Makeup Mysteries: Eye Shadow or Liner? Solving the Smoky Eye Debate

Posted on December 15, 2017

In the beauty world, when it comes to perfecting the smoky eye, there has always been a lifelong rivalry between eye shadow vs. liner. Sure, they both have equal benefits, but what really are the pros and cons of using each individual product? Don’t worry; Red Scout has got you covered.

Keep reading to see how we decode this makeup mystery and look into the shadow vs. liner debate as well as answer frequently asked smoky eye questions!

Green eye with brown/hazel smoky eye makeup.
Image Credit: Shop Style

What is a smoky eye?

Not all dark eye makeup qualifies as a smoky eye. A smoky eye is a makeup technique created by the application and smudging of dark beauty products, such as eye shadow and liner. This look shouldn’t have any harsh lines and should be softly blended at the edges.

Kristen Stewart getting a smoky eye applied to her with both shadow and liner.
Image Credit: Pretend Goddess
Black smoky eye on brunette girl.
Image Credit: aniamilczarczyk  

What about Pencil Liner?

When it comes to using eyeliner to create a smoky eye, think of it as an optical illusion. Liners can create many affects such as making small eyes appear larger, all while still achieving a desired smoky affect. By drawing lines towards the outer corner of your lids and up towards the brow bone, it can help create the illusion of a bigger eye.

Woman applying liner to create the effect of smaller eyes appearing larger.
Image Credit: Cosmopolitan

The infamous Kohl pencil is a go-to in order to add dimension and depth to your smoky eye.

The Kohl Pencil.
Image Credit: Marie Claire

Pros of Kohl Liner

  • No need for tugging on your eyes or lash lines because kohl liner applies with ease.
  • With just one small stroke, you can create cool, smouldering lines. Start subtle, and then build depth.
  • To deepen the smoky eye, kohl liner can be applied to the waterline making your eyes appear darker.

Cons of Kohl Liner

  • Kohl liner can be too smudgy! This is referring back to the raccoon eyes point. Panda’s are cute, but panda eyes are not.
  • Smoky eye on the go? Kohl liner can limit this. As kohl liner is a pencil, it will require sharpening. This can be a hassle when travelling if you forget your sharpener.
  • You will not be able to create a subtle smoky eye with liner alone.

What about Shadow?

Before you even pick up the shadow and blending brush, use a primer to keep your shadow from smudging. An untold secret of smoky eyes is revealed! There’s nothing worse than smearing during your night out. 

Grey powder eye shadow on a flat shader brush.
Image Credit: Marie Claire

A smoky eye doesn’t have to be black. Try grey, navy, dark brown or a forest green to add an element of surprise to your makeup look. Blend a dark shadow from your lashes up to the crease of your eye, and then use a small angled brush to apply shadow to the lower lash line. Blend, blend, blend!

Steps to applying smoky eye.
Image Credit: Styles Weekly

Pros of Shadow

  • When using eye shadow, the level of colour is buildable. It’s ideal to start soft and build the shadow as desired.
  • Both powder and crème shadow are easily smudged and blended, making smokiness easily achievable.
  • Just wet your shadow brush before applying it so shadow to add depth and darkness to the coloured shadow. This will take your smoky eye to the next level.

Cons of Shadow

  • The downfall (pun intended) of shadow is that you will risk fallout. Tip: Focus on the eyes before tackling your base makeup.
  • Excess powder shadow can cling to mascara making your lashes look clumpy, but not in a good way.
  • Cheap shadow? The quality of all shadows is not the same, some may be more pigmented than others and this can really affect your smoky eye.

It’s time to showcase your smoky eye during this party season. Whether you are team liner or team shadow, there’s no right or wrong choice. Just choose what you feel works best for you.


By Mikayla Tabone. 

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