Resisting Eyeshadow Palette Hype

When I was first introduced to makeup around the age of 11 or 12, high end and midrange brands did not offer a ton of palettes, and the ones that were around were not the cornerstones of those brands. I got my first of the 2010s-hyped eyeshadow palettes my second year of college, the original Naked Palette from Urban Decay, and I used that bad boy every day for nearly 4 years. It was like my eyes (ha) had been opened to this whole new world of multiple eye looks and layering different shades in the same color family. The Naked palette was so popular because of its ease of use (all the shades were rather blendable and beginner-friendly) and its ability to flatter a fairly large range of skintones. Of course, there are many people who don't enjoy the Naked palette, but it definitely started what I think of as the modern-day Eyeshadow Palette with a capital E.P.

The Allure

Eyeshadow palettes are appealing for several reasons. First, they offer thrilling variety in a small package- usually the price tag is "reasonable" in midrange makeup terms, between $40 and $100, for multiple shades. People love to break down the price per oz for these palettes to show how much less expensive it is to buy one set of 10 shadows than to buy those same 10 shades individually at market price. A good deal (or the impression of one) is seductive to newbies and experienced makeup lovers alike.

Second, eyeshadow palettes are generally speaking very visually appealing. They are almost always organized around a central theme, and designed and laid out in a way that sparks ideas for creative combinations and is just overall lovely to look at. If you've ever heard of the somewhat nastily-named Cheerleader Effect, where a group of girls (or guys!) looks more attractive as a whole because they are grouped together, than they look individually, then you can start to understand why eyeshadow palettes seem to be so pretty on first glance. Pretty things look alright by themselves, but they look gorgeous when paired with 9 other pretty things. There's a "greater than the sum of its parts" thing at play here and it yields a love at first sight feeling which can wear off once you buy the palette and take it home.

Third, eyeshadow palettes do play into the collector's mentality that a lot of makeup users start to take on after a few months or years involved in the hobby. There's this idea that if you own all the hot eyeshadow palettes, you are in good company of makeup lovers who have it all. We can't deny the temptation and tendency for people to desire a sense of belonging to a community, especially when the members of that community promote their image and personal brand as something worth emulating.

The Nefariousness

Because makeup companies only really have to hook you on one special awesome shade per palette to potentially get you to purchase the whole thing, they have 10 opportunities to catch 10 unique customers, all who will be paying $50 for 10 eyeshadows, a "good deal" by all accounts. But those customers, if they weren't presented with the 10 shadow palette, would only be "worth" the $10 they would have paid for a single shadow in that one appealing color. That's why you'll often see a brand offer such a good price per oz with their palettes...it costs them basically nothing to produce the colored dust that goes into a palette, and it makes you much more likely to spend more money for the variety and "value" that you perceive as a customer.

It's tempting to go for "good deals" because everyone likes to feel like they're getting something for nothing. In a palette, you're sold the idea that you're paying for a few key shades and getting the other ones for free! But as economists like to smugly say (myself very smugly included): "There's no such thing as a free lunch." When you get something, you are giving up something in return, whether you're aware of it or not. In the case of buying a shadow palette, you are paying the company money you could have otherwise spent on...food, rent, savings, or another makeup item. You might be fine what you pay for it, but you aren't getting away with murder by paying a price that you perceive as a steal.

Sometimes the price you pay isn't represented by only the dollar outlay on the item. Sometimes the price is a certain amount of psychological burden. Many people who own too much makeup express feelings of being overwhelmed or wasteful. While everyone's threshold for consumption varies, if you personally are negatively affected by clutter, then all things considered, it's not a good thing to increase your consumption.

Because of this reasoning, I do not consider "free items" or free shades to be truly free. If someone were to offer me a sample in a mall, and I had no interest in it, what could be gained by taking it? Nothing. In the eternal words of Kanye West:

via buzzfeed.com

When to Buy a Palette

All things considered, why would you buy one? There are actually many instances where I think an eyeshadow palette can be a sensible and useful purchase. I'll show an example and explain my reasoning behind an actual palette purchase I made in real life...and an example where I was able to talk myself out of the palette purchase as it didn't make sense for me.

Pictured below is Lime Crime's Venus Palette, which I ended up purchasing after going through the thought process I'll outline.

via limecrime.com

I got this palette discounted and brand-new, which put the price at $22.50 for the whole thing.

The first step is to abandon the lies you tell yourself- that you will use that greige in the palette when all you like to wear is warm browns, that you need the champagne highlight shade when you already have 6 or 7 of them. Whatever shades are useless to you- they are automatically eliminated from the "value" of the palette. Don't attribute fake value to things that have none to you.

Right off the bat, I eliminated the "value" for Aura, Shell, and Muse. Aura looks exactly like every other pale champagney gold shadow out there- I own several. I wouldn't be getting any incremental extra eye possibilities/looks out of this shade. Muse is a near-perfect dupe for MUFE Morello Cherry which I already own and love. Since it overlaps almost entirely with the red matte I own, I can't use it for any new looks either. As for Shell, it's the pale pinky gold shade that I know from experience looks very bad on my skin tone and eye shape. While I technically liked and could use the first two shades, in the context of my existing collection, they aren't extremely useful or necessary for me. I would never purchase those colors if I found them in single form, since I already own them. For the last shade, I wouldn't buy it or use it period, even once I got the palette. It's not a repeat of something I own, because I hate the color.

8 shadows total - 3 useless shadows = 5 valuable shadows

Next, let's look at the shades which some might consider "bonus" value that aren't really what attracted me to the palette- here that would be the shade Venus, a satiny raspberry pink that's not really my style, but isn't abhorrent to me. It's not similar to anything I own. I'm going to count it as a half a shadow in terms of its value. That puts us at 4.5 potentially valuable shadows.

At this point let's take the base price and see if the price tag is worth the 4.5 shadows I'm getting (remember the 3 shadows I won't use do not count toward the perceived or actual value of the palette, I will not be calculating $/g)

$22.50 ÷ 4.5 shadows = $5.00 per useful shadow

At this point I have to decide if each of the shadows in the palette are worth a $5.00 price tag. For me, these shadows definitely qualified as "worth it." However, if I had had to pay the full price of $34.00 here's that calculation:

$34.00 ÷ 4.5 shadows = $7.50 per useful shadow

And yep that's still worth it to me. I was in the market for a rusty orangered shade, a very dark burnt brown, a violet-gray matte, and a medium bright coral matte. It just so happens that this palette is almost exactly what I wanted, and the price for these unique shades, which can be found as singles but at much higher price tags, is definitely worth it in this case.

What this calculation allowed me to do is see what I want and what I don't want from within a purchase, in order to rationalize and justify the true value and not be disappointed once I brought the product home. In addition, I depot all my eyeshadows and use them in travel palettes, which means I don't acquire baggage from unused/useless shadows. I throw them away or put them in storage. That option isn't available to everyone and should be factored into your calculations as those shades will take up space in your collection and lead to clutter and negative emotions in some cases.

When Not to Buy a Palette

This exercise isn't just a way for you to excuse buying eyeshadow- it's a tool to decide what's right for your collection and what's wrong. Here it is repeated for a palette which I ended up passing on.

Here is a picture of the Viseart Dark Matte Palette, which costs a whopping $80.00 and comes with a fabulous reputation for blendability and pigmentation.

via beautylish.com

For a while, I was totally convinced I would get this palette. All of my muted, matte, blendable dreams come true- right? I read nothing but rave reviews about the versatility and the quality of all the colors, which should mean that it offered 12 valuable, useful shadows! Well, you know enough about me to know that I'm just leading you on. I didn't buy this palette.

If I could use every single shadow in this palette, the breakdown would be:

$80.00 ÷ 12 shadows = $6.66 per useful shadow

I always hear people gushing over the price per shadow in the Viseart palettes- what a steal for such a high-end product. However, I wouldn't use all 12 of these shadows. First off, I do not wear blue eyeshadow- ever. I don't own a single other blue or blue-adjacent eyeshadow and it's not something I currently need in my collection. That eliminates the 2 blue matte shades in the lower left corner. 

12 shadows total - 2 useless shadows = 10 valuable shadows

Then we have the 3 brown/true-neutral shades in this palette. They are all slightly different in undertone but would all qualify as neutral medium brown mattes. I own 4-5 of those types of shades in my collection already. There's a chance that all of these browns would be great on my skintone, but why bother finding out? I already have so many for the purpose that I'd use these for. I can eliminate all of these- and most eyeshadow lovers with any semblance of a collection could do so as well. Good neutral shades are a dime a dozen, and it's odd to me that the 3 in this palette are so similar to each other. 

10 shadows - 3 more useless shadows = 7 valuable shadows

Now we're down to the meat of the palette- 7 shadows that I might use, that are either going to be unique or distinctly superior when compare to what I already own. What I am really eyeing here is the 2 darker orange shades and the lighter purple shade. I have dupes that I love using for the lighter orange and for the darker purple and red. Finally, there's the one sage green matte shade unaccounted for. I love the way it looks- it seems gorgeously pigmented and blendable. I definitely want something like it, but I hadn't even thought to look for it before I saw this palette, which means it's not a huge priority clearly. We'll count it as a half-useful shadow. I'd use it if I had it but I don't think I'd go out and search for a single right this minute. I also have a lighter khaki green matte that stands in for it when I do require a green matte.

7 shadows - 3.5 dupeable shadows = 3.5 valuable shadows

Our ultimate calculation, once I take out all the fluff and the lying to myself about what I'll use becomes this:

$80.00 ÷ 3.5 valuable shadows = $22.86 per shadow

If these shades were so incredibly unique that I couldn't find them anywhere else, I would consider still buying this palette for just these 3 shades. However, at nearly $23 a pop, I can find similar shades within even the most expensive single shadow lines (NARS, MUFE, etc) and so there's no reason for me to pay and acquire all the extra baggage of those useless-to-me shadows anyway. Add that to the fact that the Viseart palettes seem difficult to depot (they are made of plastic not cardboard) and I'm unlikely to want to keep this palette in my collection because the useful shades will be "crowded out" by all the useless ones.

Packaging and its Impact

There is an issue I did not factor into my calculations above because it's insignificant to me- packaging. I know that there are people out there who love pretty packaging, and I don't hold that against them. If you fall in that category, I would say you should come up with a dollar amount for how much good/attractive packaging is worth to you. Are you willing to pay an extra $5.00 per palette just for a beautiful layout and exterior? An extra $30.00? Where is the cutoff for you? Everyone likes pretty things, but you should figure out, within your budget and lifestyle, how much packaging is worth to you in terms of cold hard cash.

Formula Preferences

Because there are so many textures and variations within the category of eyeshadows (further segmented into finish- matte, shimmery, satin) there is a large spread of what people consider good formula and bad formula eyeshadow. My preferences aren't the same as everyone's, and the point here is to figure out what textures work best for your skin type and eye shape, and forget the rest.

A good way to stop yourself from making a rushed palette purchase is to first go test the formula out in-person. No matter how appealing the colors may be on a computer screen, if the shadows themselves are too densely pigmented/not pigmented enough/chalky/streaky/too glittery, the colors won't do you any good. 

When you buy a shadow palette, you are buying 10-15 shadows produced and approved by the same chemistry and marketing teams. That means that if the people on those teams have a different taste than you, or they consider a certain type of formula good that you hate, you will not only hate a few of the shadows in a palette, you may possibly detest every single one of them. 

I really love Urban Decay's shimmer formula. I find it dense, rich, and superbly long-wearing on my eyes. However, I hate their microglitter formula. It's the shimmer formula with chunky, horrible flakes of glitter thrown in for no good reason. I like their satin formula fairly well, but I don't really enjoy their mattes. In any given Urban Decay palette, I will likely find some of each of those 4 finishes. If I only really like 2 of the finishes that Urban Decay makes, I'm already compromising on my preferences just by allowing the company to bundle up multiple shadows for me. By buying single eyeshadows, I'm able to be more picky about what I allow into my collection.


We all have different tastes and lifestyles, which means the way I weigh value and perceive it will be different from yours. But everybody has a limit on what is reasonable consumption and ownership. You need to figure out what your ideal eyeshadow collection looks like, what gaps you want to fill, what gaps exist that you have no need to fill (not everyone needs every color in the rainbow) and how to best build toward that goal with the least clutter, the least unnecessary expenditure, and the most ease.

I do my eye makeup probably 3-4x per week, and I consider myself more on the maximalist end of the eyeshadow spectrum. I like to use 6-7 shadows per look, which means I do have a flexible, large collection. Even so, I think you'll see my shadow collection, which was built up very slowly and carefully, has less bloat than someone's who owns a wide variety of pre-made palettes. I don't say that to be snotty, but it is a point of pride for me. I enjoy indulging in fantastical colorful makeup looks without feeling that I had to sacrifice and enormous amount of money or space to allow me that flexibility.

Even though I enjoy a variety of eyeshadow colors, I do not have one of every type of shade, in every finish. I believe that I am only capable of wearing certain types of shadow (finish and shade) because of my skintone, my lifestyle, and my taste. My collection is not everyone's ideal collection- but it is mine, which is what matters. You do not need to collect them all- no one person (non-professional MUA or professional pretty person) is going to need every type of color. You do not become magically better at makeup when you acquire more colors. There's a finite limit to how many shadows you can reasonably enjoy and get use from- although that limit does vary from person to person!

Every shade of eyeshadow I own

To give an idea of the flexibility of my collection, here's the configuration of shadows I bring with me when I go away for a weekend:

Because I love me a boring neutral color scheme

When I plan a more colorful look the night before, I like to set out a small palette with just the shadows I need to avoid confusion or overwhelming colors in the morning:

Weirdly, what I need for a green smoky eye

And on any given day, when I just want to have an organized way to remember where everything is, I have my collection divided roughly by color category and purpose. I know from lots of experience that my most-worn eye looks are purple-themed. Purples make my eyes pop and my skintone sing. I have a whole large palette dedicated to purples. Besides that, I have a general neutrals palette where I keep the majority of my browns and tan shades.

Most are warm because I am warm-toned. I also have a more burnt, obviously-warm palette with yellows and oranges, as that's another colorful category I enjoy. And last I have a mixed palette of "other colors," which means the adventurous shades that I wear on occasion but not on a daily or even weekly basis (many of my neutral/cool shades are found here as they aren't my preferred color scheme.)

My eyeshadow collection and its "organization" most days

Because every single shadow I own has been removed from its original packaging (or I purchased it as a solitary pan) I can mix and match endlessly with no constraints. I find that to be so helpful for my consumption goals and my own sense of organization. I like not having to choose between a compact solution (for a short trip) and the color variety I want.

My favorite part of having such a mix and matchable group of eyeshadows is that I can recreate or imitate basically any newly-released palette I'm interested in.

Here's my "recreation" of the Anastasia Modern Renaissance Palette...

Too Faced Sweet Peach Palette...

Smashbox Cover Shot Smoky Palette...

Are these recreations perfect? Nope. Do I care? Hell no. The point is not to ape and duplicate every minute detail of every trend that comes along- it's to take inspiration from rightfully-popular and beautiful things in a way that's not unhealthy or overwhelming.

If you love this type of topic then please do visit Reddit's /r/MakeupRehab. The community there is extremely supportive and intelligent when discussing matters of consumption and overconsumption. Shopping habits can become unhealthy, and when your love for makeup starts to infringe on your happiness of your finances, you are going to have to set it straight.


  1. PHENOMENAL article! I've seen your wisdom on reddit, this is no exception! Keep up the amazing work!

    1. Thank you! Just out of curiousity did you find this post through reddit or instagram? And are there any Makeup Rehab-ish topics you'd be interested in me breaking down in a future post? Thanks for the support!

  2. Loved this! Just out of curiosity, what are the smaller circular pans(standard singles I assume?) in your purple palette? I've been slowly planning a purple palette and those darker ones look like they might be a good fit.

    1. The smaller purples are almost all MAC singles! They dropped the price of the pans alone this year so they're a steal if the color is right for you. But they don't have the same type of magnetization as most pans (tin, etc) so they need a small magnet or a trimmed piece of magnetic sticker sheet to go on the back before putting in a similar palette :)

  3. Fantastic post. I love seeing all your shadows together and in combinations. I love the idea of being able to make one's own quads, palettes or whatever drawing inspiration from other products... or from whatever inspires. I came over from Reddit :-)

    1. Hi fellow redditor! Glad you visited my blog. It's so much fun to sit and make my own combos...satisfies that window-shopping urge I always get late at night, but it doesn't cost a thing :)

  4. BRAVA! Seriously awesome article that hit home in a lot of ways. If you don't mind me asking, I personally have a thing for neutral-leaning-cool browns/taupes/champagnes (don't we all). The main thing that keeps drawing me in is I'm always tempted by the idea that while a color might look the same in the pan, the undertones might play differently with my skintone. Granted, this has actually happened a couple of times, but for the most part I think I'm just being a sucker for reviews. How are you so good at identifying dupes in your collection? You seem to have a pretty good handle on what works for your skin, so maybe that's my issue.

    Anyways thanks for the great article, and please don't stop posting!

    1. I think regarding that aspect, you really do have to "get to know" your skintone as well as possible! That's why I own SO FEW of the taupes- bc they work poorly on my skintone. Once you find 3 or 4 AMAZING perfect versions of the taupes/browns you love, you truly will feel satisfied. That's how I am with warm browns- you wouldn't know I'm a warm brown addict because I don't have that many. But that's just it- I found 2 or 3 perfect ones and I never had to look again.

      As for the dupe issue, I can't recommend Temptalia's site enough for swatch-comparisons. But beyond that, going to visit Ulta/Sephora/MAC in person is good. Go on swatching trips for an hour with the stated purpose of finding out what is similar to what you already own. You can even bring your shades with you and swatch them on your wrist in the car before you go in the store to test out potential new purchases!

    2. I never thought to bring my own shadows along with me for comparison...seems quite obvious now. Thanks!

    3. I've done it with lipstick. It was a bit awkward because I carried my hand in front of me the whole way from my car...I just didn't want to compromise the integrity of the swatch XD

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you Beth! I recognize your name from around the beauty subs on Reddit :)

  6. SableWindsor here. Oh my goodness, I needed this post right now. I also read Ellie Jane's AntiHaul Blog. Between the two of you, I feel like I have a good support system, lol.

    1. Hi you! Best of luck with everything that's going on in your life. All the pretty shit will still be there in a few months when things settle down :)

  7. I love your recreation of palettes. I'm a sucker for good deals but I have told myself to stop buying makeup that's just sitting and collecting dust. It has become a mental burden!

    1. Yep, makeup should be both functional AND fun...if it stops being either category or tips too far into just fun with no function, it's time to reassess!

  8. Hey there! I love your post, and will be bookmarking it to read before future sephora trips! Quick question- what brand are the purple rectangular eye shadows? Also, the longer rectangular shadows? They're gorge!!

    1. The majority of the rectangular shadows are actually depotted from lots of brands into my own empty pans! Many of the purples are Urban Decay but some are pressed indies.

      The longer rectangles are all from the original Urban Decay Naked palette :)

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