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December 1, 2017

Yes, Even You Can Do a K-Beauty Smoky Eye — Here’s How

Think Korean beauty is all about no-makeup makeup looks? While it’s true you’re not going to find much Kardashian-level contouring and overdrawn lips, you can use K-beauty techniques to pull off a more modern K-beauty smoky eye. Even better, you don’t have to be a pro to pull it off.


I can’t think of anything sexier than a smoky eye. It’s a shame so many people are too intimidated to attempt to do one! When friends ask me how they should do their makeup for whatever event, I’m almost always going to tell them to go for a smoky eye. I’m often met with, “Girl, no, that’s too advanced and too fussy.” And almost always I explain to them how it’s not as complicated as it looks, especially if you do it with Korean style in mind.


The smoky eye: Korean style vs. Western style


A typical Western style smoky eye is heavy on the liner and even heavier on the shadow. Eyes are rimmed with black liner, both upper and lower lashlines, as well as tightlined on the top and bottom. Then a dark, matte, dramatic shade is applied to the lids and blended upward into a gradient. The old style usually had a flash of iridescent highlight right underneath the eyebrows to highlight. Think Kim Kardashian in the time period between her original and third face.


The eyeshadow was matte, almost always black or grey, and it was a real pain in the ass to blend, even for the professionals amongst us. I was doing a lot of men’s editorial shoots back then, and I used to carry three clean MAC 217 brushes on set exclusively used to buff out heavy matte smoke on the models. This look was not for everyone. In fact, unless you had giant doe eyes, it could look pretty awful. The new, more modern K-beauty smoky eye is much more user-friendly and can be worn either day or night.


The Korean approach can teach us lessons for any eye shape but is especially friendly to my fellow hooded eyelid folks (shout out to us).


k-beauty smoky eye
Face chart by Graphic by Coco Park.


Switch to bronze eyeshadow


The first major difference is the color choice. You don’t have to opt for a dark, chalky, matte powder eyeshadow. A much more flattering and up-to-date eye uses a lighter, shimmery shade. My go-to shade is a good light-catching bronze. It feels very current and looks good with every eye color.


One of the easiest ways to get a smoky bronze look is with an eyeshadow stick. Pony Effect Stay Put Eye Stick in Be Dazzling is perfect for warmer tones and I’m Meme I’m Stick Eyeshadow in Ash Stone would be complementary to cooler tones. Both products have excellent color payoff and can be buffed out fairly easily — but work quickly! Since both products are waterproof, once the formula sets, it’s not going anywhere.


k-beauty smoky eye
Pony Effect Stay Put Eye Stick in Be Dazzling, left, and Vixen, right.


Another modern shade that makes for a lovely smoky look is cranberry. Clio Gelpresso Waterproof Stick Eyeshadow Vin Vino Wine is a good shade, as well as Pony’s Eye Stick in Vixen.


Apply all over the lid, working your way up to the crease, and then stop and buff and blend here. You can use your finger or a synthetic brush to do this.


Then line under the eye, concentrating on the outside corner, going slightly past the edges, blending upward, joining top and bottom into a soft V-like almond shape to elongate the eye. Again, this can be done with the finger or synthetic brush. For ease of use I just use the finger, as it’s much easier to blend out and upwards with precision.


Tightline only the upper lashline


You may be wondering where the eyeliner is since it featured so prominently in the smoky eye of yesteryear. Here we scale it back, way back. Using either a black or dark brown liner, keep the tightlining to the upper lashes only. Then, once again focusing on that outer corner, line the upper lids following the same elongated, soft almond shape we made with the shadow. Follow close to the lashline; we don’t want a big thick heavy line here. That can make your lid look heavy in contrast to the shimmery smoke.


k-beauty smoky eye


Now on to the bottom waterline. Normally, you’d rim the waterline with black liner, but tightlining is only going to make your eye look smaller and more closed. It can even read as puffy on some eyes. Instead, opt for a fleshy toned pencil, such as Etude House Play 101 pencil in shade #8, a light nude matte shade. This is going to open that eye up and really make it pop. It’s also what makes the look more modern.


k-beauty smoky eye


Next we’re going to take that pencil and shade underneath the brow for our highlight. This is much more up-to-date than the old school glittery white highlighter shades. Buff out with a brush or fingers; we don’t want a sharp line, just a soft, matte highlight.


If you want to give your brows more definition, feel free to do this step just above the eyebrows as well. It’ll really set your brows off nicely; it’s especially complementary to the popular straight brow look.


Highlight the inner corners


Next we’re going to go in for the inner corner highlight. You can do this one of two ways, depending on where you want to take this look. For a more dramatic nighttime look, use a highlighter pencil such as 3CE’s Under Eye Flash in shade #3 Lovable (if you want a more white gold highlight) or #1 Romanticism (for a rose gold look) . This pencil is insanely shimmery and will catch the light like a fiery disco ball.


3 CONCEPT EYES UNDER EYE FLASH - 6 Choices k-beauty smoky eye
3CE Under Eye Flash


If you want a more natural look, hit up that inner corner with VDL Lumilayer All Over Stick. Take your pinky and get some product, then dab in the inner corner. You can also take this opportunity to dab it into your cupid’s bow and around the outer corner of the orbital bone for a little extra shine. What I like about the VDL Lumilayer All Over Stick is it gives a wet look as opposed to a shimmery look. It’s like a more subdued version of the cult favorite RMS Living Luminizer.


Curl those lashes


Finally, curl those lashes and coat liberally with your favorite mascara. I like a really defined lower lash for this look and fluffy upper lashes. To do this, I use two mascaras. Innisfree Skinny Microcara Mascara is awesome for precise brush control on those hard to grab lower lashes. It’s also waterproof, so it’s great for keeping your smoky eye from morphing into a panda eye. For the upper lashes I like Innisfree Super Long Lash Cara. I wish they’d make a double ended version with both of these formulations in one container. One can dream.


Blend, blend, blend


Bonus step: If you find that you’re just not happy with the blending job you did, go over the very edges of your shadow with a matte neutral brown powder shadow. This is the Photoshop blur tool of real life. The Face Shop Single Shadow Matte BR01 is a good example. Simply swipe a very light amount and get to buffing. This will give more of a gradient to your smoke. It’s also a safe way to build up even more of a smoke if you want to further elongate the shape without going overboard.


Put all together, this makes a flattering, complimentary look for just about everyone. Those with smaller, hooded, or even monolids, can use these techniques to create a gorgeous look without feeling like they got punched by a chimney sweep. Finally, a smoky eye for everyone that anyone can do.


What’s your go-to eye makeup look? Do you think you could pull off a K-beauty smoky eye?



Coco Park is an author, beauty journalist, blogger, podcast host, and all around oddball living in Montreal Quebec with her family. Originally from the southern USA, she worked for several years in the makeup industry as a professional makeup artist and holds a certificate in esthetics. She is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Want to know more? Check her out on the Beauty Beyond Basics podcast, on her blog, on Instagram @thebeautywolf, and in her book "Korean Beauty Secrets: A Practical Guide to Cutting-Edge Skincare & Makeup."




No idea whether I could pull this off, but I'm gonna try. Thanks for the clear explanation!