8 best eye shadow palettes for colorful makeup enthusiasts

Kelsey Chapman
Tuesday 30 March 2021 23:49
Wishlist
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There's nothing more thrilling to an eye-focused makeup enthusiast (and that's a lot of us!) than the perfect palette to complement their artistic whims. Having the tools to go from a neutral, work-Zoom friendly eye to "did someone say glitter themed drag show?" is key to our collective happiness, and so we need eye shadow–lots of eyeshadow.

For this reason, I researched some of the best palettes on the market so you can go into the holiday season armed with the knowledge you need concerning the latest and greatest palettes that are worth their weight in pigmented gold. You'll find something here for folks of all ages and aesthetic leaning, and all of it is packaged beautifully, ready to be wrapped and handed over with love.

Related: If you're looking to make it a whole beauty-themed gift year, check out our updated list of amazing fragrances so you can spoil to glamazon in your life properly.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn a commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing, expert advice and our own research. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Makeup Geek Create Your Own Palette

Makeup Geek has been on my radar for quite some time now, namely through getting shoutouts on some popular influencer channels like those of RawBeautyKristi and Jaime French. I was thrilled when they reached out with some samples of their best shadow shades in an array of mattes and foils, all individually packaged and ready to be arranged at to my own liking in the empty magnetic palettes they sent with them.

Upon opening each shade, I was thrilled with the rich jewel tones, large pan size, and obvious pigmentation. The first palette I built ended up looking similar to the one pictured here (my own creation on the website), and the first look I tried was a heavy, smoky emerald halo eye with matte blues and greens layered up with a touch of black to deepen the creaase.

There's a bit of kickback in the pan, as any heavily pigmented shade will have, but the fallout was minimal once on the eye. The mattes blend beautifully and work together extremely well, in contrast to some palettes I've seen where trying to layer ends up actually erasing whatever you've laid down below.

UPDATE: I used these as contour shades for some cosplay looks that required full face paint (I used this Mehron shade as a base) and felt compelled to report the shadows work perfectly for sculpting and adding depth to the eye socket and cheek bones for this purpose. Now back to the OG review…

The foils pack a seriously glitzy punch when applied with the ring finger or a wet brush, and I can't wait to dive further into the pressed pigments for even more intense looks. As I mentioned, the deep oceanic colors like Seas The Day and Indestructible are my favorites so far, but the bright red Untouchable is begging for a devilish go next time I pull out my Makeup Geek palette.

This would make a perfect gift for the creative makeup wearer in your life who wants to experiment with color, or even just someone who needs a bit more control over what they're buying versus someone who prefers pre-selected palettes. A fantastic option would be to treat them to one of Makeup Geek's virtual Masterclasses (click here for a full list) then add on a gift card so they can go through and use their newfound skills to build a custom palette.

lilah b. Palette Perfection Eye Quad

When I first opened this palette, I was shocked at the richness and weight of its stone packaging–yes, it's literally made of pure white stone! There's a luxurious, spa-like look to its minimalist construction, and the sound it makes as you slide it open is pure ASMR delight.

I received the b. fabulous smoky palette, my top pick when first browsing the colors, and immediately got to work creating a classic, cool-toned and lightly smoky look like those I adored so much on models in the 1990s.

The quad itself comes with the shadows all in one pan (as you can see in the picture), which isn't for everyone but for me, it evokes a time in makeup when I worked for a big name counter brand and the super luxe lines were all packaging their shadows this way. I find it incredibly easy to customize the depth of the shadow with this type of packaging, as you can swirl the shadows together or dip separately rather than having to lift the brush and go from pan to pan in order to create your own shade or tone.

As if the packaging wasn't sumptuous enough, the shadows themselves went on like a second skin. Creamy, impossibly blendable and buildable, and melting right in, I was able to whip out a perfect day-to-night look in one minute flat with no fuss over patchiness or fallout. I usually cite Charlotte Tilbury shadows for this type of easy use, but lilah b.'s special formulation containing novel ingredients like marigold extract, aloe, and agar make this one of the smoothest applying shadows I've ever applied to my face.

This palette would be a lovely gift for the ultimate spoiled woman who has grown into herself and knows what she likes, isn't afraid of a little expensive glamour, and appreciates the finer touches in life–like a white stone palette to sit delicately on her vanity. Pigmentation has a less strong impact here, so it's highly flattering on maturing skin while the finely milled reflective particles give a youthful glow regardless of any texture or sagging the wearer might feel.

And while you're shopping for someone on lilah b.'s site, I also very highly recommend adding one of the Aglow Skin Prep Discovery Sets to your basket. Between the priming oil and cleansing butter, it'll soften your skin to perfection and add a deep, natural glow, and the face mist is helpful in setting the whole face post-makeup application or for refreshing touch-ups throughout the day.

Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Eyeshadow Palette

Charlotte Tilbury’s legendary Pillow Talk shades get a shiny makeover with this palette of pops that shimmer and sparkle with a single sweep.

While most palettes contain a mixture of mattes and shimmers or pressed glitters, this one skips straight to the glamorous point by adding reflective particles in each subtle color meant to melt seamlessly into the next for a perfect ombre effect. You can layer them together for all over shine, or you can add to any other shadows in your arsenal to up the wow factor significantly. Think of them as a sort of highlighter for the eye, meant to be played with for the most fun effect possible.

CT’s shadows are all professional-level luxury products and they perform as such. They eschew excess pigment in lieu of remarkable softness, so apply liberally and watch as they practically blend themselves.

Sweet Street L.A. Lady Palette

When it comes to versatility and beauty, this palette takes the (chocolate) cake. 

Let's start with the packaging: It's fresh, trendy, shiny, and heavy on the L.A. vibes–all something I love looking at when reaching for a wonderful everyday palette that can pull me out of the impending grayness of New York winter. There's a nice big mirror inside and the palette itself is constructed out of heavy cardboard, which environmentally conscious users tend to favor. And the shadows: Eight rich, slightly warm neutrals abound in varying shades and depths that each melt into one another as you layer up for a casual or dramatic look. My first attempt was a simple daytime look, so I piled on the creamy BLVD shade and deepened the crease with RIVI and DUSK. To finish, I packed some Morena into the outer corner and smudged it and Midnight under my bottom lash line for a liner effect. Neutral palettes have taken a back seat to bright color stories over the past few years, but this palette brings them back with a softly blended, lush vengeance. 

As for the versatility part, I didn't stop at the eyes. I took the same RIVI color and, thanks to huge pan sizes, dipped a small blush brush into it and swept across my cheeks and nose for a deep bronzing effect on my fair-medium skin. Shine, a metallic shade, worked incredibly well as an illuminating highlight when I ran it down the bridge of my nose and across the tops of my cheeks and lips. Cruisin and Morena came in handy as brow powder when mixed on my brush, and anyone could achieve a perfect soft liner look by buffing any of the deeper shades into the lash line with a slightly damp brush.

These shadows are very pigmented, so you only need the lightest tap for full color payoff. While sometimes that doesn't translate well onto aging skin, the colors are so blendable and smooth that I think users of all ages will find this palette to their liking, especially those who love more soft glam looks. It's a must-have for anyone who appreciates 90s supermodel vibes, natural smokey eyes, warm mid-tone to deep browns, and the extra punch of a shimmering shadow that doubles up as an all-over glow maker.

While cruising the sight, make sure you also consider the L.A. Lady Kisses Bundles seen here, which is a fantastic way to get a cohesive look all over and makes a spectacular gift.

Smith & Cult Sombra Shift Matte & Metallic Eyeshadow Palette

Smith & Cult have given us an incredibly pigmented palette with stunning colors (especially in the Lilac Flash pictured here) for under $30, so buying both is still pretty affordable and offer endless color combos to keep you busy for months to come. They're also vegan, which is sure to please any animal lover out there.

I first tried out the Dusk Blaze palette and was pleasantly surprised at the payoff. Being so heavily pigmented, you only need to pick up a small amount on your brush then follow with a hearty tap to knock off the excess product. Building up is really key with this one, especially when you're into heavier looks like the sort of khaki smoke look I created. I piled on the lighter neutrals before going in with the green shade, then dusted over the finished product with the shifty topper included in the round compartment. The final look here was very grunge-inspired and played up a cool, effortless attitude but with just a hint of glamour to keep it modern.

For the Lilac Flash palette, I really fell for the deep burgundy and purple shades to create a very autumnal, romantic look that worked well in all matte but really shined with the shifty topper once more. It reminds me of similar shades you can find in Pat McGrath's famously pricey palettes, only a bit coarser with larger glitter particles but for $100 less, I can deal with it. The shimmers in this shade range also had a tremendous finish when applied to the lid with the ring finger or a damn flat brush so as to really pack on the color.

These palettes are great for someone younger and edgier who loves a little sparkle and lot of drama. My best advice is to go eyes-first with this one, as the heavy (and beautiful!) pigments do tend to fall out just a smidge while applying to the lid. Swipe away before your skin routine and you'll be in love with the final look.

Pat McGrath Mothership VIII: Divine Rose II

When it comes to pricey luxury shadows, Pat McGrath is the cream of the cat-eyed crop and the Divine Rose II palette is yet another dreamy way to achieve truly unbelievable eye looks.

The first thing you or the receiver of this extra special gift will notice is the packaging–the packaging. Divine is the correct word indeed. The foiled artwork featured on even the outer box in which it arrives looks like a high fashion art piece, suited perfectly to adorn your vanity permanently despite being constructed of simple cardboard.

Once you've unboxed the outer layer, the black and gold palette itself is a sight to behold. Made from hard, heavy plastic and emblazoned with McGrath's signature gold hieroglyphics, the top opens to reveal 10 sumptuous shadows in varying shades of pink, burgundy, and shimmering topper that combine to truly illuminate whatever canvas they touch.

As you'll see time and time again watching YouTube reviews of Pat McGrath palettes, the eye-catching glamour of the shimmer and foil shadows within can't really be captured on camera. You only need small amounts of product for impactful, buildable color, but the magic happens when you swipe either a shifty shade (in this case, VR Sextraterrestrial) or a light, gossamer topper (Astral Pink Moon). The way the light bounces off the delicate particles is breathtaking and shows off just why this palette is so very expensive.

Because of the price, this is fairly prohibitive and for serious collectors only. Absolutely gift it to the seasoned pro in your life who has an arsenal of knowledge and application skills, as while these basically blend themselves (ahh, the joy opulence), the seductive drama of a Mothership palette is best when treated with the respect a product like this commands.

Colourpop Dream Big Shadow Palette Vault

Oh, Colourpop, where to even begin?

The budget-friendly makeup makers have outdone themselves once again with this incredible collection featuring six of their monochromatic 9-pan palettes in exciting shades of blue, purple, yellow, green, orange, and red for an endless array of color possibilities for the shadow enthusiast who likes to build cohesive looks filled with rich depth and sparkle.

My favorite aspect of Colourpop shadows and pressed pigments is the boldness of how each shadow appears on the skin. The Blue Moon palette seen here has been a staple in my kit for well over a year now, and despite being all blues, I have used it to create myriad looks. You can be a shimmering mermaid, or give off sexy Love Witch vibes, deliver a subtle pastel, or just swipe on your favorite shade for a one-and-done routine.

Another delightful upside here is the price. You simply cannot find a better deal on shadows that perform well above their price point, especially when packaged together like this in a very gift-able configuration. The only downsides when working with something this affordable and pigmented is that you will get a decent amount of fallout, but anyone who knows their way around a blending brush can whisk those pesky powders away in a swoosh.

Buy this collection for yourself or your most creative makeup-loving friend who loves to match their makeup to their outfit, or perhaps someone who is missing the neon dreamscape of an all-night dance party in these tamer (i.e. socially distanced) times.

Rude The 70s Palette Set

Full disclosure: I have not yet tried this palette, so I can't praise it quite as much as the others on this list as far as wearability, staying power, pigmentation, and several other factors are concerned. However, it was a must-have on the list because just look at this thing!

ABBA lovers, dance floor assassins, color fiends, and sparkle queens behold! Here is yet another vibrant, beautiful shades packaged in a pink hexagonal configuration of wedge shaped palettes, each telling a different color story with transition shades, pop of glitter and foil, and beautifully intense pastels, jewel tones, and everything in between.

The artwork on each individual package, as well as the main piece tying it all together, is truly inspirational and adorned with dancing queens in their retro club finery, sure to inspire you to try new looks that step outside the bounds of daily basics for a flashy fun time.

At $80 for the full set or just over $13 for each palette, the price point is comparable to Colourpop or another similar low cost brands. It's a bit of an investment considering the sheer number of shadows you're getting, but it's well worth it for anyone who loves trying a whole new look every day.

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