn your wrist away from you to get maximum curl. Squeeze the closed curler for a few seconds, relax it, then squeeze again — and always curl before mascara, never after.” Her take on mascara: “Black is the best shade for everyone, but the formula makes the difference. For short or thin lashes choose a lightweight plumping formula that's not too gimmicky. I am liking the Chanel mascara Volume de Chanel these days if you want to splurge. Lashes never get glued together or spiky even after two coats. And, of course, for those with watery eyes or moist lids, a waterproof mascara is a must.” Two amazing waterproof alternatives are L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Mascara in 305 Waterproof Black ($9, target.com) and Maybelline Full ‘N Soft Waterproof Mascara in 301 Very Black ($10, target.com).
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PHOTO BY: Walgreens (3)
9. Try false lashes
How much effort you're willing to put in to a daily “eye” is a very personal choice. Still, Linter says, “false lashes make all the difference to mature eyes, especially on Zoom where the lighting is usually terrible. Forget looking overdone: Just a few lash sections or even a natural-looking strip applied with quick, minimal face makeup gives all mature eyes — but especially those that are small, deep-set or have crepey softened lids – a defined fresh look. I use inexpensive Kiss lashes on everyone, along with the Duo Striplash Adhesive, Dark ($5, walgreens.com) a dark brown-black lash adhesive that melts seamlessly into your liner.” Skip tricky magnetic styles or exaggerated strips and head for the Kiss Ever EZ Lashes Trio Lash Starter Kit ($9, walgreens.com) or the Kiss Looks So Natural Eyelashes, Shy ($3, walgreens.com).
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; Target (2)
10. Do your brow tails
Last but not least is the finishing touch that makes any eye makeup look better: brows. “Most women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are missing brow tails or have very sparse outer brows,” Linter says. “For everyday you don't need to fuss, just finish your brow by extending it outwards to stretch the shape and lift your eyes. It expands the look of your entire eye area and makes you look groomed. I like a firm, fine-tipped pencil like the Surratt Expressioniste Brow Pencil ($40, nordstrom.com) rather than creamy pencils, gels or powders, which tend to smear, smudge, look hard or disappear. Look for a narrow-tipped pencil that allows you to apply realistic hair-like strokes.” Other smart choices are the Maybelline Brow Ultra Slim Defining Eyebrow Pencil ($9, target.com) and NYX Professional Makeup Microbrow Pencil ($11, target.com).
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