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5 Ways to Pull Off the “Subtle Grunge” Makeup Trend

The ‘90s grunge makeup aesthetic is alive and well.
December 19, 2022
Subtle Grunge Makeup

If you’ve stayed away from grunge makeup because it’s too experimental for your taste, subtle grunge may be just the mild (and modernized) fix you need to change your mind. To paint a picture, subtle grunge still embraces smudged eyeshadow and cool, dark tones but it also includes iconic ‘90s beauty trends that are working overtime on our social media feeds like bleached eyebrows, skinny eyebrows, kohl-smudged water lines and brown lip liner.

The combination of old and new creates a moody, nostalgic makeup styles that’s a bit unfinished and effortlessly cool. It’s a big step away from current trends like TikTok’s clean aesthetic or dewy, glazed donut skin because it’s rebellious, expressive and imperfect in the best way. If you find yourself wanting to indulge in this sentimental makeup trend, here’s how to bring some of our favorite subtle grunge makeup looks from social media to your real life.

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Gray Eyeshadow and Brown Lipstick

“Subtle grunge” makeup leans into a dark, rebellious style which means you’re going to want to reach for cool-toned makeup over warm-toned, golden shades. With a fluffy eyeshadow brush, start by painting your lids with gray eyeshadow — the L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Pocket Palette Eye Shadow in Silver Couture has a nice matte charcoal tint. 

Bring the eyeshadow down to smoke out the lower lash line. The goal is to create a seamless blend, sort of like a monochrome smokey eye but without the traditional dimension since we’re only using one shade. 

For the lips, a rich shade of brown lipstick is going to create a gorgeous contrast with the cool-toned gray shadow. Line and fill in your lips with the L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Lip Liner in More Chocolate, then apply a taupe-brown lipstick like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Matte Liquid Lipstick in Cowboy all over your pout. 


This subdued style of grunge makeup spotlights natural-looking skin — think not too dewy, like glazed donut skin but not flat and ultra-matte, either. Apply a lightweight foundation like the L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Makeup 4-in-1 Tinted Face Balm Foundation on the areas of your complexion that need coverage. This tinted balm has a radiant, skin-like finish that’s infused with firming serum to smooth fine lines and even skin tone over time. 

After applying your foundation, powder your T-zone with the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Sweep & Lock Loose Setting Face Powder so you don’t get shiny. 

Skinny Eyebrows With Metallic Eyeshadow and Two-Toned Lips

A skinny brow has a way of giving any makeup look an alluring, grunge aesthetic. To achieve the infamous ‘90s skinny brows, don’t pick up a tweezer or razor. Instead, you’re going to block your brow with glue to conceal your brows so you can draw on a new shape.

The technique involves glue sticks (particularly the skin safe ones) to glue your brows upwards so you can powder them and apply foundation over them to create a new canvas. Once your brows are blocked, then you can go in with an eyebrow pencil like the L’Oréal Paris Brow Stylist Definer Mechanical Waterproof Eyebrow Pencil to create a new arch, as thin as you’d like.

Once your brows are skinny legends, move onto your lids and play with some shimmer and color. While both of those things seem to go against the grunge makeup vibe, the other elements in your makeup look help to tone down their appearance. Use the L’Oréal Paris Brilliant Eyes Shimmer Liquid Eye Shadow Makeup in a few different shades like Blush Jewel and Amethyst Quartz to create a gradient color story on your lids. 

Finish the eyes with winged eyeliner and lashes, courtesy of the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Grip Precision Felt Waterproof Eyeliner and the L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Instant Lift Washable Mascara

For the two-toned lips, carefully apply a dark shade of lip liner like the L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Makeup Anti-Feathering Lip Liner - Smooth Application in Dark Chocolate to your lip line and fill in your pout with the L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Satin Lipstick in Brazil Nut.

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Smudged Eyeliner, Faux Freckles and Popsicle-Stained Lips

You can’t reference grunge makeup looks without including smudged eyeliner. To keep the subtle element of subtle grunge, opt for a non-black eyeliner like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Grip Mechanical Gel Eyeliner in Brown Denim or Taupe Gray. After lining the upper and lower lash line, use the built-in smudger to fade the gel lines for a dramatic, smokey effect. 

Before starting with the faux freckles, apply your foundation. We recommend something matte and long-wearing like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Up to 24H Fresh Wear Foundation in a Powder so the faux freckles can stick. To create the freckles, grab your eyebrow pencil and lightly press it onto your face, dotting freckles over your nose and cheeks where the sun would naturally hit. 

After you’re finished with your freckles, spritz your face with setting spray like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Spray and Set Make-Up Oil-Free Setting Spray so they last. 

Moving onto the lips, the goal is to recreate the way your pout looks after eating a popsicle. Grab the L’Oréal Paris Glow Paradise Lip and Cheek Tint, take your finger and dab the product onto your lips, focusing on the center to create the imperfect stain of color.

Bleached Eyebrows With a Black Smokey Eye and Ombré Glossy Lips

If you don’t feel comfortable blocking your brows with glue, try using a concealer like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Full Wear Concealer up to 24H Full Coverage to achieve the look of bleached eyebrows. The trick is to use concealer like a brow gel, coating each hair and setting your arches with powder to achieve the pale hue that characterizes bleached eyebrows.

Next, reach for a dark-colored eyeshadow like the ones in the L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Pocket Palette Eye Shadow in French Biscuit to create a bold contrast against your platinum arches. Use a small eyeshadow brush to apply the matte brown shade all-over your lid to create a base, then, use the black shade and generously blend it all over your lid. When you’re finished with your lids, grab some more of the black eyeshadow and use it to lightly smoke out the lower lash line. 

Line your lips with a dark shade of lip liner and use a lip brush to lightly blend the color towards the center of your lips, creating an ombré effect. Finish by coating your ombré pout with a sheer layer of the L’Oréal Paris Infallible 8 Hour Pro Lip Gloss, Hydrating Finish in Petal.

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Bleached Brows With Sculpted Cheekbones and Rust-Colored Lipstick

After faux-bleaching your brows with concealer, use bronzer like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Up to 24H Fresh Wear Soft Matte Bronzer to sculpt your cheekbones. This bronzer has a neutral tone and a transfer-proof matte finish so you can use it to bronze or contour without having to worry about it fading throughout the day. 

Finish off the look with a red-brown, rust shade of matte lipstick like the L’Oréal Paris Colour Riche Intense Volume Matte Lipstick Le Wood Nonchalant.

Next: How to Get TikTok’s Viral Siren Eyes in 5 Easy Steps

Written by: Reece Andavolgyi, Photo Credit: Kordellia, IG@/kori.artistry, Photo Design: Sarah Duvivier

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