If you have hooded eyes like me, monolids, or just small eyes, applying eye shadow can be tricky. My misadventures in makeup have largely centered on unflattering eye looks that did not even stay in place by the end of the day.

Why is it so hard to apply makeup with hooded eyes? A typical eye makeup tutorial is built vertically: line, lid, crease, brow. But if you have hooded eyes, the fold of your crease is relatively low. This leaves little room for your light lid shade, and too much of a dark crease shade can make your eyes look smaller than they actually are.

Fortunately, by taking a horizontal approach to your eye shadow, you can craft a look that makes your eyes look bigger. A few additional tweaks can leverage light not only to enlarge your eyes but to make you look more awake. And using the right products can prevent shadow or mascara from transferring to other parts of the eye and messing up your carefully crafted look.

Let’s go step by step together in order to build a customized eye look that works for your natural eye shape and your personal style!

01. Primer

The single best thing you can do for yourself is to use primer! If your eyelid folds at the crease or comes over your lash line, it’s easy for your shadow to transfer to the area above your eyelid. The right primer will help to lock the shadow in place to prevent this.

How and where you apply the primer makes a difference too. To keep shadow in place and distribute product evenly, use your finger to gently pat primer over your entire lid and crease, all the way up to your brow bone. If your primer comes with an applicator, just swipe it lightly a few times across the lid and brow bone and then blend with your finger.

Neutral or translucent primer is best for this process. Some people swear by expensive primers to keep their product in place—the MAC Prep + Prime base comes highly recommended—but I have always done just fine with e.l.f’s $3 version.

02. Eyeliner

Now, for some unconventional advice: apply your eyeliner first. Why? Since your eyes may look smaller, you want to aim for a softer look. Thick or harsh graphic lines are hard to get right on hooded eyes, owing to their unique shape. Applying liner first will give it a more subtle effect while still adding some definition. Keep your line thin and use an angled brush to buff out the liner. A gel or pencil liner is ideal for this process. If you’re looking for an easy start, try Covergirl’s Perfect Point pencil, more like a thin crayon.

What if you are more comfortable using liquid eyeliner? It’s not inherently off-limits, but you do have to be careful to keep the line thin enough, and to avoid applying too much near the corners. In my experience, liquid eyeliner is an exception to the above rule—it goes on better if applied last. One last tip: If you are really fair, like me, black eyeliner might also have the unfortunate effect of making your eyes look smaller. Try a brown liner for a softer, more natural look. I use Benefit’s Roller Liner liquid eyeliner, but there are drugstore options out there too.

03. Eyeshadow

Smart application of shadow is the key to making your eyes look big and bright. Forget what you know about typical eye looks, which usually rely on your crease as a guide. You want to use your orbital bone instead. Don’t know where that is? Reach up and gently press the area beneath your eyebrow to feel the bone. That’s the place we’re talking about!

To make your eyes appear larger, the key is to use darker shades on the outside and lighter shades on the inside. In order to apply the product with precision, it’s important to tap your brush in between picking up a shadow and applying it. Otherwise, the extra product can transfer everywhere! Pick up a couple of smaller brushes, including a small blending brush. Now let’s go through the basic steps to create a gradual, ombre look.

  1. First, an optional step: I like to apply a wash of a light neutral shade to my entire lid and brow before I start adding color. Why? A lighter shade underneath makes the colors brighter and more luminous, which (you guessed it) makes the eye look bigger. However, the difference is fairly subtle, so skip this if you’re in a hurry.
  2. Next, apply your middle shade. Try a mid-tone shimmer shade; a shadow that uses mica instead of glitter will have a subtle sheen and reflect more light. Pack this shade onto the middle of your lid with your brush of choice and stop application before you reach the outer corner of your eye, avoiding the last quarter of your eyelid. Once you have applied the shadow, use your blending brush to work the shadow upwards and outwards. Stop blending once you reach the orbital bone (you can feel the space between your eyeball and the bone) and before you reach the outer corner of the eye, leaving the final quarter untouched.
  3. Now, time to add some depth. Use a soft pressing motion to apply just a tiny bit of a darker, complementary shade near the outermost corner of the eye, right where you stopped with the mid-tone shade. Blend the darker shade up towards your orbital bone and then in towards the middle of your eyelid, blending it together with the middle shade. Take your time, and thoroughly blend the two shades to achieve a gradated look. To envision what these steps look like, check out this tutorial. It will also teach you a few common mistakes to avoid!

Under the eye, you have two options. If you are using a softer, subtler eyeliner, try smudging a little bit underneath the eye, starting from the outer edge, and buff it out. If you prefer the precision of a liquid liner up top, use an angled brush to smudge some of your dark shade under the eye for a similar effect. This step really seals the deal for a wide-eyed look! However, you should only use a small amount of product, and be sure not to go beyond the halfway point beneath the eye: If you get too close to the inner corner, your eyes will look smaller.

If you like, you can add a few finishing touches. To further lighten up the look and widen the eyes, apply a wash of a light, neutral shade over just the lid. Close your eye to make sure you get the full lid. To introduce even more light, apply a light neutral or white shadow in the inner corners of your eye in a little V shape around the tear duct, then swipe a little bit across your brow bone. Highlighter works for this purpose, too! And if you want to incorporate even more shades into this basic format for a fancier look, this tutorial can show you how.

The key is to start with a little shadow and build towards the desired intensity. Too much of a dark shade will ruin the look, so slow down and go bit by bit. Plus, quality eye shadow can improve staying power and prevent against transfer. I love Tarte’s neutral palettes (which look and smell amazing!), but my sister swears by her $6 drugstore Revlon palette.

04. Mascara

Mascara goes a long way to making eyes look bigger and polishing off your look. If you are comfortable using one, an eyelash curler can increase the volume of your lashes with very little effort. This makes a big difference in bringing out my relatively small eyelashes.

To avoid mascara ending up where it isn’t supposed to be, apply it to your bottom lashes first. Why? If you do it last, widening your eyes to add a bottom coat can cause the top coat to transfer to your brow—especially (you guessed it) with hooded eyes. Go from bottom to top, and add a second coat on top if your eyelashes are thin.

Waterproof mascara can help with that pesky transfer problem, especially if your brow comes over your lash line. But I prefer to use the regular kind and to apply instead some setting powder underneath my eyes so that the product does not come off when I blink! A $10 translucent powder by NYX and a tiny brush get the job done.

It may sound complicated at first, but doing makeup for hooded eyes only requires a few small adjustments that have monumental effects. Hopefully, you will find that your eyes look wider and brighter, and you will have fewer problems keeping your makeup in place as the day goes on. Keep practicing and you can build out an entire array of looks just using these few easy steps!