Eyes on the prize: As eye make-up sales soar post-lockdown, here's our must-haves, from mascaras to liners

From bold eyeshadows to sharp eyeliners, experiment with your peepers and leave the lipstick at home

Louise Whitbread
Friday 11 September 2020 13:46
Eye make-up products, such as mascara and eye shadow, have seen a surge in popularity
Eye make-up products, such as mascara and eye shadow, have seen a surge in popularity

Make-up can be a source of joy and confidence, and you don’t need to give that up in order to stay safe amid the pandemic.

While wearing face masks has forced us to ditch the bold lipsticks and dewy foundations, we’ve been getting creative with our make-up routine during coronavirus, turning our attention to lashes, lids, liner and brows.

Both during and after lockdown, eye make-up has taken an increased proportion of prestige cosmetics sales, with mascara, eye shadow and brow products driving the shift. According to market analysts NPD Group, eye make-up accounted for 22 per cent of total make-up sales before lockdown, but it now it makes up 25 per cent.

Emma Fishwick, account manager for NPD UK Beauty, believes this can be attributed to make-up wearers experimenting more at home while socialising with friends and family virtually or during conference calls.

But that’s not all our shopping habits have revealed. “As consumers are required to wear face coverings in shops, on public transport and other public spaces, the lip segment has declined in share, driven largely by a decline in demand of lip colour as the lip area is no longer visible when wearing a mask,” she explained.

There’s no better time to update your make-up kit with plenty of eye products that will showcase your make-up skills during the mask-wearing era. From bold and bright eyeshadows to fool-proof eyeliners,  we’ve found the very best products you need to add drama, volume, definition and colour to your eye looks.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Eye cream

First things first, prep the delicate under-eye skin with a regular eye cream as part of your skincare routine to keep the area hydrated. Dry skin means products are more likely to cake or leave you looking patchy as your skin will seek out moisture from your make-up products. This is the last thing we need when wearing a face mask.

An eye cream will also help brighten dull skin and reduce dark circles. In our guide to the best, we loved the Dr Dennis Gross hyaluronic marine dew it right eye gel (Space NK, £59) that’s cooling, watery and refreshing.

Look and feel more awake with this refreshing eye gel

It combines water-rich hyaluronic acid with Japanese algae for maximum moisture, plus caffeine for dark circles and a slightly luminescent finish for a short-term brightening effect.

We found it perfect for dry, sensitive eye areas and if you’re heading out the house make-up free, it’s easy to slot into a handbag pocket for a quick moisture boost on the go.


Whether you like yours neatly defined or big and fluffy, your eyebrows shape your face, so getting them right is the first step for a polished, flattering eye make-up look.

If you’re looking for natural bushiness and fuller arches, recreate the effect of microblading with an eyebrow pen, that delivers hair-like strokes via water-based ink.

Our favourite is the Ciate microblade brow (lookfantastic, £11.20) that topped our guide to the best eyebrow pens

Mimic natural hairs to fill in sparse areas with this pen

Our reviewer said: “Whether it’s the four-pronged tip or strongly hued ink, it’s perfect for anyone wanting to add an eyebrow pen to their morning routine without spending extra time mastering it.”

If you prefer filling your brows in with a pen and spoolie (an eyebrow brush), try this Charlotte Tilbury brow lift (Charlotte Tilbury, £22.50). It’s double-ended so in one slim pen, you get two products, and it was one of the easiest applicators we’ve tried.

For easy, precise application in a three-in-one product, this brow pen hits the spot

One side is a twist-up, wide, flat cartridge with an angled end to fill in sparse areas, using either the flat or point, while the brush on the other end helps to blend and shape.

There’s a hidden highlighter-dispensing sponge in the middle too, to add radiance and a quick lift to your brow bone.

Once you’ve filled your brows in, be it with an ink pen or soft pencil, set your hairs with a brow gel to keep them in place all day.

One of our favourites is the Benefit gimme brow (Boots, £22.50) that has a tiny spoolie to allow for precise application, without being too loaded with product, thus making it mess-free.

For brows that will stay in place, coat hairs with a gel

Brush it through for a volumised finish without being caked in product, and if you already have full brows, use it on its own too for subtle definition.

Eye shadows

Once your brows are sorted, now the fun comes, as you can play with eyeshadows in neon pops, golden hues, rainbow pastels or subtle neutrals to make a statement, mask or no mask.

If you like to play with pink, you’ll love the Nars mini orgasm eyeshadow palette (Cult Beauty, £25) which is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand and offers a versatile mix of six shimmery, matte and glitter shades.

Buildable and easy to blend, this pink-toned palette is ideal for a soft glam look

It’s part of the brand’s recently launched orgasm collection, which began as a staple blush shade found in the make-up kits of artists and avid fans alike, building a cult following for its universally flattering shade.

In a review of the palette, our tester said: “On first application, it isn't as pigmented on the eye as it looks in the pan, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you ample opportunity to build up the colour on the eye, rather than getting stuck with too much product to blend”.

The rosy hues and mix of shimmers and matte formulas make for a gorgeous soft glam look.

The new Urban Decay naked ultra violet palette (Cult Beauty, £43) also offers a fun mix of shimmery and matte shades in neutral colours, pastel hues and high impact jewel tones that you can wear all year-round.

With an array of colourful shades, neutral tones and shimmer, this palette is an eclectic, but surprisingly wearable mix

Whether you want a pastel lavender look or an all-over copper shimmer, this palette has everything you need and is a great starting base to experiment with colour, especially if you typically stick to taupe, brown and beige shades.


For the perfect finishing touch to your chosen eye look, pick up an eyeliner to add definition or drama.

Wear it on its own to make a sleek statement, or pair it with eye shadow to bring the whole look together. Experimenting with different techniques will help you find the best liner style to suit your eye shape.

Pick from a classic black, bold blue or metallic brown for a liner look that will turn heads

As always in the make-up (and music) department, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty flypencil (Boots, £18) truly delivers on formula and functionality.

Available in 20 shades (including matte, metallic, glitter and shimmer finishes), this eyeliner certainly lives up to the make-up mogul’s mission statement that make-up is “to have fun with”.

In our guide to the best eyeliners, our reviewer said: “Its triangular shape that makes it easy to grip, together with its creamy consistency, gives good application."

We also rated the easy-to-use practicality along with the impressive colour range, so if you want to play with bolder looks you can.

As it doesn’t dry immediately, you have some wriggle room to correct as you go. Once set, it stays in place all day with only minimal damage when we rubbed our eyes.


Round off your look with big, bold lashes that will make you look and feel instantly more awake.

We can’t get enough of the Hourglass caution extreme lash (Cult Beauty, £29). Its tapered bristle brush makes application a doddle, allowing you to reach even the smallest lashes at the corners of the eyes.

For a volumising, defined lash lift, apply a coat of this mascara

Our reviewer says: “The mascara doesn’t clump: you can layer coat over coat depending on the level of drama required, and still, your lashes will look soft and gorgeous. The pigment is a deep and winning black, it’s an exceptional all-rounder.”

If you have naturally watery eyes or the added heat from your breath in a mask is making them well up, switch to a waterproof formula instead.

In our guide to the best, the Bobbi Brown no smudge waterproof mascara (Bobbi Brown, £25) took the number one spot. With a single coat, our reviewer found it made sparse lashes look instantly longer, more defined and voluminous.

Once applied, little will shift this waterproof mascara from your lashes

It lasted from morning to evening without clumping, smudging or smearing, with no crumbled product on the lower lash line either. It will take a thicker cleanser to remove, however, as once it’s on, it’s on. Try an eye make-up remover if your usual cleanser doesn’t cut it.

For more on make-up, read our review of the new Charlotte Tilbury setting spray vs Urban Decay’s iconic all nighter mist

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.