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The Makeup of Makeup: Decoding Eye Shadow

WebMD's basic guide to the history of, ingredients in, and proper application of eye shadow.

Women all around the world play up their eyes by adding color to their upper and lower eyelids. But how much do you know about eye shadow? Read on to learn about the makeup of this very basic makeup.

Made in the Shade: Eye Shadow Ingredients

Eye shadow formulations start with a base filler. Cosmetics-grade talc or mica are the go-to filler ingredients, but some formulas include kaolin clay, says cosmetics chemist Jane Hollenberg, director of JCH Consulting in Red Hook, N.Y.

In a Bind: How Eye Shadow Stays On

Binders are essential to ensure the powder will adhere to skin. The most common binders are derivatives of zinc or magnesium. In addition to pigment, some manufacturers add silica, nylon, dimethicone, boron nitride (a ceramic material), or bismuth oxychloride for “slip” so the powder slides more easily over the lid. And a bit of preservative like glycol (a type of alcohol) or tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) helps prevent bacterial growth.

Greek Life: Eye Shadow From Gem Stones

In ancient Greece, eye shadow was known as fucus and tended to be greens and blues made from lapis lazuli and malachite. Greek women wore the shades and exported them to share with the rest of the world.

Long-Lasting: Eye Shadow Creams

The big difference between a cream and a powder shadow is waxes and oils in the base. Beeswax, castor oil, jojoba oil, shea butter, and silicone are among the options for liquefying a standard shadow. Once the wax or oil dries, the pigment tends to wear longer due to the way the ingredients bond with the skin.

Fast Break: Which Eye Shadows Crumble Fastest

Before you pack your favorite shadow, consider which are more likely to crumble in your bag: Frosted shades, violets, and blues are difficult to compress into cakes and break more easily. Matte shadows are more likely to hold together.

All That Glitters: Irritating Eye Shadows

Do some eye shadows irritate your skin? Large particles in shadow that can cause abrasion are the most common culprits, Hollenberg says. If you have any sensitivities, stay away from glittery shadows.

How to Apply Eye Shadow Correctly

Napoleon Perdis, celebrity makeup artist and creator of NP Set cosmetics, offers his secret for shadow application: To minimize the mess of shadow application, use a firm, small brush rather than a fluffy brush. The stiffer bristles help keep color in place. And always apply mascara first.

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