Many of us spent the pandemic months free of eye makeup. Whether we were stuck at home in sweats or out and about under a mask and sunglasses, why bother? That’s all over now as we saunter back into everyday life, work and socializing. Suddenly the idea of playing around with shadows, liners and mascara is all we want to do. But what about our very grownup eyes? Somehow, they’re looking puffier, crepier or more deep-set than ever! No problem. Here’s how to make your peepers pop with a little cosmetic know-how.
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PHOTO BY: Victor_69/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
1. Check the mirror — not social media — for inspiration
The eyes you have now may very well not be the ones you had two years ago, but don’t let that get in the way of makeup. Celebrate their twinkle and experienced gaze rather than surgical procedures or Botox. But do two things first. Start your reboot with an eye check by an optometrist or ophthalmologist — especially if you’re experiencing redness or irritation. This will rule out potential medical issues, the wrong contact lenses or incorrect lens solution. Then check your current eye makeup stash. Toss any past their expiration dates — especially mascara, which should be renewed every three months — and any that smell funky or look discolored, chalky or off-color. Treat yourself to updates, because eye makeup is your BFF. It will always make you feel more polished and confident, sexy and fresh — even on a bad hair day.
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PHOTO BY: Target; CVS; Target
2. Always prime your lids
Primer is a must. It will prevent your eye makeup from creasing, feathering, smearing and looking like an unmade bed. But be sure you buy the right kind for your lids. Mature lids can be warm and moist, so makeup smears, looks mushy or disappears; or they can be cool and dry, so shadows don’t blend, and liner skips or is tough to apply. Those who have watery eyes or warm, moist lids can try Smashbox 24HR Eyeshadow Primer for Ulta Beauty ($22, target.com), a sheer, oil-absorbing formula that’s resistant to sweat and hot flash-proof. You can also use it under the eyes. Those with cool, dry lids can try creamy moisturizing formulas like Burt’s Bees Eyeshadow Primer ($10, cvs.com) or Jason Wu Beauty Wu-Prime Eyeshadow Primer ($14, target.com). Both are beigy shades that also conceal lid redness or discolorations. Here’s the real secret to using all eye primers: Use the tiniest amount and blend it over the lids from lash line to crease. Then let it set a minute before applying makeup.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Walgreens
3. Use a high-pigment eye pencil in black or dark brown
Liner 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, either. Once again, choosing the right pencil texture for your lids matters. If you have watery eyes or moist, warm lids, choose a waterproof formula like the Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner in Black or Black/Brown ($8, target.com) or Maybelline Tattoo Studio Smokey Gel Pencil Liner in 10 Smokey Black or 40 Smokey Brown ($8, target.com). Those with dry lids can try a soft but intensely pigmented pencil, such as the Neutrogena Nourishing Eyeliner Pencil in Cosmic Black ($6, walgreens.com), which is moisturizing (this has olive oil and shea butter) with a strong color payoff.
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PHOTO BY: PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus
4. Gently hold lids taut to get a smooth line
There's a great trick to this. Look straight into the mirror and gently pull your eye taut (but not tight!) at the outer edge while applying the liner to your upper lids. This decreases the lids enough so you can draw a sleeker line without bumps and wiggles. Work from the outer eye inward and try to keep your eye slightly open to control the line so it doesn't get too thick or heavy. 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 there 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 much stronger shape.
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PHOTO BY: Walgreens; Target (2)
5. Double up on the line
Another trick really powers up the effect of pencil liner. Go back over the pencil line with a same or similar dark powder eye shadow — like the Maybelline ExpertWear Eyeshadow Makeup in Night Sky ($4, walgreens.com) or the darkest shade from your palette of shadows (see tip number 7). This fills in any gaps between pencil and lash roots and reinforces the intensity of 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 marker-like pen liner — such as the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Liner in Intense Black ($22, target.com) or L’Oréal Paris Lineur Intense Felt-Tip Liquid Eyeliner in Carbon Black ($9, target.com) — instead of powder shadow. If you go the liquid liner route know that pencil lining first makes using the pen easier, but be sure to keep the emphasis at the base of the lashes. Don’t try to get tricky and draw a "wing." Double lining with shadow gives a smokier effect; with liquid liner you get a sharper one. Both add definition without a hard look, thanks to the layering.
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Ulta Beauty
6. Contour the crease to get bigger-looking eyes
Contouring the crease works for everyone except those with deep-set lids where the crease is not visible. Use a neutral medium-toned shadow crayon — like the Nudestix Magnetic Matte Waterproof Eye Color for Ulta Beauty in Taupe, Chocolate or Slate ($26, target.com), the NYX Professional Makeup Jumbo Eye Pencil in Iced Mocha or Frappe ($5, target.com) or It Cosmetics Superhero No-Tug Longwear Eyeshadow Stick in Super Slate or Tough Tan ($24, ulta.com) — that’s in sync with your skin tone. Trace the hollow of the eye right above the crease but keep the emphasis on the outer half of the eye. Then blend the line with a brush to slightly soften it and retrace it with a similar shade of powder shadow in a brown or gray — depending on whether your eye makeup is on the warm brown or cool gray side. The creamy crayon works as a base so the shadow clings.
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PHOTO BY: Walgreens; Target (2)
7. Depend on foolproof neutral shadows
Shadow palettes with six to 12 neutral shades are the update to our old quads. They’re fun and let us layer our beiges, browns and grays, mattes and shimmers, lights and darks for a customized effect. But for a fast daily look, you really need only a light shade on the lids, a medium shade for the crease and a dark shade to double line over your pencil. It’s the contrast of lighter lid, medium crease and very dark liner at the lash line that creates the illusion of bigger, more sculpted eyes. Choose a palette of practical neutral shades — not trendy colors — like the CoverGirl TruNaked Eyeshadow in Nudes 805 ($10, walgreens.com), Smashbox Covershot Palette in Matte for Ulta Beauty ($29, target.com) or Maybelline Eyeshadow Palette-20 The Nudes ($12, target.com). Save those shade-of-the-minute colors for your nails!
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Walgreens
8. Use a lash curler and black mascara
We all know curling lashes opens the eyes, but here’s another trick. Once lashes are securely in the curler, turn your wrist away from you as you squeeze to get maximum curl. Squeeze the closed curler for a few seconds, relax it, then squeeze again — and always curl before mascara, never after. Black mascara is the best shade for everyone, but the formula makes the difference. At 50-plus most of us have short or thin lashes that benefit from a lightweight plumping formula — like the L’Oréal Paris Air Volume Mega Lightweight Mascara in 853 Waterproof Blackest Black ($13, target.com) or CoverGirl LashBlast Volume Mascara in 830 Black ($8, target.com) — rather than a heavy, gimmicky lash-lengthening one. Go for volume, not length. And, of course, for those with watery eyes or moist lids, a waterproof mascara like Maybelline Full 'N Soft Waterproof Mascara in Very Black ($10, walgreens.com) is a must.
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PHOTO BY: CVS; Target; Walgreens
9. Try false lashes
How much effort you're willing to put in to a daily “eye” is a very personal choice. Mascara does plenty, but for an extra boost try fake lashes. They can make all the difference to mature eyes, especially at parties or evening events (where the lighting is usually terrible or dim) and, of course, in photos. Forget looking overdone and choose a natural-looking strip — like the Kiss Looks So Natural Lashes in Shy ($4, cvs.com) or Ardell Natural Lashes 174 ($2, walgreens.com) — rather than over-the-top, superthick statement styles. Lashes do give our mature eyes — especially those that are small, deep-set or have crepey, softened lids — a fresh, wide-awake look. No need to splurge. Inexpensive drugstore lashes are super-evolved with flexible skinny or transparent bases. Try an updated clear-drying eyelash glue like Duo Quick-Set Striplash Adhesive Clear ($6, target.com), which doesn't contain latex or formaldehyde, and is odorless, water resistant, quick drying and easy on sensitive eyes. Get one set for starters before springing for a multipack.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Walgreens; Target
10. Do your brow tails
Finally, brow makeup is the finishing touch that makes any eye makeup look better. Most women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are missing brow tails or have very sparse outer brows. You don't need to fuss or get into a complicated multistep routine. Just finish and lift your brow shape by extending it outward to stretch the shape. It expands the look of your entire eye area and makes you look groomed. Try a firm, fine-tipped pencil — such as the Benefit Cosmetics Precisely, My Brow Pencil Waterproof Eyebrow Definer for Ulta Beauty ($24, target.com), NYX Professional Makeup Micro Brow Pencil ($10, walgreens.com) or Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz for Ulta Beauty ($23, target.com) — that makes drawing realistic hairlike strokes to fill gaps and duplicate a tail easy. Those above come in plenty of authentic-looking shades. When in doubt, always go a shade lighter than you think.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Dec. 24, 2020. It has been updated with new products.
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