When the Smoky Eye Goes Bad: Makeup Tips For Sagging (or Mono) Lids

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I remember a number of years back, during an editorial meeting with my then-editor-in-chief. We were discussing beauty woes that affect Asian women, and she brought up “raccoon eyes.” Now, I have to confess, I didn’t know what she was talking about back then. I understood that it had something to do with eye makeup smudging. And my black eyeliner smudged once in a while. But I never would’ve called it raccoon eyes.

Fast forward a decade. Oh, I understand raccoon eyes. Next to covering my sunspots, raccoon eyes have become the top makeup concern on my list. It’s all thanks to my eyelids, which always had a small but discernible fold, drooping lower and lower over the years. As my liner gets thicker, so does the mess it makes by the end of the day. I find myself increasingly on a quest for the “perfect” eyeliner, the “perfect” mascara,” the “perfect” eyeshadow.

What I’ve learned? There is no one holy grail product. It’s all about that confluence of product and technique, that when applied just so, creates the “perfect” look . (At this point, I would be happy just not scaring away little children.) But after much trial and error (and error and error), I think I’ve actually come up with a solid regimen that not only lasts all day but actually opens up my eyes and and makes me look better.

First, line the upper waterline.

I know. This sounds crazy. How could it make such a difference? Honestly, I never lined my upper waterline until about a year ago. I never felt the need to. A quick swipe of eyeliner on my upper lid usually did the trick. But when my lids started to sag, and my eyeliner became barely visible when I opened my eyes, something about lining the upper waterline instantly opened up my eyes the way the ever-thickening swath of black liner no longer could. It also made me look like I had a million more lashes than I really did — important when I already had thin lashes to begin with and age had pruned them even more.

Now line your lower lid.

If you’ve never lined your lower lid, you may be balking at this one, but bear with me here. When makeup artists tell you to put primer or concealer or powder under your eyes to prevent smudging, what they’re saying is to put a barrier on your lower lid that will minimize the transfer of all that color from your upper lids down to your lower lids. But I find that the more powder or concealer I put on in an area fraught with fine lines, the more fine lines get emphasized. It was Sophie’s choice: magnified fine lines or splotches of black liner.

What I’ve discovered is that instead of using powder or concealer, lining my lower lid with a pearly taupe or rose gold shade actually addresses both issues. One, it places product between my upper lid and lower lid, to minimize any transfer of makeup between the two. Second, a touch of shimmery color on your lower lid adds a bit of brightness and opens up the eye, sort of the way Korean girls are adding shimmer on their lower lid to mimic the aegyo-sal cutesy-doll eyes.

Line the lower lid with a neutral shadow with a bit of sheen.

Line the lower lid with a neutral shimmery shadow.

Always wear mascara. 

Yes, it makes a difference. It’s the whole add-another-layer-to-prevent-transfer theory. I’ve tried going without mascara, especially on days where I was just playing around with my niece and nephew or running a few errands. Let me tell you, after coming home to realize I had black smudges all over my face (and probably why my nephew no longer wanted to play with me), I never go without mascara anymore. Besides, it really does open up the eyes, especially when your lids are saggy.

Switch your eye makeup products.

Sometimes, you just have to let go of your go-to’s, especially when they no longer work for the changing topography of your face. Instead, try waterproof or water-resistant eye makeup. Makeup artist Taylor Chang-Babaian recommends waterproof eyeliner and mascara from Chanel, Nars and Clé de Peau Beauté. She also finds “kind of amazing” the waterproofer from Anastasia, which you apply over any eyeliner.

As for me, it took a lot of experimentation (and many days coming home only to see that I resembled a scarier version of the look below), but I finally narrowed down my favorite for-real, non-smudging, long-lasting, eye-opening makeup products. Here’s my definitive list (for now anyway — who know what my aging skin will pull on me next):

Yeah, I pretty much felt this angry, too.

Yeah, I pretty much felt this angry, too.

A good eye cream.

Your makeup is only as good as the skin underneath it. It’s why Korean women are so obsessed with skin care — so their makeup will “melt” into skin. So always, always start with a good eye cream. I vary mine, depending on what I’m testing out at the moment. For the cooler winter months, I switch to a heavier cream like Estée Lauder’s Re-Nutriv Ultimate Diamond Transformative Energy Eye Crème, but it doesn’t feel greasy at all and hydrates incredibly well (I even use it during the day). I just finished Regencia Revitalizing Eye Creme, which has next-gen growth factors, and I definitely noticed a softening of the lines under my eyes.

A nude, non-shimmery eyeshadow.

Many makeup artists will tell you to use a primer, but because I don’t wear eye shadow for the color, I consider my eye shadow the primer. I also find that primer makes my lids slippery, which defeats the purpose. I use a skin-tone eyeshadow without shimmer — I find that on my Asian lids, shimmer only emphasizes puffiness. I just dab it on to create a nice, clean canvas for what I really care about: my eyeliner.

A good kohl liner.

After trying many, many gel liners, both in a pot and pencil versions, I decided I don’t like gel liners because they dry out super fast and are hard to apply. At my age, I don’t need to be tugging on my ever-increasingly paper-thin eye area any more than I have to. The holy grail of eyeliners for me is Nars Kohliner, and honestly, I don’t know how they do it. It goes on incredibly smooth and silky, deposits pigment easily so you don’t have to keep reapplying, is fine enough to make waterlining a breeze, but not so fine that you can’t also make a nice thick line where you need it. The most amazing part — it is the most durable in terms of smudging than even many gel liners I’ve tried.

A good liquid liner.

Ah, the key to every look. You can do everything right, but if your liquid liner can’t stand the test of Asian eyes, you’re screwed. I’ve tried so many, and frankly, I’m done being the black-eyed guinea pig. Just give me Kat von D Tattoo Liner in bulk and I’m set. The pen liner goes on very smoothly (it’s not too wet, not too dry), but if you really want staying power, do what Kat von D global makeup artist Eric Soto suggests: Press it (don’t swipe) across your lash line. (I cheat and do both; it still lasts, most recently for 10 hours straight.)

I give honorable mention to Maybelline’s Ultra Liner, just because it’s inky black, the color stays put, it’s cheap and the brush applicator is especially good for applying on top of false lashes to really seal them on.

Mascara. Always.

Korean brand Touch In Sol has an amazing mascara called Stretchex that I have eschewed all others for. It’s not one of those fiber mascaras from Japan because you can remove it with makeup remover, but its air polymer powders stretch my lashes to incredible lengths and gives me good volume, all without clumping. I’ve had more comments on my “long” lashes (what?!) than I have since I was a teen.

A pearly taupe eyeshadow stick.

This goes back to what I said above about lining your lower lids to add another shield from all the colors and product on your upper lid. I like to line the lower waterline, from end to end, with Make Up For Ever Aqua Shadow in 20E (now called Aqua Matic) to give my eyes a nice pop, and I’ll sometimes add a dab by the tear ducts for an angelic glow. If you want to line the lower lids with a darker color (I do, just on the outer edges), try Nars Velvet Shadow Stick in Aigle Noir, a shimmery charcoal. It goes on smooth and silky, but give it a minute and it sets like cement.

I know, this seems like a lot of work every morning. But if I do my eyes right, I go through an entire day without a single touch-up. Really. I don’t even have to look in the mirror. And that’s an investment worth making.

Shop the products above here.

Impact photo: Nicole Miller.

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15 thoughts on “When the Smoky Eye Goes Bad: Makeup Tips For Sagging (or Mono) Lids

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