How to Build Your Eyeshadow Collection (Part I of II)


A really great eyeshadow collection is the cornerstone of every woman’s makeup arsenal. It is essential to have basic eyeshadows consisting of neutrals, as well as colors you know will enhance your unique eye color. Finding the right mix can be challenging so I thought it might be helpful to give a guide of sorts whether you’re just beginning or you’re somewhere in the middle. In today’s post, I’ll discuss the basic principles in selecting your eyeshadows and how to go about choosing the right neutral shades, ’cause we all need a great set of neutrals. 😉

Please note: This article uses MAC eyeshadows as examples of eyeshadows to start your collection with. If MAC is not an affordable option, I recommend NYX eyeshadows as they are quality comparable dupes to MAC and numerous dupe lists may be found on Google.


Are You Warm, Neutral or Cool?

Your complexion plays a key role in the selection of eyeshadows. What looks amazingly well on someone with a warm complexion does not always translate well for those with a cool complexion and vice versa. Your complexion can also change how an eyeshadow looks on you compared to how it looks on a friend. Determining whether you’re warm, neutral or cool is relatively easy and there are two basic methods I use to do so:

  • Look at your wrists in natural sunlight. Are your veins green, blue or a mixture of both?
  • Do you look better in gold or silver jewelry? If you don’t have both on hand, you can also use gold or silver fabric. Which one makes your face light up?

You are of a WARM complexion if . . . you feel you look better in gold jewelry, and your veins appear more green than blue.

You are of a NEUTRAL complexion if . . . you feel you look great wearing both gold and silver jewelry and your veins are a mixture of blue and green.

You are of a COOL complexion if . . . you feel you look better in silver jewelry, and your veins appear more blue than green.


What Color Are Your Eyes?

Eye color plays an enormous role in eyeshadow selection. If you missed the past post about How to Pick The Perfect Eyeshadow for Your Eye Color, I’ll explain it briefly here.

Relying on basic art principles (yep, the same ones you learned in high school and/or elective classes in college!), you always want to select eyeshadow colors opposite your eye color as outlined on the color wheel; these are called complementary colors. For example, if you have green eyes, pinks, purples and oranges draw the most contrast against green eyes. Oranges, pinks and gold shades draw out blue eyes, and so on and so forth. Knowing the contrasting colors for your eye color is key to building your collection with the right colors for the most impact. We’ll talk more about this in Part II.


Everyone Needs Neutrals!

It is essential to have a great stock of neutrals on hand! Neutrals are great because they make you look bright and awake without looking like you’re wearing too much and they can also help make colorful eyeshadows more wearable. So, how do you choose?

  • Select your blending shade(s)! Generally these are colors that match your skintone and are matte in finish. You really only need one real good one, but having two to three isn’t a bad idea either. (Example: I heart MAC’s Blanc Type, Vanilla and Bisque because each deliver a different result, depending on the crease color used.)
  • Pick three to five light shades of varying finishes. Think of ones like MAC All That Glitters, Naked Lunch, Shroom, Ricepaper, Grain, etc. These work well because they can make a look effortless. Placing one of these on the lid with a medium neutral in the crease will give you a completed look, even in a rush.
  • Choose three medium shaded eyeshadows of varying finishes. Medium shaded eyeshadows are perfect for the crease and at this point, you’ll want to take your warm/neutral/cool complexion into consideration. Please see the list below for warm and cool eyeshadows. Medium shaded eyeshadows to consider are MAC Wedge, Omega, Haux, Malt, Soft Brown, Swiss Chocolate, Cork, Era, etc.
  • Select two to four dark shades of varying finishes. Dark shades are great for adding depth and dimension to a look and can help to pull everything together. These may be used on the outer half of the lid, sparingly in the outer v or as eyeliner. Consider shades such as MAC Handwritten, Mystery, Bronze, Espresso, Mulch, etc. Again, your complexion will play a role in the types of shades that are best for your unique coloring.

When I talk about ‘varying finishes’ I mean it’s a good idea to get a mixture of mattes and shimmers, unless you absolutely can’t stand one or the other. If you are a beginner and uncertain as to whether or not you’ll like these finishes, I recommend trying them in the store to be certain.

MAC’s Neutrals: Are they Warm or Cool?

  • All That Glitters (W/N/C)
  • Amber Lights (W/N)
  • Antiqued (W/N)
  • Bamboo (W/N)
  • Bronze (W/N)
  • Brown Down (W/N/C)
  • Brown Script (W/N)
  • Brun (W/N/C)
  • Charcoal Brown (W/N/C)
  • Concrete (W/N/C)
  • Coquette (N/C)
  • Corduroy (W/N)
  • Cork (W/N/C)
  • Embark (W/N/C)
  • Era (W/N/C)
  • Espresso (W/N/C)
  • Folie (W/N)
  • Grain (W/N/C)
  • Ground Brown (W/N/C)
  • Handwritten (W/N/C)
  • Haux (W/N)
  • Honesty (W/N)
  • Honey Lust (W/N)
  • Malt (W/N) – possibly Cool
  • Mulch (W/N/C)
  • Mystery (W/N/C)
  • Naked Lunch (W/N/C)
  • Omega (W/N/C)
  • Patina (W/N/C)
  • Retrospeck (W/N/C)
  • Sable (W/N)
  • Saddle (W/N)
  • Soba (W/N)
  • Soft Brown (W/N)
  • Swiss Chocolate (W/N)
  • Tempting (W/N/C)
  • Texture (W/N)
  • Twinks (W/N/C)
  • Wedge (W/N/C)
  • Woodwinked (W/N)

Read Part II: All About Color!


22 thoughts on “How to Build Your Eyeshadow Collection (Part I of II)

  1. This is such a wonderful post, Zabrina. Just one comment about neutrals. Since I have cool undertones to my skin, the typical neutral eye shadows which are shades of tan, like Naked Lunch, Grain, Soft Brown, etc. look horrible on me. They are the worst colors for me, because they are much too warm for my complexion. For me, great neutrals are shades of gray, going from white, to different shades of gray and black, and also very cool browns like Mac’s Mystery.

  2. This is such an interesting list to look at because there are a few “iconic” neutrals in that list that a lot of people rave about and so I’ve looked at them a LOT and put them back every time. Turns out, they’re ones that aren’t indicated as being for COOL skin tones – Soft Brown, Swiss Chocolate and Brown Script. I’ve had Sable for several years but have never been really crazy about it; now I see why – it’s another one not indicated as being COOL so no wonder I struggle with it! Z, I’m surprised that Copperplate, a MAC staple neutral, isn’t on your list.

    1. Ahhh! Yep, that’s why!
      I didn’t add Copperplate as I feel it’s more of a gray shade, like Satin Taupe. I wanted this list to be more about the more brown neutrals. 😉

  3. This is so helpful! I am really looking forward to part II!!!
    Also, I wish this post made it up a bit earlier… turns out Bronze and Folie made it to my birthday wishlist… and I think I am either neutral or cool toned… Aaaah, I hope it turns out ok for me =(

  4. Here is a pretty straight forward test: Go to a MAC counter. Try swatches of both Painterly and Soft Ochre paint pots on the back of your hand. If Painterly looks best, you are cool-toned. If Soft Ochre looks best, you are warm-toned. Soft Ochre looked plain gross on the back of my hand when I swatched it, to the point that I felt compelled to remove it. I’m definitely cool-toned; when I sampled Painterly on my lid, it blended right in and will make a perfect base color. However, I have a serious attraction to certain warm toned colors, especially browns, bronzes, golds and oranges. At least my eye color lets me get away with some of those colors. 🙂

    1. Great tip!!! I own painterly and it blends perfectly with my skin! So, same here, I am cool toned and also a lover of warm toned colors… I just can’t figure out quite well, which warm toned shadows suit me and which don’t…

      1. Ha, we just can’t win I guess. The heart wants something while the brain is screaming “Noooooo! That’s really expensive and it won’t look good on you (or you could do better) and you’ll never use it! It will just sit there looking pretty!” 😀

  5. The painterly/soft ochre test works. I used to use painterly and wondered why everything looked muddy on my eyes…until I learned that I needed a yellow undertone base to help blend out all my freckles… Much much better!

  6. Went to MAC today and purchased my 1st blending eyeshadow. I am currently Omega, but l tan naturally in summer no matter how much sunscreen l slather. Will have to see how l go in the winter months. Also can’t wait till we go to the US in September so l can stock up on MAC. $33.00 an eyeshadow here.

  7. Zabrina, is Bisque a limited edition colour or is it just not available internationally? I can’t seem to find it here in Australia.

  8. Thanks a lot for the warm/cool information on the neutrals. Each time I go to the mac counter, they try to sell me warm shades for my cool complexion, and they are often successful! I get them home and then gravitate back to my old colors. I think the idea (at the counter) is that if you go outside of the colors that look good, then the colors “pop”. Overall, I don’t want the colors to pop. I want “me” to pop.

  9. I was able to get to a MAC counter today and did the painterly/soft echre test and know even more confused. Neither suited me, either too pink or yellow. I thought l was warm toned due to vein color and how my skin reacts to a tan 🙁 Maybe l’m a netrual that leans to warm due to actual skin colour, eye colour and hair colour.

  10. Zebrena,

    It would be great if the shadows listed here were linked to pot and swatch samples. That way this page would be a one stop shop for selecting what to buy. Thanks for all of your hard work! – Pg

  11. This is so helpful, now I know I’m a cool shade, and why several of the shades I’ve boughten, like Sable, Saddle and Soba looked so good in the pan and bad on my lids! I wish they had this info at MAC! The Painterly, Ochre test worked for me, Painterly all the way. I am taking screen shots of this and keeping in my phone for my next MAC visit, thanks again 🙂

  12. I am confused about myself as my eyes possibly conflict with my skin tone. Do I listen to my eyes or my skin when I pick out shadow colors? I match painterly in skin tone so I am cool and yet I have light green eyes and copper/red hair isn’t that warm? thank you..

    1. Hi Kathryn! You want to listen to your skintone; from what I understand, hair color does not determine whether you’re cool or warm. 😉 Your eyes do play a factor, but only after you’ve discovered your complexion tone. For example, if you determine that you’re cool, you’d want to focus on cooler shades opposite your eye color on the color wheel to make them pop; i.e. cool purples, cool pinks, grays, etc. (because purple and red are opposite green on the color wheel) 😀

  13. Awesome. But why can’t, for me, someone just put together a neutral makeup palette because I seem to keep overdoing it because I keep watching videos and now I have more palettes than I can ever use. Is there a company that does that? I need help in that area! I started with makeup geek but got a bit overwhelmed with all the colors…any suggestions. I’m still too new to makeup. Thanks

  14. Hi there everyone:)

    I’m really new here. Just got my membership recently, and I’m still confused about the whole cool/warm thing, and I’m probably a true neutral. Both Painterly and Soft Ochre are a little muddy and dark on me, but MAC Pro Longwear concealer in NW20 looks great as both a concealer under my eyes and as an eye shadow base. My coloring is almost exactly like the model in the above picture (except my green eyes are a little darker and more olive), but she’s way lovelier and younger than I am…just the coloring is very like mine, and I would love to know what MAC eye shadows would correspond to the ones that are used in the picture. I know it’s not your picture, Z, but can you tell me what to get to recreate that look? Or could anyone else help me? Just need some shadows that will create some looks for everyday and some for going out.

    1. Hmm, you could try recreating it with something like MAC’s Shroom or MUG’s Shimma Shimma on the inner half of the lid (or any beige-white, shimmery eyeshadow), a deeper plum or purple like MAC’s Sketch on the outer half of the lid and a brown-red in the crease (something like MAC’s Sable or UD Toasted would work well there). Please let me know what you think if you try it! Heck, I want to try it now! 😀

      1. Hi Z

        Thanks so much for the reply. I have yet to purchase Sketch, but I own the other shades, and it works out beautifully. I used Embark very lightly. Embark is so gorgeous on my eyes. So…on to Sketch today, and several other colors. I want to try MUG too, but I’m so afraid of further addiction;)

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