A guide to drag eye makeup and how to get your own look
Without the art of drag, Pride month wouldn’t be nearly as exciting. The iconic fashion, the artistry behind the faces… and the wigs (literally) on wigs on wigs.
It’s the makeup element that allows every drag performer to tap into their alter ego. And while you may think it’s only skin deep, drag queens and kings alike attribute their transformation success to contouring, shadow blending and false lashes.
But it’s even more than that. Drag makeup is arguably the most influential craft behind women’s makeup trends, runway model looks and even some cartoon characters — like Ursula from Disney’s Little Mermaid. From shimmering highlighter to inches-long eyelashes, drag performers are to thank for beauty as we know it today.
What’s behind these looks that make them so invigorating and powerful? How do you do drag makeup yourself? It may take a lot of practice and patience, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll have a greater appreciation for drag around the world.
Make your eyes pop with the right tools
High-quality makeup, brushes and application are crucial for getting the best results — and for preventing irritation in and around your eyes. Some of the following tools may seem questionable at first if you’re new to drag, but all will become clear later.
Some items you can find in many queens’ toolboxes:
Brushes, sponges and other product applicators
Your makeup is all yours, so it’s okay if you don’t use everything someone else uses for your face. What’s most important is that you keep your brushes clean, your products fresh and your creativity ready.
How to do drag eye makeup
Now that you know what you need to create your art, it’s time to envision your drag persona and get to work. Is your alter ego sporty, girly, funny or more of a glamorous dancer? Your makeup will tell their story.
Perfecting eye makeup takes practice, patience, creativity and the right products. This can involve a lot of trial and error for anyone, so we suggest researching tutorials online and looking for inspiration photos before beginning your drag eye makeup journey.
Here are some guidelines for applying eye makeup for Pride month. Techniques and the order of your process can vary depending on your preferences and comfort level.
Prepare your canvas
The transformation to your drag persona should begin with a blank canvas. So run through your skincare routine, moisturize and shave any stubble* to make things as smooth as possible.
Taking care of the skin is very important for anyone who wears a lot of makeup, whether on a rare occasion or as a nightly practice. It removes dirt and bacteria, and can help prevent blemishes and other impurities. In general, it keeps the skin in good condition and makes everything smoother.
Once your skin is primed and prepped, it’s time to dive into the more fun stuff.
*We'll be focusing on eye makeup in this article, but a clean shave is important for the basis of any drag look. While the eyes are not what you might immediately think of when you think of your skincare, they are affected by the quality of your skin.
Cover your bases
Rubbing alcohol can be a great part of your foundation work, because it removes oils that don’t mix well with concealer and other products. Dab rubbing alcohol on your brows and on the parts of your skin that you decide you’d like to tape upward, such as the sides of your forehead. ONLY use it in these areas, as it can be irritating if you use more than you need to. Be careful to avoid your eyes during application.
Optional: Lift your eyes with invisible tape designed for sensitive skin. RuPaul Charles favors the Miracle Face and Neck Lift Kit by Mark Traynor, according to MasterClass. The kit includes string and invisible tape that help create the look of an eye lift without any major procedures.
Use concealer to disguise dark circles under your eyes. You can apply this with clean fingers, a concealer brush or sponge. Be sure to apply and blend it away from your eyes to avoid making contact with them. This step can be done before and/or after your eye makeup application.
You’ll also need to apply an eyeshadow primer all over your eyelids. This will help enhance the pigment of your shadow colors and keep your products in place for hours so that you don’t have to worry about smearing.
Get out your brushes and lashes
Tame your brows by brushing them through. If you’re working with your natural brows for your look, try shaping them and extending their line outwards with a tinted brow gel. Some people prefer to glue down their natural brows with a glue stick and cover them with concealer before drawing on false brows with a brow pencil.
After you’ve prepped your lids with primer, it’s time to apply eyeshadow with your favorite shadow-blending brushes. Everyone’s style is different, so the exact shading and blending for this part is subjective. If you’re undecided, consider matching your shadow to your outfit or playing with complementary colors.
Many queens use darker colors on the outer part of their lid and blend to a lighter shade in the corner of the eye.
Use eyeliner to make your eyes pop even more. Some opt for a thin line over the lash line, while others go for a thick winged look. Again, the art you draw on your eyes is subjective, so follow your heart (or your eyeliner pen) wherever it desires.
Apply a coat of mascara on your lashes. This can help your fake lashes adhere and blend with your natural lashes a bit better.
Trim your fake lashes to fit your eye if you need to. Brush eyelash glue onto the line of the eyelashes and carefully place them onto your lash line. Keep your eyes closed until the glue has dried. You can touch up the placement with a little more glue afterward if needed.
Optional: Add eye-safe glitter to your lids for an extra pop, glue rhinestones on with your eyelash glue or swipe some highlighter onto your brow bone. Now you’re ready to glow.
Once you have your final eye look, use a makeup setting spray to lock in the magic.
SEE RELATED: Can fake eyelashes cause eye infections?
Tips from the experts
Every queen has to start somewhere, including RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty, Alyssa Edwards and Symone. Check out some of their tips for getting the best result out of your makeup application:
Try depuffing eye masks beneath your eyes as part of your preparation.
A shadow primer is essential. It will help pop any color of shadow you choose and make it last longer.
You don’t always have to start with your eye makeup, but it can be helpful to do so if you use a lot of colorful pigment. That way, if any of it falls down your face, you can clean it up before applying foundation.
Eyebrows need maintenance, too. Edwards says, “if the brow is jacked and wacked, the jig and the gig are up.”
If you’re drawing on your brows, make sure to do so little by little. You can apply them with an eyeliner pencil or with a small brush and powder makeup.
Set the eyebrow with a tinted pomade to keep the shape in place.
Use a darker shade of eyeshadow along and above your lid’s crease for a more dramatic and defined look (but be sure to blend!)
Try using your eyeshadow on other parts of your face for an even more vivid look.
Drag queen eye makeup lines
You are free to decide which cosmetics you prefer (as long as they’re safe for your eyes!). But there are several renowned queens who have taken what they know from “beating their faces” (a term for getting dragged up), and put them into their very own lines of makeup.
Some of these lines include:
Trixie Cosmetics by Trixie Mattel
KimChi Chic Beauty by Kim Chi
Miss Fame Beauty by Miss Fame
Suck Less Face & Body by Willam Belli
Be sure to take good care of your makeup so that it wears better and reduces irritation.
Eye makeup safety reminders
Makeup can be very fun to play with, especially during occasions like Pride month events and celebrations. But before you dive into sparkles or winged eyeliner, there are some things to keep in mind as far as cosmetic safety. This includes the following guidelines:
Never share your makeup or brushes with others.
Only use eye makeup that is labeled for use around the eyes.
Make sure your eyelids, fingers, brushes and any other tools that touch your eyelids are clean before applying makeup.
Discard cosmetics after three months (especially liquid primers, shadows or foundation) to prevent bacterial infections.
Don’t put your makeup on while riding in a car.
Always take your makeup off before you go to bed.
If you think you may have developed an allergic reaction or infection in or around your eyes, stop using cosmetics immediately. Contact your eye doctor for assistance and throw away all of the makeup you were using when the reaction occurred. Avoid wearing makeup until you have healed completely.
Wearing old, damaged or dirty makeup can be very irritating for the eyes. In some cases, it can also lead to infections. Be aware of expiration dates and keep everything as hygienic as possible for the best results.
SEE RELATED: What to do if you get glue in your eye
How to use cosmetics safely around your eyes. American Academy of Ophthalmology. March 2021.
Page published on Wednesday, June 8, 2022