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Eye Makeup Tips for Older Women

How to apply eyeliner, make your lashes longer & more

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The secret to makeup when you're past 50 is not to look younger. It's to look as good and fresh as you can for your age. My goal for you is to help you gain confidence in your makeup application, so that you can step out feeling great about yourself.

My other hope for you is that you work to refrain from publicly poo-poohing the things you hate most about aging: eyelids that droop or baggy under-eye circles or the lines that have etched their way from the corners of your eyes to your hairline. You can fix these things in a plastic surgeon's or dermatologist's office (See 5 Wrinkle Fixers). What you can't get in a doctor's office are the free tips and tricks for perfect makeup application.

Here, I share everything I know about eye makeup and the older woman.

Get dozens more makeup tips in Older Women Makeup Tips.

Heavy Makeup Can Add Years to Your Look

Less is more when it comes to makeup as you age. The late author Charla Krupp in her book, "How Not to Look Old," stated that nothing ages an older woman more than loads of eye makeup. And it's true: unless you've had blepharoplasty (an eye-lift), too much thick, black eyeliner and heavily pigmented shadows will add years to your look and magnify those hooded lids and crow's feet.

Makeup artist Bobbi Brown agrees that less is more. In her book, "Beauty Evolution" she states that women who wear too much makeup can come across as trying to hide who they really are. "It's almost as if they don't want to see themselves."

So how to create eye makeup that isn't garish? Think subtle. Sometimes all a woman needs to look fantastic by day are good brows (this means brows that are well-shaped and filled-in), a pop of blush for color, lipstick topped with gloss and a couple coats of mascara. If you are a makeup newbie, I always recommend heading to a department store and getting a makeover. You can learn a lot from watching someone else do your makeup.

Find out what happens when celebrities go too far with the makeup in Are Your Hairstyle and Makeup Aging You?

The Importance of Knowing Your Best Features

Bobbi Brown recommends older women take off all their makeup, stand back and really look at themselves in the mirror and consider their best features. I argue that most women know their best features by now and don't need a mirror to figure it out.

She is correct that it's always best to consider your best feature and play it up instead of trying to downplay a bunch of bad features. And if you aren't sure what your best feature is, think back to the compliments you've received over the years. If people love your eyes, play them up with makeup and by wearing clothes that make your eye color stand out. If you get compliments on your lips, make wearing bright colors your personal statement.

Eyeshadow: Less Is More

When it comes to eyeshadow on aging eyes, the beauty rule "less is more" applies. You don't want to apply a blend of several different shades to wrinkly, crepe-y eyelids. Unless, of course, you've had an eye lift and your lids are as taut as a duvet at a Four Seasons Hotel.

Instead, sweep a neutral shade across the eyes by day. At night or for special occasions, apply a darker shade to the crease to add definition. You really don't need more than 2 colors on your lids.

And whatever you do, keep the eyeshadow off your browbone, says makeup artist Patti DuBroff, who makes up the faces of many celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow. She said in InStyle magazine that many women over age 30 age themselves with bad eyeshadow application.

"Shadow on the brow bone can make you look kind of old," she said. "I never put anything past the crease of (Paltrow's) eye."

Get more shadow tips in Eyeshadow: How to Apply It, My Best Picks & More.

Primer: The Secret to Long-lasting Color

When I was younger and had oily skin, my eyeshadow tended to pool into the crease of my lid in warm or hot weather. And then years later, eyeshadow primer was created and my life changed.

Just as you prime a wall with primer before you paint it, the secret to flawless makeup lies in makeup primer. Apply a layer of primer on your lids to keep your eyeshadow in place. You can also use primer on your lashes. Laura Mercier makes a great one. I use it before I apply my mascara and it helps it glide on more smoothly.

See The Scoop on Eyeshadow, Foundation and Mascara Primers for much more information.

The Right Kind of Eyeliner

The wrong kind of eyeliner is thick and black. A better option for older eyes are soft, smudged shades in brown if you have light coloring and black if you are darker. 

Here are a few tips I love:

  • Liquid liner. If you love the look of liquid liner, no problem. Just make sure you have a steady hand and line the upper lid with a thin line of liquid, which is more flattering on older women than thick eyeliner. Avoid lining your lower lid with liquid, it can look unnatural. 
  • Your lower lid. You can skip lining your lower lid, but the right application can really open up the eyes.
  • How to line the lower lid. Many makeup artists suggest lining the lower lid just under the lash line with a soft pencil. Go over the line with the pad of your pinkie finger to smudge it. You can also use a Q-tip. When I line my lower lid, I use a small eyeshadow brush, dip it in the darkest color in my eyeshadow palette (always brown because I'm a blonde) and then draw a line under my eye. It's naturally smudged this way and looks fantastic.

I recommend eye pencils you can sharpen yourself and which are soft and don't require warming up first (in high school, I had to warm my eye pencil tips by touching them quickly to a hot lightbulb. Not worth it!)

Eyeliner Application Tips

Every expert has their rules for lining the eyes. I've seen advice to start from the outside and draw the line in. I've also read that it's best to start with a thin line at the inset of the eye and work the line out. My advice: Try each technique and see which one you like the best.

Here are a few tips I do believe in:

  • The universal way to line older eyes is to use a pencil or an eyeliner brush dipped in a dark shadow and draw the line as close as you can to the lashes. Add a soft, smudged line under the eyes.
  • If you have small eyes, try stopping your line just before you hit the inside of the eye. Stand back and see if you like the results. Sometimes, lining the entire eye from corner to inset can make eyes appear smaller.
  • Lining the rim? Eh, don't. It's a dated look. My mother used to grab the skin under her eye and line the inside rim of her bottom eye. This always screamed, "Infection Risk!!!" to me, but that's what she liked to do. Some women love to line their "water line," but I think it makes eyes look smaller and beadier. That said, if you, like my mother, stubbornly won't let your old habits die,  don't stop. The important thing is that you feel comfortable in your eye makeup.
  • If you have puffy, under-eye bags, I recommend not bringing attention to them by lining under the eyes. Keep your eyeliner to the top lid.
  • Some women swear by eyeliner tattoos because they've a) been wearing the same makeup for years and haven't changed anyway, b) like waking up looking all made up and c) love not having to bother with makeup. If you are considering going this route, do your homework first. Because that tattoo is on there for life.
  • Like the cat eye? Be careful not to do too much of a cat eye (where the line goes out longer than the eye and flips up), it can look dated. I personally think even Angelina Jolie looks silly in this look, which she used to wear often, but that's just my opinion.

Get more liner tips in How to Apply Eyeliner.

Choose the Correct Mascara

Older women should choose a lengthening mascara over a volumizing one. The secret is to give your lashes as much length, not bulk, as possible. Volumizing mascara can make short, stubby lashes look even more stubbier. As for color, if you have a light complexion and blonde or gray hair, a dark brown may look less harsh than a black mascara.

There are many ways to apply mascara but I find the very best way to get the thickest, non-clumpiest lashes ever is to abide by these tips:

  • Do NOT pump the wand in and out of the mascara. This will dry out your mascara.
  • Curl my lashes, then apply a mascara primer. The primer separates the lashes and the curler (Shu Uemura, of course) gives just the right amount of curl at the root of the lashes. 
  • Always start your stroke as close to the roots as possible.
  • Wiggle the wand back in forth at the root so you get as much of the mascara at the base of your lashes as possible.
  • Pull the wand through to the tips of your lashes, wiggling back and forth along the way.
  • Go through with a couple more strokes to make sure you get as much mascara on the lashes as possible. Don't wait until your first coat dries, make sure the 2nd and 3rd coats follow while lashes are still wet with mascara.
  • There's no need to coat your bottom lashes. In fact, most makeup artists recommend you don't. The results can be fake.

Get more mascara tips in How to Apply Mascara: 15 of My Best Tips & Tricks.

Make Your Lashes Longer

Many women as they age find their lashes aren't as long as they once were. The easiest way to open up your eyes and to improve the look of your lashes is to curl your lashes. For best results, warm up the lash curler with a blow dryer for 3 seconds and then curl your lashes. Make sure to test the metal first so you don't burn your lid. Then apply a couple sweeps of mascara to your newly curled lashes.

I have friends who swear by Latisse and other products that you apply to your lashes to help them grow lush and long. The effects are long-term, they truly work and with proper use you will have longer, more lush lashes. The cons are that putting a product on your eyelash line is a bit creepy when you consider the warnings that it "may cause your eye color to change." Have no fear, apparently this only happened to one person, the company now has to include a warning. Just don't put this in your eye. Put it at the lash line.

See How to Use and Eyelash Curler.

Short Lashes? The Scoop on False Lashes

If your lashes are not as thick and lush as they used to be, you can get lash extensions at some salons. It's pretty pricey (about $60 for a job that lasts a couple weeks), but worth the splurge if you want to look great for a big event or a special occasion. I recommend looking for Groupon or Lifebooker deals.

You can also play around with false lashes for a special occasion. But apply individual lashes rather than a whole length of false lashes. It will look more natural.

See How to Apply False Eyelashes.

Play Up the Eyes or the Mouth, Never Both

If you are a lipstick person, this tip is for you. Bright, bold lip colors can be stunning on older women, especially those who wear glasses. The bold lip balances out the heaviness of the frames.

Just remember to tone down your eye makeup and blush if you are going bold on your lips. Too much makeup and you risk looking like a clown. Don't believe me? Check out Play Up the Eyes or the Mouth?

For more lipstick tips, see my article Lipstick Tips for Older Women.

The Importance of Your Clothing Color Choices

I have blue eyes that pop whenever I wear anything blue above my waist. Every single time I wear bright blue and go out in the world, someone will mention my amazing eyes. I wear white or black or really, any other color and my eyes go unnoticed.

Keep this little tidbit in mind when it comes to showing off your fabulous eye makeup: learn what colors bring out your eyes and fill your closet with them. For women with brown eyes with green specks, greens might be your color. Brown eyes might be highlighted with teal.

Choosing Right Frames for Your Glasses

Many older women wear glasses, at least for reading. If you wear glasses, make sure your frames are stylish. The late, great beauty writer Charla Krupp taught us in her book "How Not to Look Old" the importance of great frames when it comes to appearing youthful -- or older than you are. The right frames can take 10 years off your face, whereas the wrong ones can add 10 years.

If you wear glasses, I recommend reading Best Glasses for Older Women, which is chock-full of tips and tricks for choosing glasses.

How to Conceal Droopy Eyelids Without Surgery

Drooping eyelids are another natural part of the aging process but there's no need to invest in eyelid surgery. You can spend 1000s on an eye-lift or you can try these beauty tips that cost nothing. Find out how in How to Conceal Droopy Eyelids Without Surgery.

Is There a Real Difference Between a $8 Eyeshadow and a $40 Eyeshadow?

When it comes to beauty products, many times you're paying for a pricey packaging and the ability to try before you buy. When it comes to eyeshadow, you really do get what you're paying for. Pricier eyeshadows tend to have more pigment and stay on the lids longer. I recommend skipping the drugstore and buying a quality eyeshadow at Sephora or a department store.

See Should You Splurge or Save on Eyeliner & Eyeshadow?

How to Properly Remove Your Eye Makeup

For years I used Vaseline to remove my eye makeup and it work beautifully -- until I read that it can be bad for your eyes. Nothing ever happened to my eyes, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Your best bet for removing eye makeup is to use a special liquid eye makeup remover. Neutrogena and Clinique both make great ones. You can also get pads, but I prefer the liquid on a tissue because it's less waste.

Get pro tips from beauty experts in How to Remove Your Makeup.

More Beauty Tips for Older Women

Loved this? Don't miss my other beauty tips for older women including:

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