Calling All Eyeliner Enthusiasts: Grunge Makeup Is Officially Back


I know, I know. The beauty trend cycle is exhausting, grunge beauty was all the rage in the ’90s and early 2000s, and you don’t want to trade out your no-makeup makeup looks for messy eyeliner—I get it. But nonetheless, the tides of beauty are changing, and with those tides, I must go… away from the intense cultural obsession with “clean girl” makeup—dare I say good riddance?—and into the land of lined eyes and vampy lips. If you’re like me and you’re in an era of your life that involves a few more harmlessly chaotic nights out than everything-shower-and-glass-of-wine nights in, congratulations, because the ‘90s inspired grunge makeup looks that dominated the fall/winter 2024 runways is going to be your new go-to.

Whether you want to relive those years when you were trying to emulate Avril Lavigne on the daily, you need to switch up your everyday makeup routine for a night out on the town, or you simply want to try something new, the grunge eye makeup trend is not nearly as intimidating as it may initially appear. I chatted with makeup artist and CTZN Cosmetics founder Naseeha Khan to learn why grunge makeup is trending in 2024, how to replicate the trend yourself, and the best products for getting that intentionally messy look. Read (rock?) on!

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What is the grunge beauty trend?

Like fashion, beauty trends are cyclical, and often the exact opposite of one trend will show up within a year or two of its peak. This is the case with the binary between the “clean girl” makeup that dominated the runways and our social media feeds in 2022 and 2023 and the grunge eye makeup looks that are on the rise in 2024. Khan attributes this shift to the oversaturation of simpler makeup on TikTok and Instagram, spurring artists to go for a messier vibe. “The transition from no-makeup makeup to dark, more intense eye makeup looks is likely a pushback from minimalist looks and a pivot to maximalist looks,” she says. “I think creators on social and makeup artists saw this clean look becoming overdone and wanted to switch it up by adding more color and definition to looks.”

Beyond the runways, the grunge beauty trend is currently saturating pop culture. Julia Fox’s intense eyeshadow looks from the second half of 2023 have undoubtedly fueled the enthusiasm for more dramatic makeup, and fans were instantly drawn to the smudgy eyeshadow worn by Alison Oliver in her performance as Venetia in Saltburn. Musicians from Reneé Rapp to Cardi B have stepped out recently with messy smoky eyes. Khan even attributes the recently trending “mob wife aesthetic” to the widespread desire to bring the ~drama~ back to makeup: “Bolder, more vibrant looks are starting to resurface more. ‘Mob wife aesthetic’ was one of the latest to go viral which focused on smoky eyes and overdrawn lips—just one example of grunge glam coming back,” she says.

How to achieve the grunge makeup look

If you have pared down your makeup routine to the bare minimum and this all sounds intimidating to you, fear not. Khan explained exactly how you can achieve the grunge makeup look without needing to teach yourself how to do super-complex eyeliner. Here are her top tips:

Start subtle, then build

“If you are feeling intimidated by a grunge makeup look, it is best to start subtle and build products to your desired look,” Khan suggests. “Neutral, brownish eyeshadows and a brown or black eye pencil are a perfect place to begin.” She recommends taking a fluffy eyeshadow brush to blend together those dark brown and black shades in your crease and lower lash line; then, depending on how dark you want the makeup to look, you can slap on some mascara and call it a day. However, if you want to take the messiness a step further, bring in some smudgy eyeliner. “Follow your base up by gently using a black eye pencil on your lash line and smudging with an eyeliner brush as desired,” she says. For some truly rock-and-roll energy, Khan suggests adding a dark, overlined lip to top it all off.

Don’t worry about perfect application

The great news about the grunge eye makeup trend is that perfection should be quite literally the last thing on your mind when you’re participating in it. “The best part about grunge makeup is that there are no hard rules, it’s meant to look unpolished and rugged,” Khan says. “While the grunge looks are bold, the makeup application is supposed to be simple in practice.” This means you don’t need to bear down hard when applying your eyeliner or stress if something isn’t looking perfectly matching eye-to-eye—that’s kind of the point. Khan even suggests smudging your eyeliner with your finger for the optimal grunge look. In many ways, the undone trend is actually about experimenting and bringing some of the fun and creativity back into your makeup routine.

Keep the colors neutral

While you may not need to worry about following any hard-and-fast rules regarding application for your grunge makeup look, Khan does suggest sticking with neutral colors, especially when you’re first starting out. “There are definitely a few tips you should keep in mind if you’re trying to achieve the grunge look: a matte base, smudgy eye makeup with a flattering neutral eye shadow, and overlined lips with a darker nude liner that suits your skin color,” she says. When you’re first starting out with these looks, skip the glitter and go for matte browns, blacks, and dark blues when selecting your eyeshadow and eyeliner. As your technique evolves, you can throw in some smudged colors to switch it up, but the core of the grunge eyeshadow palette is dark neutrals.

Choose long-lasting products

One thing you don’t want your dramatic eye makeup look doing is running down your face in the middle of the night (or day). For this reason, Khan recommends prioritizing long-lasting products as you create your look. “Any basic black eyeliner pencil, especially a waterproof one, is best for this look to last all day and night,” she says. “I also recommend using multiple coats of a buildable mascara to emphasize the lashes.” If your current makeup collection is totally devoid of smudgy eye shadow and liner, here are a few makeup artist-approved products to get started on your grunge eye makeup journey:





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