A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
Since masks have more or less rendered the statement lip obsolete, a head-turning lidded look has never been more essential. If you’ve never experimented with shadow — or just want to upgrade your routine — consider investing in a palette, which will give you dozens of compatible shades in one handy compact. There are a lot of buzzy options out there, so to discern what’s actually worth buying, we consulted seven makeup artists to the stars — some of whom have worked with celebrities like Zendaya, Lizzo, and Mary J. Blige. Ahead, their favourites, from a £4 drugstore find to an investment palette you’ll wear every single day.
Best under £20 eye-shadow palettes
If you’d rather not splurge on makeup at the moment — but you still want to try out a new look you spotted on YouTube — might we suggest these £4 e.l.f. Cosmetics palettes? They come recommended to us by Margina Dennis, New York City–based makeup artist who says they’re a “COVID-friendly, inexpensive makeup kit for talent on set,” because they’re cheap enough to toss afterward for sanitary reasons. But you don’t have to be a makeup artist to appreciate these. They have “good pigment payoff for a variety of skin tones and a great range of colours and finishes,” Dennis adds. We’re especially drawn to the “Hot Jalapeño” palette with rich greens and browns, but they have seven other options. Plus, all of e.l.f.’s products are 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free.
Dennis also suggests looking to Wet n Wild for inexpensive, highly pigmented palettes. This one comes in just four colourways, and while they’re mostly neutrals, Dennis notes there’s a shade range that will complement any skin tone. This is an especially good palette if you’re new to makeup; each shadow is labeled so you know where to apply it — one for your brow bone, crease, and eyelid, plus a transition shade — to help create a full eye look.
Although this is a touch more expensive than our previous two recommendations, at just £7 it’s still quite a deal. Dennis likes that the pigments on this rainbow-coloured palette are strong, but if you’re not sure if neons are for you, NYX makes a neutral palette for the same price. Even better, on NYX’s website you can try the colours on virtually before you buy.
Porsche Cooper, a celebrity makeup artist who works with Mary J. Blige, Iman, and Winnie Harlow, suggests Juvia’s Place for another inexpensive palette that offers bronze and neutral shades. “It’s filled with a rich tan and auburn as well as matte and shimmery dark chocolate options to accomplish the most beautiful smoke signals on your eyes,” Cooper says. Like the NYX palette, this one has six shades and while it’s more than double the price, Cooper thinks it’s worth a few extra bucks. “The pigment of each shadow is extraordinary enough to inspire makeup pros and novices to create soft and high glam moments.” [Editor’s note: This product is currently out of stock.]
Best under £50 eye-shadow palettes
Alexx Mayo, makeup artist to celebrities including Lizzo, appreciates how high quality Huda Beauty’s products are for the price. “The formulation of these shadows are so buttery and glide on the eye with maximum impact,” he notes. Mayo prefers the neutral palette, proclaiming it “perfect,” but the same highly pigmented formula comes in rosy and purple colourways, too. Keep in mind, though, that because Huda Kattan is a makeup artist herself, some of Huda Beauty’s products require a certain level of technique and aren’t necessarily for beginners.
Makeup artist Mylah Morales at SixK.LA, who regularly works with Rihanna and Taraji P. Henson, recommends any of the five “Tartelette” palettes from Tarte. “It’s a vegan, cruelty-free makeup line,” she says, and the shadows “are creamy and blendable for a natural eye makeup look.” Each of the palettes have 12 shades, ranging from matte to metallic, and they’re “perfect for all skin tones,” Morales adds.
“This palette was created to mimic the Cali sunset,” notes makeup artist Steven Aturo with SixK.LA, who calls it “the best natural palette” with shadows that “work on every skin tone.” Unlike the other palettes we’ve mentioned, this Smashbox favourite comes with two different double-sized base shades — in other words, the powder you apply first and build your eyeshadow look off of. Aturo uses them to highlight the brow bone, and says “the texture offers a great colour payoff and the hint of shimmer for extra glow.”
Best splurge-worthy eye-shadow palettes
“The NARS Extreme Effects Eyeshadow Palette is divinely pigmented for all skin tones, and has been in constant rotation on my photoshoots as of late,” says Cooper. She thinks it’s particularly good for “day-to-day eye looks that will transition easily into festive fall drama.” Aturno agrees, adding that because this palette is “all about versatility,” it’s extremely wearable, which might help you justify the higher price point. He notes that even though there are three different finishes — super matte, shimmer, and latex — they all have a “superfine creamy feel” and blend easily.
Sheika Daley, makeup artist to Zendaya, recommends any palette by fellow makeup artist Pat McGrath, because they all “have a beautiful array of colours that are super pigmented and easy to apply.” Mayo says even the “matte shades provide maximum impact.”
Anastasia Beverly Hills has many different iterations of their Norvina palette, and Daley likes them all. “These have an amazing colour payoff and they come with a larger selection of colours,” she says. For nearly the same price as some of the smaller palettes recommended, the Norvina palette offers 25 different shades of “professional-grade eye shadows” that Daley calls “bold and rich.” She thinks it’s “perfect for those that like to create outside the box” and are constantly switching up their look.
Morales calls this Urban Decay palette — which is one of their seven palettes in their “Naked” collection — “a great everyday palette for all ages.” She particularly likes that “it can be used wet or dry,” and says anyone from a pro to a beginner can use it. She thinks this particular colourway works well on “all skin tones from the lightest to the darkest.” If you’d prefer a more toned down neutral, their Naked Reloaded, Naked2, Naked3 and Naked Honey palettes contain the exact same formula but with more subdued colours — their Naked2 palette even came recommended to our resident beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton by makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes. You can also get Naked Heat in a mini version for half the price if you’re not ready to commit yet.
Like the Urban Decay palette, this Charlotte Tilbury palette works “wet or dry,” Morales says, and she uses it to create everything from “a natural eye to a very dramatic smoky eye for evening.” And because Tilbury herself is a “professional makeup artist first,” Morales notes that “she understands the need for creamier shadows that blend well and are buildable to the skin.”
Aturo and Mayo recommend these Charlotte Tilbury quads for a quick and easy way “to take your eyes to the next level,” says Mayo, since no brush is needed. “I love using my finger to swipe these dazzling shimmer shades on the lid for easy instant glamour,” he adds. And even though Aturo only recently purchased this palette — he went with the Walk of No Shame colourway — it’s “already a favourite of mine for bright eyes that are awake and happy,” he says.
For a fully glitter look, Briscoe looks to this Urban Decay palette because “it has some fun, bright, and sparkly colours perfect for parties and special occasions.” This palette also has four matte shades, so if you’d rather skip the glitter, you still have options.
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