The Anatomy Of An Eyeshadow Palette: How To Use It & Where The Colours Go

Eyeshadow palettes bursting with colour may seem like a great idea when you’re standing in the beauty hall of your local department store, cooing over the variety of tones that can be used to enhance your eyes. However, when you get the palette home the shades and sheer number of options often become overwhelming and hard to fathom. How often have you purchased a palette that contains six, ten, fifteen colours and found yourself sticking to only a handful of shades that you know what to do with? Here’s my anatomy of an eyeshadow palette, how to use the different tones and where best to apply them. Start this year as you mean to go on and get to grips with all the
shades within your repertoire, becoming an eyeshadow extraordinaire…

No matter how big your palette or eyeshadow collection, it can always be split into four categories. Looking at it logically, you can split the palette into more manageable chunks and get your head around the different tones on offer. This is the first place to start and ensures endless combinations and looks to create; the four different sections include:

1. Base
These include the pale shades and neutral tones that can be used to start your look. Understated taupes, pale pinks and creams can be used almost like a foundation for your eyes: they help to create a flawless base and a universal tone from which to work. They also help to neutralise any yellowness, redness or dullness that’s naturally present on your lids, ensuring the shades applied over the top will pop as much as possible. On ‘down days’ I simply apply a wash of this colour, add a flick of eyeliner and lashings of mascara for an understated finish. 

2. Contour
Slightly darker in colour, the contouring shades are often browns, greys or blues that bring the complete eyeshadow palette together. These are the ‘mid range’ tones that can be applied all over the lower lid or blended into the socket for subtle depth, complementing the base but equally working well with a darker shade. These are the hardest working colours and can be used delicately to build up a result; I tend to use a fluffy blending brush to gradually add a little more colour and ensure there’s no obvious line between all the tones you add. You can revisit this section of colour when you’ve finished creating your look to ensure everything blends together perfectly.

3. Line 
The darkest and most intense of all the shades within your palette are intended to line and frame the eye for a more impactful result. These tend to be the dark chocolate browns, the deep charcoal greys or the jet black tones with a slightly sparkly finish – using a precise or angled eyeshadow brush, pack the tip of the brush hairs with product and delicately pat along the upper and lower lash line. You can either smudge with your finger, buff with a blending brush or blend as you go by moving the brush upwards. Essentially these tones are designed to replace or complement a dark liner, so use them sparingly and have fun experimenting! 

4. Highlight
Finally, most palettes contain a slightly shimmering tone that can be used to highlight the brow arch and create ‘light and shade’ around the eye. These shades can also be used in the inner corner of eyes to brighten and ensure your peepers look wide awake; the contrast between these tones and their much darker counterparts creates a really striking finish and a look that’s seen on every celebrity going. It helps to create a professional finish and is the secret to a fabulous smokey eye – don’t overlook these eyeshadows as being not quite your cup of tea!

The key to an eyeshadow palette is looking at it logically, not forcing yourself to use too many colours and having fun. Attempting to use every single shade within one look is a recipe for disaster, so simply pick one tone at a time and build your look up gradually. There are millions of youtube videos illustrating the best way to apply eyeshadow in a more comprehensive and efficient way than I could ever manage, but investing in a few great tools and having a touch of patience will ensure a fab result every time.

How do you use an eyeshadow palette? Do the shades overwhelm and confuse you, or do you just jump right in and start experimenting?




  1. Ally Brett
    January 12, 2015 / 9:16 pm

    This is so useful 🙂 I always find myself sticking to just the same ordinary shades and end up using a whole palette of ten just for one look but being so pale means that I always use the 'highlighting' shades for just the base. A bit annoying! Ally x

  2. Saloca
    January 12, 2015 / 9:28 pm

    I'm guilty of picking out less than a handful of shades from the eyeshadow palette and sticking to them like glue! Terrible, I know! I really need to start experimenting more, there's so many unused shades in my palettes! Great guide!Sarah :)

  3. Antonia
    January 12, 2015 / 9:43 pm

    This was actually really helpful! I need to start experimenting more with my eyeshadows rather than go to my 'trusty' ones.Antonia x | Fifi and the Diamonds

  4. Ting Yn
    January 12, 2015 / 10:04 pm

    This is very timely. I've had the Lorac Pro Palette for a year and not made the most out of it as it's such a large palette from what I'm used to! Thanks for making it sound so simple; I'll give it another proper go.Ting | The Ting Thing

  5. KnittedFox
    January 13, 2015 / 3:52 am

    This post is great! I l o v e palettes but don't always take advantage of all the colors they have. More often than not, I'm unsure if a color is flattering with my complexion. Tomorrow I'm going to get out my palettes and experiment. 😀

    • KnittedFox
      January 17, 2015 / 2:07 am

      I did it~ I went out of my comfort zone and used a blue color (a color I typically never use) and used it in my crease and it looked great! Got quite a few compliments about it too. Thanks again for this post!

  6. Miss Danielle
    January 14, 2015 / 9:46 pm

    Loved reading this! I have so many eyeshadow palettes, such a guilty pleasure. I must admit, I don't tend to use the base colours though! Danielle xxMiss Danielle

  7. Jasmine Stewart
    January 15, 2015 / 6:49 pm

    This is really helpful 🙂 I never used to apply more than one colour at once as it just never occurred to me (not even that long ago…) but now I can just look at a palette and think which is a crease colour, which will smoke things up and it makes the decision of which shades to use far easier! xx Magpie Jasmine || Palette Giveaway: Urban Decay, Nars, Charlotte Tilbury, Too Faced

  8. Leanne Robertson
    January 20, 2015 / 2:47 pm

    This is such a great article & I am so guilty of this makeup crime, I always use only 5 out of 15 shades in a pallete. I love how you've broken the pallete down into sections with an in depth explanation, will definitely be using this advice & tips. I love the highlighting your eyes look as I've quite small eyes that need help to pop but never know what's the correct tool for applying to your inner eye. Do you have any recommendations please? Love your blog & looking forward to reading more. ?

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